The Underestimated Power of Populist Narratives – Dr. Darren Kelsey

Newcastle University

“In 2014 I started researching and analysing stories about Nigel Farage. I felt a significant phenomenon was growing in British politics through which The UK Independence Party was gaining popularity and attention in the British media. I was intrigued by Farage who, despite his own elitist qualities, had established himself as a “man of the people”; different to the elitist politicians in Westminster and fighting for his country’s interests against “unelected elites” in Brussels. It was the familiar story of David versus Goliath; the ordinary bloke down the pub, taking on the establishment at home and abroad. A populist story was apparent but many of us underestimated the political potential it had: a referendum was granted and the British people voted to leave the EU.

So why was this story so powerful? As I sought to explain how the populist persona and nationalist interests of Farage and UKIP had survived significant scrutiny and resonated with so many voters, I turned to my research on mythological storytelling. Here I looked at archetypes, such as heroes and tricksters, to see how they functioned in stories about Farage and in the stories Farage told about himself. Mythologies play an affective role in our lives and the political decisions we make. Archetypal populism often transcends left and right wing ideologies: it constructs an elite oppressor and unites the emotions, actions and interests of “the people”. Therefore, by identifying populism as an archetypal form of storytelling we can understand more about how it functions in multiple political and national contexts (personally, collectively and psychologically).”

– Dr. Darren Kelsey, Newcastle University