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The ill-starred quest for a new electorate

Something odd began to happen to establishment political parties across the western states around the 2008 crash.  It wasn’t obvious initially because it was too easy to fall into the old trap of blaming everything on the incumbent government.  In the UK, for example, it was obvious enough that the Cameron-Clegg government was contemptuous of the British people, and openly despised the eighty percent or so who are outside the professional-managerial class.  But people could still entertain the hope that a Labour, or ideally Labour-led government might be more benign.  The lie to that one though, was given on the eve of the 2015 election when Rachel Reeves (now Labour’s Thatcherite shadow chancellor) told more than a million benefit recipients not to vote Labour.

Also, no doubt, a large number of British people assumed that the hatred was being passed down – because that was what domestic politicians told them whenever they imposed hostile policies – from a European Union technocracy which, like Hillary Clinton in the USA, regarded them as a basket of deplorables.  This, of course, was why it took an idiot of spectacular proportions to risk holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in 2016… step forward “Call me Dave,” the archetypal professional gobshite with no clue how to get anything done.

If though, anyone thought that the political class was about to honour a democratic vote – indeed, the biggest vote in our history – think again.  For three years the political class contorted their way around trying to stay in the European Union while being able to credibly claim that they had left.  The Europeans scuppered that one though – seizing the occasion to finally be rid of perfidious Albion, its opt-outs, and its persistent attempts to clog-up the European project.

Briefly in 2017, the unlikely figure of Jeremy Corbyn looked set to reap the rewards.  A committed Eurosceptic who was hated as much by his own MPs as by the opposition, Corbyn wrongly appeared to be the kind of political outsider that electorates are increasingly turning to.  In reality though, Corbyn was a political hack who had sat on the backbenches since 1983 and had some unpleasant friends and peculiar ideas.  By 2019, Corbyn was a busted flush, so it fell to the opportunist Boris Johnson to ride the Brexit wave into Downing Street at the end of 2019.

Whether Johnson succeeded depends on what you believe Brexit to be.  Again, anyone who imagined Brexit to be a finished product was deluding themselves.  Brexit was always going to be an ongoing, and likely endless process of negotiation between the UK and the EU (and its successor states once its inevitable disintegration occurs) over their future trading relations.  What Johnson achieved – very quickly as it happened – was the final legal exit of the UK from the EU… thereby freeing the establishment parties to go back to their usual pursuit of making life worse for the people of Britain.

This left the Tories with a serious problem.  Having secured a massive majority on the back of “getting Brexit done,” they had to find something to fill the next four years.  They were probably fortunate to have the pandemic foist upon them – taking two of the remaining four years out.  However, it was a mixed blessing because their widespread breaking of their own Covid rules broke the unwritten social contract between the government and the people.  Prior to “partygate,” the Tories were going from strength to strength… winning by-elections in traditional Labour seats which ought to have been unassailable.  After partygate, everything the Tories did turned to shit in a kind of reverse Midas touch… including losing by-elections in seats which had been Tory since the seventeenth century.

Laughably, Tory MPs deluded themselves into thinking that if only they got rid of Johnson, they would be popular again – a level of delusion which surely qualifies them as insane as defined by ICD-10.  To compound their error, having elected Dagenham Liz Truss to replace Johnson (though why anyone would do this is beyond me – but hey, the Tory membership liked her) they decided to carry out a palace coup to replace her with the even less likeable Rishi’s Sunk.

Under the pretence of being a responsible adult, Sunk and his rhyming-slang chancellor reverted to the post-2008 practice of attacking the people who voted for them.  The predictable outcome is that with just months until a general election, the Tories are on the verge of being relegated to third place in the polls behind a resurgent Reform UK – something made even more likely because of the dangerously fragile state of a UK economy which has yet to recover from a cost-of-living crisis caused by Sunak’s policies during lockdown (on this, at least, the Tories can reasonably argue that the crisis would have been worse if Labour’s policies had been deployed… although an economically wounded electorate will almost always blame the government anyway).

Things could be a lot worse for the Tories though.  Unlike in 1997 – the comparison the establishment media are using – there is no groundswell of support for the opposition Labour Party.  Indeed, Labour is holding roughly the same proportion of voters that it did in 2019.  And there’s a reason for that – under Keith Starmer’s leadership, Labour has been doing to its members and supporters more or less what Sunak and Hunt have been doing to the Tories… except, one suspects, without using a condom.

According to psephologist Sir John Curtice it is 99 percent certain that Labour will form the next government, despite going out of its way to alienate its activists and supporters.  It would require the biggest poll reversal coupled to the biggest (1992) polling error for the Tories to close the gap with Labour.  And even then, Labour would find forming a coalition or a minority government far easier than the Tories.  And so, short of borrowing Labour’s internal electronic voting system to run the election, the Tories will be defeated.

This though, might turn out to be a curse for an incoming Labour government whose contempt for the broad electorate will be reciprocated from Day-1.  This is partly because to attract wealthy donors and to signal to the establishment media that Labour is safe for the professional-managerial class, Starmer and Reeves have already abandoned anything that has even the thinnest veneer of radicalism and replaced it with a Tory-lite programme which stands about the width of a human hair to the left of the outgoing Tories.

The bigger issue by far, however, is that despite the inane babbling of Sunk, Hunt, and Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, the economy has not “turned a corner.”  Indeed, the UK economy is a basket case compared to the rest of the G20, leaving it fragile and vulnerable in the face of a growing, combined – and related – globally-synchronised slump and currency crisis.  Far from the promised and much hyped “soft landing,” for the UK at least, the remainder of the decade is more likely to resemble a slow-motion train wreck.

Most voters lack the econometric modelling or the political science background to present academic papers on the state of the economy… but in many ways, their “felt sense” of what is happening is more reliable than any data used by a central bank.  The fact that almost everyone now knows someone – a friend, neighbour or family member – who is struggling with debt, or that ever more high street shops, restaurants and bars keep closing, that people ceased using Christmas lights, that strip clubs are empty and that prostitution is rising to levels not seen since the 1980s, adds up to a general sense of gloom, within which, frankly, only an imbecile would think any of the neoliberal establishment parties even understand, still less have a viable solution. 

The direction of travel is simple enough to follow.  Neoliberalism “peaked” in the 1990s on the back of the last profitable spurt of oil production growth and the debt-based boom built upon it, which coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  But it was a Pyrrhic victory – far from the new American century, prosperity across the west – including huge swathes of America’s “rust belt” – was falling.  So that, while neoliberals remain firmly entrenched in the academic, cultural and governing institutions, their ability to affect prosperity growth for all – or even to slow the process of decline – vanished.  The old politics of the oil age, in which the grift and corruption of the professional-managerial class could be hidden behind a general increase in prosperity can no longer work.  And so, kleptocracy, idiocracy, technocracy, and  lenocracy are the only growth areas that remain.

In the face of an undeniable fall in prosperity which establishment policies seem designed to exacerbate, western electorates have adopted a broadly similar stance of being “left” – favouring government intervention – on the economy (in an attempt to prevent the worst excesses of the elites) but “right” – preserving or returning to a former status quo – on social issues (because it is impossible to adjust to economic decline in the absence of stable families, neighbourhoods and wider communities).  This, no doubt, explains why challenger parties claiming – all too often falsely – to be anti-establishment are benefitting from huge swings away from the establishment parties.  But these at least are offering an alternative to the dead hand of neoliberal failure, such as:

[We] will create a new win-win model of UK ownership of critical national infrastructure.  Certain key utilities including parts of the energy market should be 50% in public ownership, to reduce consumer costs and stop overseas ownership of our critical national infrastructure.  The other 50% would be owned by UK pension funds.  This will enable a win-win situation, with consumers benefiting from lower prices, the taxpayer benefitting during good years and all benefiting from better management of private sector expertise brought in by the pension funds.”

A generation ago, this might have been a core Labour Party policy – and would have been derided by the establishment media as “loony left.”  Today it is considered far-right, and possibly imposed by Putin.  But in a sense the labels and name-calling don’t matter anymore – something which the establishment still doesn’t get.  In the USA, for example, the establishment still believes that millions of people voted – and will vote again – for Donald Trump because of his obvious flaws… and that if only these are pointed out the voters might change their minds.  But the opposite is true, people are voting for Trump in spite of his flaws… because at this stage in the game, the establishment parties’ flaws – which are having an increasingly negative impact on the majority of people’s lives – are far worse.

Notably, the establishment itself has responded to the growth of populism across the west with threats and warnings that if the electorate continues to vote the wrong way, they will have to have their votes removed.  This was mooted by Labour frontbenchers in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote, with a call for voting to be restricted to people with university degrees.  In Germany, the talk is of banning parties which deviate from the neoliberal orthodoxy.  In the USA, the elites have turned to the courts in an attempt to stymie any candidate or party that might challenge the imperial elite.  And across the western states freedom of movement, thought, speech, and peaceful protest is being eroded far beyond the point anyone can credibly claim we still have “free and fair” democracies.

It used to be that the establishment parties changed their policies to meet at least some of the needs and wishes of the broad electorate.  But today, the establishment seems bent on an unworkable attempt to force the electorate to change in order to fit in with establishment excesses.  These are not unique economic, cultural, and political circumstances… but they are rare.  Here in the UK, they were last seen in the 1640s.  The USA experienced them in the late-1770s, as did the French in 1789.  And, of course, the first half of the twentieth century witnessed them in Russia, Italy, and Germany.

As you made it to the end…

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