For the third time in recent memory we have had to endure the cry of “Well, nobody saw THAT coming!” First the UK election in 2015, then the vote for the UK to leave the EU (so called Brexit) and now the election of Donald Trump as President of the US. The combined efforts of professional analysts, political journalists, pundits and ‘the media’ have miserably failed to call the results.
Now those same analysts journalists and pundits are bouncing from radio studio to TV studio, to press rooms, picking over the results, trying to work out (and tell us) how, or why, they got it wrong. Frankly they may as well throw chicken bones and feathers into the air, or consult runes, or even go to a clairvoyant, because they are using the same failed and myopic filters on the information.
Having called all three elections correctly myself, my opinion is that their problem is they largely inhabit a social and intellectual ‘bubble’. For example, in particular over Brexit and the US Presidential election, we hear a consensus developing that the electorates felt “left behind by the benefits of globalisation” and that these two seismic events represent a railing against a political establishment from which they feel alienated and do not trust. Rubbish. These ‘bullet point’ explanations come from the same failed perspective and, largely, the same political class.
In Britain we have suffered the consequences of failed policies, founded in the dogma of market economics. Individuals, families, public organisations and companies have been struggling to cope with a relentless tightening of the so-called ‘austerity’ screw. The people who cannot get access to decent housing, health care, education, jobs, do not know what globalisation is. They were sold the simple, kitchen table, solution that if we take the pain now, and “fix the roof while the sun shines”, all will be well. We were never told what the government’s intention was, once the deficit in public finance was resolved. It seems to have been assumed that ‘market forces’ would sort it all out. Well, excuse me, but it was reliance on those same market forces that led us into the world-wide financial crash in 2008.
Meanwhile we, in the UK, have stumbled into the worst housing crisis in a generation; not only is there an almost total lack of new social housing, that is to say provided by the public sector for rent at affordable prices, but the private sector is building houses for sale at prices increasingly out of reach of ordinary people. Housing is no longer a social necessity, it is an investment opportunity. The justice system is in meltdown with more people incarcerated than ever before and a decrepit prison estate managed by a disillusioned and threadbare staff. As an aside here, I point out that the Home Secretary presiding over this decline was until recently Theresa May, now Prime Minister. Our social welfare and care systems are overwhelmed by predictable increasing demand and inadequate funding. Reliance on food banks, an obscenity in any civilised society, is increasing. Rough sleeping is increasing. Gambling is increasing. At least 80,000 children are estimated to be living in poverty and yet, as before the financial crash in 2008, some are making ‘progress’: the already rich, the speculators, the wide boys. The general populace seems to have become mesmerized by the twin chants of austerity and fiscal prudence, by the sound-bite mantras of neo-liberalism, so the irony of our present situation, where our government says “more of the same will see us alright” or “we need more privatisation” does not register as the vacuous rubbish it is. Far from being in a better place than we were in 2008, our national finances are actually worse. Our UK government has been in power now since 2010. The people sitting round the cabinet table are individually and collectively responsible for where we are now; they can no longer blame previous administrations.
It’s time we all started to say “The Emperor has no clothes”, and stopped trying to explain away the rise of the likes of Trump, Putin, Le Pen et al as some sophisticated response to being disconnected from politics. That is no more than a smokescreen that obscures the fact that the whole system doesn’t work. Our society, indeed the planet as a whole, cannot be sustained on unbridled consumption and an aspiration for material advantage alone, and to try to analyse and explain away recent political upheavals in these terms is utterly futile. It is no more than the flies arguing about ownership of the turd they feed on as it slides down the sewer to the treatment plant.