Insurgents & The Stupid Class

There have now been three successive hammer blows at a trans-national political class that had assumed that its tenure was eternal - Jeremy Corbyn's inside the UK Labour Party, Brexit inside the European Union and Donald Trump's at the expense of the entire Washington Establishment.

Lady Bracknell, Oscar Wilde's formidable creation, would have understood that this goes beyond both misfortune and carelessness into an act of stupidity from our ancien regime. True to form, the reactions of the losers have been pure Louis XVIII - learning nothing and no doubt forgetting nothing.

What we have here is a shift in political culture that is not unprecedented in the West. Both Lenin's seizure of power in 1917 and Mussolini's March on Rome in 1922 initiated transformations that only partially ended with the defeat of fascism in 1945 and only fully ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The latest cycle emerged out of the Reagan-Thatcher years as a commitment to globalisation and neo-liberalism where the response of the Left was to accommodate it and then abandon the nation state in favour of guided technocracy and cultural manipulation.

Back in 2010, we gave a talk to young central bankers at Cass Business School where, understandably, the major cause for concern was the stability of the economic system. We argued (it seems rightly) that neo-liberal capitalism was resilient enough to survive as an economic system but that the real crisis would come later as weak growth began to have serious political effects. Even then, we knew that this was not going to be simply a matter of democratic revolt on the margins (as we saw in the Arab Spring) but one of eventual revolt in the heartland.

None of what has happened in the last two years or so comes us a surprise to us. Our error, if error there has been, had only been to believe that the prevailing and dominant liberal democratic system was more resilient than it proved to be and that assaults on it would result in adaptation. The system might wobble but it would not break. We were wrong because we underestimated the arrogance, narcissism, wilful ignorance and stubbornness of those who held power - in the Conservative and Labour Parties, in the European Union and in Washington.

It is probable that the liberal political establishment that has held the reins of power for so long deserves to lose. No tears need be shed - they have become surplus to historical requirements. However the revolution that has been let loose is not decisive. The political insurgents have, to use a radical phrase, given 'voice to the voiceless' but their victories remain divisive - Corbyn is still being undermined by his own apparat after two mandates, Brexit was won on only a 4% lead and Trump actually, very very marginally, lost the popular vote. This does not look good for cohesion.

The crass inability of the political establishment to accommodate the key planks of the insurgency - national self-determination, fairness domestically in the redistribution of the benefits of globalisation and a malign lack of respect for the cultural identity of the ordinary - has lead to a situation where the West is as divided between liberals (not Left) and populists (not conservatives) as it once was between communists and fascists. And yet this is our situation as Europe faces a succession of important votes in three key countries over the next twelve months.