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Where is the outrage over the attacks on populist politicians?

Leaders who challenge the status quo are being dehumanised by the liberal media.

Ed Rennie

Topics Politics World

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Over the past month or so, we have witnessed several physical attacks on European politicians.

These began in mid-May, when Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico was the subject of an assassination attempt. He was lucky to survive.

At the start of June, a local-council candidate for the right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was stabbed in the city of Mannheim. A week later, on the eve of the European Parliament elections, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen was violently assaulted and beaten in public. Yet these attacks received very little in the way of sympathetic media attention in the UK. In the case of Fico, there was even a strong suggestion that he had brought it on himself through what was repeatedly referred to as his ‘polarising’ approach to politics.

Last week, Reform UK leader Nigel Farage joined the list of politicians to be physically attacked over the past month. While travelling through Barnsley in South Yorkshire on an open-top bus, Farage was pelted with wet cement, stones and a disposable coffee cup. Some of these objects were quite clearly capable of causing injury, although fortunately they missed him. Yet the only object much of the media drew attention to was the coffee cup, not least because it provided an opportunity to bring up the incident last week in which a milkshake was thrown over the Reform UK leader. The focus on milkshakes and coffee cups trivialised an act that could have easily resulted in serious injury.

More troubling was the coverage of the incident on BBC Two’s Newsnight. It gave a platform to former Labour mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees to victim-blame Farage, with very little pushback from host Kirsty Wark. Rees said that Farage has ‘fed into a culture of hatred and anger and othering that ends up manifesting… in this kind of aggressive type of politics’. In short, Farage deserved it.

The media response to these attacks on politicians over the past month has been telling. It seems that there are some politicians it’s okay to physically attack and intimidate. Can you imagine an attack on a so-called progressive politician being downplayed in this way? Can you imagine the response if New Zealand’s ex-prime minister Jacinda Adern had been physically attacked while out meeting the public? Or closer to home, if the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas had been pelted with cement while trying to woo voters?

Yet because it was populist right-winger Farage who was attacked, it’s seemingly okay to dismiss the incident and even blame Farage for bringing it on himself. The same goes for Slovakian premier Fico. Because he’s a populist keen to assert Slovakia’s national sovereignty and challenge the EU, he’s deemed undeserving of sympathy.

Danish prime minister Frederiksen may appear to be in a slightly different position to Fico and Farage. After all, she’s the leader of the centre-left Social Democrats rather than a purely populist or right-leaning party. However, her government is known for taking a tough stance on immigration. It is also increasingly resisting the EU’s anti-growth Net Zero agenda and favouring a more pragmatic approach to energy policy. That is enough, it seems, for the media sympathy to start to dry up.

There is a pattern emerging here. Politicians who don’t toe the ‘liberal’, progressive line, who stick up for borders and national sovereignty, who resist green austerity, are being treated differently to those who espouse politically correct platitudes.

Such politicians have long been seen as less deserving of respect. But now it’s becoming clear that they’re seen as a little less human, too. Perhaps that’s why when they are the victims of physical attacks, too many in the media are happy to downplay them. Or, worse still, excuse the attackers.

Ed Rennie is the founder of Climate Debate UK.

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Topics Politics World

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