THE INEXORABLE RISE OF THE RIGHT

Shock victory for Trump confirms that we have lurched into a new era of politics – and it isn’t pretty

I retired to bed in the early hours of the morning having watched the first parts of CNN’s excellent US Election coverage, where early indications and analysis seemed to point to a fairly comfortable Hillary Clinton victory. At this point I was happy enough to predict that although I had seen two inexplicable election results in the last 18 months – they of course being the return to Parliament with an overall majority of David Cameron’s Conservatives, and the decision that Britain should leave the EU – I wouldn’t be seeing a third. So yeah, I was wrong. For the third time out of three, as it turns out. But then I, nor indeed anyone else, can be expected to reliably predict events that fly in the face of all logic and reason. Donald Trump (!) is the next President of the United States. There’s no amount of sinking in that can be done there.

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Yep. Really.

The common theme in both the EU referendum and Trump’s victory appears to be that the vote has been won by predominantly blue collar sections of the electorate who feel that they have been ‘left behind’ by modern politics. This is a perfectly valid sentiment; all of us will currently live within reasonable distance of a community which has been stripped down to desolation over the last 30 years, and it is understandable why those people would feel anger at how their own town or city has been left to rot by those in power. That they would seek to effect a change which puts them back on the map and hand back respectability. But what seems to have been completely missed in both elections is that it was right wing solutions which put those areas into that state. Thatcherism and Reaganism directly embarked on policies of eroding the manufacturing bases in both countries, of rampant belief in the free market above all else, mass privatisation of services, a dismantling of the concept of society, a race to the bottom in terms of employment and the continual espousal of the total myth that is trickle-down economics. So why has a form of further right wing dogma won the day on both occasions? This absolutely defies belief, akin to handing a burglar a set of your house keys after he’s made off with your possessions so he can have a go at pilfering the replacements a few weeks later. This counter-intuitive thinking has been shown up in the UK most recently by people reliant on in-work benefits voting for a Conservative government who brazenly state their desire to hack away at the welfare state and make the future of all such payments extremely precarious, and areas who have greatly benefited from EU funding voting to leave the EU regardless. One can only wonder what disaffected low paid US workers believe the arch-capitalist Trump is going to do to improve the lot of the working man.

It is fairly clear that we are now living in a sloganised and ‘post-facts’ era of politics. There’s a running theme in the second series of Extras where Andy Millman despairs that his dream of comedy has been reduced to shouting out inane phrases; worryingly, our politics has gone down that exact road. ‘Long term economic plan’, ‘fixing the roof while the sun’s shining’, ‘strivers not skivers’, ‘doing a Greece’, ‘take back control’, ‘make America great again’, ‘build a wall’, ‘lock her up’, ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – these are all phrases that any regular consumer of news will have heard constantly at various points over the last five years. Not one of them has any substance whatsoever, yet they are parroted ad infinitum as if their sole existence is good enough, as if that will do instead of actual policy or proper arguments.

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Are you havin’ a laugh? Is he havin’ a laugh?

The post-facts aspect is no less troubling and seems to be getting worse. David Cameron won his second term by continuing to peddle the long-standing – and virtually unchallenged by the media – lie that Labour alone caused the global financial crash of 2007/8. His party manifesto for 2015 stated that there would be a further £12bn worth of cuts to welfare over the next Parliament if they were elected, but refused to say where they would be coming from until they got into power, and yet people still voted for this complete absence of content. Between 2010 and 2015 his Government managed to miss virtually every single one of their own self-imposed economic targets, but he continued to press the line that only the Tories could be trusted with the economy. Austerity in itself was discredited by the overwhelming majority of leading world economists, was indeed partly abandoned through that 2010-15 Parliament, yet was then redressed as the only solution for the following five years, despite all evidence to the contrary. The culture hasn’t gone away since Cameron himself departed; only last week Damien Green was insisting that the benefit cap – which is currently being invoked and resulting in thousands of low-paid families no longer being able to afford rent or basic essentials – was a good thing as it encouraged those claimants to find more work. This despite there being no evidence whatsoever for his claim, a claim singularly debunked by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, as so many of the post-2010 welfare policies have been.

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Most of them drawn up by a man as dim as a 40 Watt bulb.

The rafts of misinformation in the campaign to leave the EU almost verged on the territory of parody, but still that side somehow won the day. Be it £350m a week being sent by the UK to the EU, all that saved money being spent on the NHS, myths about health and benefit tourism, wildly exaggerated claims of entire populations of prospective new EU member states migrating to the UK, Turkey imminently joining the EU – none of it had any basis whatsoever in fact, indeed none of it was even hard to check. But it was allowed to run riot. Michael Gove even infamously stated that ‘people are tired of hearing from experts’, as if respected expertise based upon empirical evidence in a certain field somehow now detracts from an argument. The campaign was also structured around the insistence that Britain should retain its own sovereignty in law making, a noble enough concept yet one which the Government is as we speak seeking to override, as they believe that they are not answerable to Parliament in terms of putting forward the process of withdrawal through our own elected representatives. Despite over 300 years’ worth of precedent and a High Court ruling.

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Dear Theresa, this is the Bill of Rights. It was drafted in 1689. I only bring it up as you don’t appear to know what it is.

Trump himself has practically no credible policies of his own. His speeches have been littered with outright lies, impractical promises and slurring of his opponents. He has been allowed to lie about his own past, his own positions, his aims and his vision for the country. His views on foreign policy are nothing short of terrifying, not to mention in breach of the Geneva Convention. He has been allowed to behave with complete impunity with regard to his personal behaviour, most shockingly in his language regarding Hispanics and women. But none of this – be it concerning the Tories, Brexit or Trump – seems to matter any more. You can put facts out in an argument. You can demonstrate the clear fallibility of an opponent’s dogma. You can produce reams of evidence to suggest that on the balance of probability, you are right and the slogan shouting, myth eulogising guy on the other side is wrong. It doesn’t count any more.

What has been apparent in all three of these campaigns, and of course why all three were to differing extents shock results, is that the pre-election polling has been found in retrospect to be completely inaccurate. This could well be due to the methods employed being greatly outdated, for the way in which people consume information these days and indeed express themselves has altered greatly in the last 20 years, while polling itself appears to be stuck in the past. But equally, there is a theory that people are ashamed to admit openly to preferring these right wing policies, the concept of the ‘shy Tory’ in the UK. This does beg the question – if it is seen to be taboo to publicly endorse thinking that is by turns racist, small minded, insular, lacking in empathy, outrageously selfish and utterly mendacious (as all three successful campaigns have variously been at different stages), it shouldn’t really be acceptable to secretly vote for it. One of the reasons so many people of my age group and demographic – the latter of which I fully accept isn’t necessarily representative of the country as a whole – find Brexit an incomprehensible concept is that we personally know so few people who will admit to voting that way (or indeed, for the Conservatives at any stage). There’s a certain irony in the contrast between the public bombast of right wing politics and the reluctance of those who endorse it to reveal themselves.

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Say what you like, but at least he wasn’t shy about what he thought.

It should be said that the Left and liberal politicians in general are also complicit in the current state of affairs. The perception of ‘elite politics’ doesn’t exist by accident, governments in both the UK and the US have been increasingly remote from ordinary people for quite some time. There appears to be a fundamental issue of coherence on this side; Labour are riven by internal chaos and appear to be condemning themselves to years outside of Government at the current rate, the Liberal Democrats cut their own throats in enabling a brutalist hard-right Tory strategy in quasi-coalition, the Democrats put up perhaps the only feasible Presidential candidate who Trump could hope to beat, with a mass of public groundswell already against her and plenty of skeletons in her own closet. So while we can rightly rail against those who are now inexplicably in power and what they stand for, there simply has to be more of a credible alternative. Left-leaning parties can’t just expect people to vote for them by default because they aren’t Theresa May or Donald Trump. That isn’t anywhere near enough.

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Exhibit A.

To finish – we are now intractably bound on both sides of the Atlantic to hardline, authoritarian, throwback governance, led by people with a sense of their own power and little else, with a side order of Brexit to follow. We are so often told by the overwhelmingly right-leaning media that right wing Government is the only sensible and practical way to go, that left wing policy is for political theorists and wooly-headed idealists. The next four to five years will bear out whether they are right and the likes of me are wrong, as I have been with all my political predictions over the last 18 months. Time will tell, if in the spirit of the day I can throw out my own trite, meaningless slogan. What I will say at this stage is that having the likes of Theresa May and Donald Trump as the architects of our future is deeply unpromising. They promise the politics of division, fear and elitism – that doesn’t sound like a future to me that is ‘taking back control’ for any of us.

THE END OF OSBORNEOMICS – NEW HOPE REQUIRED

The soon to be outgoing Chancellor’s formal admission that his surplus target no longer exists heralds the end of his overriding economic philosophy

After six years of fruitlessly chasing a target he was destined to never even come close to reaching, George Osborne’s aim of reaching a national budget surplus came to an end yesterday. All it took was for Britain to provisionally pledge to leave the European Union. Who knew it would be quite so simple in the end? You just need to set the country down a path of changing its place in the world for decades to come, and you can force even the most stubborn of politicians to eventually see sense.

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“By George, I think he’s got it. After six bloody years”

For running a surplus, and austerity by extension, are widely derided and discredited concepts. George Osborne never grasped this, in the age of anti-intellectualism where we’re all ‘sick of hearing from experts’, the voices of the entire economist community weren’t good enough for him. He has blamed his decision on the consequences of Brexit where a fairly sharp economic slowdown is the least severe of the expected short term outcomes, thus making his already (highly dubious) tight projections for 2020 entirely void. But for all that he might protest that it is only circumstances beyond his personal control that have led him to this decision, it really is a move that he should have made independently long ago. His reasoning was shaky on the following grounds:

  • When the Tories came into power (as an effective minority government) in 2010, the economy had been in the midst of a severe recession as a result of the global financial crash, but was showing signs of recovery – indeed there were shoots of GDP growth as 2009 turned to 2010. Osborne choked off this recovery by pursuing an agenda based on brutal austerity and an all encompassing desire to eliminate the deficit (this would later be extended to a wish to run a surplus – after, it might be noted, that Osborne missed his initial ‘elimination’ target in one Parliament by an absolutely huge margin and borrowed more than all Labour governments in history put together). The issue with this approach is that sharp cuts to spending do nothing other than halt growth, decrease market and consumer confidence, stall the economy so little of a positive nature can happen and at best, we experience stagnation. Accordingly, we saw numerous quarters of negative GDP growth between 2010 and 2013, at which point when seeing that austerity was failing, the vice-like grip was finally released and the economy eventually allowed to breathe. The obsession behind reducing national debt – which never even remotely approached historic peaks even at the height of the global economic crisis – to the detriment of every other aspect of economic policy played a huge part in wasted years for the British economy; when much of Europe was busy rebuilding, we were mired in the slowest recovery since the 18th century. For contrast, see Mark Carney’s promise this week to issue £250bn of quantitative easing should the need arise in the event of an economic crash following Brexit. The stock and current markets stabilised from their initial post-referendum tailspin. Think about it logically – would you have more confidence in an economy which says that it has the answers and the funds available should the worst happen, or one which says we’re potless come what may for the foreseeable and everyone’s going to have to do much more with far less?

  • Running a surplus when the economy is booming is again, fundamentally bad economics. It has the effect of boosting national savings to the counterpoint of contracting the economy – the private sector has to find some way of financing this public surplus, most commonly by taking on bank debt. So while the Government gets richer (to no obvious end), everyone else because more indebted. It’s a central flaw outlined in most basic, conventional economic teachings. Rather than follow such conventions, the Cameron/Osborne alliance preferred to deal in trite phrases such as ‘fixing the roof while the sun’s shining’ or that they ‘wouldn’t max out the nation’s credit card’. Economics can’t be cheapened down to terrible soundbites. Economies don’t work like household budgets. A better analogy than Gideon’s mythical leaky/non-leaky roof for what the Tories actually proposed is that if the nation owned a theoretical collective car, we should sell that now to anyone offering cash up front as we could use the money to pay off a chunk of our ultra-low interest, ultra-long term mortgage. Then get a taxi to work and back every single day.

I should add that I don’t possess any formal qualifications in Economics. Like so much in terms of politics, I’ve simply aimed to educate myself as well as possible so that I can make informed decisions and form reasoned opinions. I don’t understand everything, but I know enough. If I understand basic economics such as the above, it should be reasonable to expect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer understands it as well. George Osborne never showed any grasp of the most basic of concepts involved in running his department – which is a fitting epitaph for the Cameron years given the multiple shambles in running key offices such as Education, Health and Welfare.

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Dear Gideon, Merry Christmas, Love Dan.

In any event, it seems almost certain that Osborne’s days in No 11 are very shortly to come to an end. With his key promise now broken and being inextricably tied to the outgoing Prime Minister, whoever takes over the running of the country will surely look for a new Chancellor. It is absolutely crucial that whoever the new duo may be, they provide us with more hope than Cameron and Osborne ever did between 2010 and 2016.

Far too many people in Britain have been cut off and marginalised – this Government has had nothing at all to say or offer to people who aren’t prospering. A large section of the Leave vote came from areas where such a situation was rife; where people felt that things couldn’t possibly get any worse for them as it was going, so they may as well vote for change of some sort. As much as this might in the long run have been turkeys voting for Christmas, theoretical macroeconomic debate doesn’t carry much weight to people struggling to keep themselves afloat, this is the here and now and change, however flimsy, was offered and they took it. This cannot continue. If the modern Conservative Party genuinely does believe in the “One Nation” principle then no longer can ordinary people be abandoned.

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And we all know who set us off down that path.

It’s practically an inevitability that the economy is set for challenging times in the coming years, providing that we proceed with withdrawal from the EU. We cannot afford another situation mirroring the early coalition years, there cannot be more deliberate stagnation and managed decline. If we are to be more self-reliant as a country – as, by definition, would have to be the case in a future where we are no longer part of the single market – more help is required from the Government along the way. Economic growth, innovation and prosperity don’t just magically appear from nowhere, the conditions have to be there to foster those things. If we’re to believe the fairytale of Britain being stronger outside the EU, then Britain has to do everything in its power to promote its independent growth. Cutting everything back to the bone – or probably now the bone marrow, given everything that’s already been cut since 2010 – and relying on long-disproven trickle down economics will never be the answer.

As it stands, irrespective of who wins their leadership contest, the Tories would still have to be heavy favourites to win a General Election, whether it were called ahead of schedule or in its proposed date of 2020. Labour are riven by internal crisis and a central divide between its MPs and its members, the Lib Dems would surely have too much to do from a historic low base to come anywhere near a return to power sharing. It’s fanciful to suggest that UKIP who have never come up with any coherent domestic policy could come close to Westminster influence, our voting system precludes the Greens from ever getting in on the party. But should the Tories win, then we need a complete sea change in their approach to the economy. The era of austerity, where next to no-one believes they can improve their lot and one of the key legacies of the Cameron years is food banks and mean-spirited welfare sanctions, has to be at an end. Osborneomics has been a complete failure: an economic plan focused on hope rather than fear is the only way forward.