Thursday, 24 November 2016

Brexit and Trump - Why Politicians are Still in Denial

I've seen many reasons being given for what can possibly have caused the perceived seismic shift in the opinions of ordinary people, that led to Brexit in the UK and President-Elect Trump in the US.

Many theories have been put forward and I've seen everything from conspiracy theories to political opinion - I haven't seen many that properly hit the mark though. I recently read an opinion piece that placed the blame firmly at the feet of the "white working class', who have suddenly decided that they must have their say - because they've been ignored by the establishment for so long. 

There is one word in that summary that I agree with... "establishment". 

I live in an area that has, for many, many decades returned Labour MPs and a Labour controlled council, They have, no matter what has happened in politics locally, or nationally, stuck with the Labour way. When a local MP was jailed over expenses, they still returned a Labour MP to replace him; when the country swung to the right, they still stuck with Labour and increased the Labour stronghold on the council, even unseated a couple of Conservative Councillors in the process.

So here, we have a population that usually sticks with the Labour Party; it's what they know and what they like - it's the party they believe in enough to keep returning its candidates to council and parliament; they go the Labour way... Except that is, when it came to the EU Referendum, when the people locally voted overwhelmingly against what the local Labour Councillors, MPs and activists campaigned for. 

This is in an area, by the way, where millions of Pounds/Euros have been invested by the EU to regenerate and repair the damage done to the local communities and infrastructure by a previous British Government. It's an area where the local economy was decimated by a Prime Minister determined to win a struggle she saw as a direct challenge to her authority. The working classes here have shouted loudly in the past, they have won and lost battles at great cost; but always stuck with Labour along the way.

This is why I do not agree that the Brexit result - nor Trump's election is a case of white working-class uprising. Yes, in the UK, the narrative of many was around immigration, but much of the campaign language was around democracy. It centred on issues that involved phrases such as 'unelected bureaucrats' and 'sovereignty'. Nigel Farage did a brilliant job of making sure everyone heard about the political elite who ruled the country and abused the power they were entrusted with. For a very wealthy former stockbroker, he did fantastically well to paint himself as completely separate from the elite he described.

When Trump campaigned, it was clear where he had taken advice from Farage. The same rhetoric about political elite, the same "us and them" mentality, that led people to believe that the out-of-touch politicians were the enemy - THEY were the ones who weren't to be trusted, they were the ones who didn't have the interests of anyone but themselves at heart. People on both sides of the Atlantic bought into it, they agreed. 

They'd had enough of the same-old, same-old and so they didn't vote for it; they voted for change. 

When the analysis of the Brexit voted is examined, it's easy to see where the leave and remain votes were strongest. In every age group over 45, more than 50% of voters cast their vote to leave the EU. In over-65s, that was more than 65% of voters. Given that analysis also indicates that voter turnout also increased with each age group, it's clear that many leave voters were retirees. 

The other point that it is important to remember is that the key, most prominent leave campaigners, were all well-educated and wealthy. This is at odds with the analysis, which tells us that education levels also played a key part in voter decision. Areas having more people holding a degree or equivalent qualification were also the areas with a stronger remain vote, alongside those areas where the median income was higher.

Many people have been turning away from politics and voter turnout has been low in many elections for a number of years. Trust in the political process and in politicians themselves is still a vital issue to be addressed; this is why I completely understand the motive of people who saw an opportunity to "stick it to the man" and send a clear message that they'd had enough of what they saw as the status quo. 

For politicians to blame the working classes for Brexit and Trump, suggesting it was because they are fed up of not being listened to is further evidence of an out-of-touch idea and denial about the problems of a perceived political elite! In the US, people ignored the appalling comments and behaviour of the candidate they eventually elected, because he wasn't part of the establishment. Hillary was the better qualified, most experienced and more presidential of the two in both the debates and campaigns, yet they rejected her, in favour of a misogynistic, racist, Groper-in-Chief. 

It wasn't about worthiness for the job, nor about capability or merit; the voters rejected the political class; which is exactly what happened in the UK in June. A rejection of smooth politics, political correctness, being told what to do by bureaucrats, not answering the questions, glib soundbites and over-rehearsed, practiced media appearances. Whether they have actually achieved that remains to be seen, but by still not acknowledging that those are key issues for voters is exactly why they feel ignored. 

Listening to people and actually hearing what they say are not always the same thing. That's the biggest change that we really do need for our politicians to achieve.