Accustomed to getting their own way and furious at being thwarted by mere democracy, the political elite are responding to recent setbacks by doubling down on behaviours which could soon see them swept away completely
One would be hard pressed to find a better charge sheet against the British political elite – and explanation for the populist backlash currently being felt by every well-manicured and over-rehearsed politician in the country – than the one recently laid out by Charles Moore in The Spectator.
Moore writes, in explaining why he is now “cheering for the populist right”:
It may sound Marxist to say this, but I do think the elites have constructed a world order which serves their interests, not those of their subject populations. You see it in little things, like the fact that European commissioners, when they leave their posts, receive enormous ‘transition’ payments (it was reported that Peter Mandelson got £1 million) on top of their salaries and pensions. You see it in big things, like the fact that nearly half the young people of Spain, Italy and Greece have to go without jobs in order to enforce Germanic theories about central banking and Brussels doctrines about European integration.
In the second half of the 20th century, the huge projects to which the western world bent its mind more or less worked — the Marshall Plan, Nato, the United Nations Security Council, even the European Community, when it had only six members. What are the equivalent achievements in the 21st century? A pseudo-virtuous climate change agreement reached only because its members know it won’t be observed. A banking crisis resolved in the interests of bankers. A threat from Islamist terrorism which the outgoing President of the most powerful nation on earth still cannot admit even exists.
It does sound a little Marxist to talk about the elites in this way, as Charles Moore fears, until one remembers that with our decaying institutions and system of crony capitalism, the best and most able to serve the marketplace of goods, services and ideas are no longer the ones rising to the top. Therefore, to criticise them is not to criticise capitalism or the free market, because if you were to strip away the privilege of those at the top of the political, legal and commercial worlds and force the inhabitants to fight their way back up to the top from a level playing field, most of them would be living on the streets within a year. This is the dismal calibre of people we now allow to rise to the top of our society; to criticise them is not Marxist, it is to yearn for some semblance of a meritocracy.
The response of elites to their failures is too often to stigmatise the people who complain. Those who protest at immigration levels ten times higher than 30 years ago are treated as racists. Even the ballot box itself is seen as ‘populist’. Remainers argue that the referendum issues were ‘too complicated’ for voters. They seem actively to dislike the idea that our nation should once more be governed by its elected representatives. Having failed electorally, they turn to ‘lawfare’ — preferring a case before the Supreme Court to the direct implementation of what Parliament handed to the people to decide. Voters now believe that their rulers really do not like them very much, so the feeling becomes mutual.
Yes, a thousand times yes. And it is hilarious watching tone deaf politicians openly disparage the same parts of the electorate that they will be sucking up to in futility when the next general election rolls around. Most people possess a base level of social awareness. They know when they are being looked down upon, or worse, mocked. The experience shuts ears and hardens hearts against future persuasion. That so many MPs and commentators still do not realise this is a testament to the low calibre of people we have allowed to rise to the top of the political and journalism worlds.
Consider: Ed Miliband fought the 2015 general election on the premise that David Cameron and the Conservative Party were evil, far-right ideologues. Many respectable people who voted Tory in 2010 did not take kindly to the Labour Party suggesting that they were aiding and abetting evil, and now you can find Ed Miliband on the backbenches, giving forgettable speeches to a half empty Commons chamber. And yet the lesson has not been learned – many politicians now calling Brexit a calamity and deriding Brexiteers as either malevolent racists or useful idiots will be asking those same people for their vote in 2020 (or sooner). You don’t need to be Nostradamus to figure out how the electorate is likely to respond.
More from Moore:
In this respect, the culture war matters. You cannot go on saying that white straight males are brutes without eventually annoying them (and even a significant proportion of what John Prescott used to call their ‘womenfolk’). The cultural signals from the powerful are almost unthinkingly hostile to majority populations. This month, to take a minor example, a report into ‘diversity’ in the theatre commissioned by Andrew Lloyd Webber reported (reusing a phrase from Greg Dyke years ago) that it is ‘hideously white’. Why should the dominant racial characteristic of all western societies be considered ‘hideous’? If you said that anything was ‘hideously black’ you would (rightly) be shunned by polite society. Such asymmetry inspires revolt. The rise of Trumpery shows that the right has learnt a tactic of the left, which is to play up grievance to get power, money and attention. Grievance politics is extremely unattractive, but if western societies no longer deliver rising general prosperity and disrespect the people whom they are failing to serve, what do you expect?
And yet the Left continues to push aggressive multiculturalism and identity politics, even seeking to thwart Brexit so as to continue working towards their goal of undermining of the nation state.
This is dangerous. As Michael Lind once remarked, “the loyalties that succeed national solidarity are likely to be narrower, not broader”. Focus on individual racial identities, undermine the nation state, undermine Britain and any healthy sense of national identity and purpose we might otherwise have, and we very quickly descend into a jealously competing confederation of special interest groups, each one claiming some special victim status and viewing itself as oppressed by the others.
The Labour Party, which has long served the elites rather than the working man or woman, is currently in the process of falling down a chasm of their own making, between people who recognise and oppose this danger (their rapidly diminishing working class vote) and those who choose to remain blithely ignorant because they are not presently feeling many negative consequences (the virtue-signalling middle class clerisy). Both groups are coming to hate and scorn one another, yet Labour needs both to turn out in sufficient numbers if they are ever to win a general election again.
But indulge the populist side and the elitist side becomes enraged, and vice versa. Try to fudge the issue by making half-hearted gestures to each side (like Labour’s immigration coffee mug) and it alienates one side while failing to persuade the other.
In fact, populism vs elitism is rapidly becoming the new axis of our politics, which is a shame. There should be no question that when the interests and attitudes of the elite turn stridently against those of ordinary people, we should side with the ordinary people against the elites. That does not mean adopting every daft populist idea that comes along, but by actually taking into account the hopes, concerns and aspirations of ordinary people in regular policymaking we might hope to avoid finding ourselves in another situation where so many people see the likes of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage as their only salvation.
In other words, a certain amount of populism should be hardwired into our politics, so that it does not fester unseen and then break free to dominate proceedings and create destabilising uncertainty. The left vs right, authoritarian vs libertarian arguments remain far more interesting than the populism vs elitism shouting match, but it is currently being overshadowed as we debate idiotic questions like whether or not the wisdom of a powerful elite ought to cancel out the result of a national referendum. When we disagree about such fundamentals, worrying about what the government does and does not do for its citizens inevitably rather takes a back seat.
Moore concludes that “if, in a parliamentary democracy, the elites and the voters markedly diverge, one must surely bet that the elites are likelier to be wrong”. And the elites certainly have been short-sighted, self-serving and often outright wrong on a parade of key issues.
The political elite have perhaps one last chance to check their arrogant and selfish behaviour before they trigger an even bigger backlash, and things start to get really bad.
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What a load of idiotic waffle – seriously having a non-discussion about “identity” politics…what’s so special about “politics? Why do we have to put the word, division, between whether something or some thought process is political? I’ll tell you what it is all about – humanity en masse. Everyone has thoughts based on their experiences – just because they are not politicians doesn’t make them a lessor species. I see that in your long diatribe, you forgot to mention the most important and compelling and completely unfixable problem – corruption! This starts hugely at the top and get’s progressively less towards the bottom. If you intellectual wise men can get rid of the disgusting corruption THAT would solve ALOT. Suggest you use those brains to think of a clever way of abolishing it.
Broadly, the Conservative Party has already adapted to the new political reality. Labour are in a mess because the Labour political coalition has two strands that are diametrically opposed to one another.
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Could you expand a little more on the “globalism versus culture” image at the end of the post?
Sure! The image actually came from a Stefan Molyneux YouTube video, and I expanded on the theme in this old piece from back in September:
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I take issue with quite a few of your assertions, somewhat inevitably 🙂
Firstly, any healthy sense of national identity in this country has to take into account that it is a union of different nations. The idea that we lose our cultural and national identity through union with other nations is something you actively argued against in the Scottish referendum, yet it seems to form the cornerstone of your cultural arguments against the EU. I know we have discussed this before, and I respect your reasons for feeling as you do, but it is a belief and not a self-evident truth.
And secondly, the referendum was explicitly constructed to be advisory. Of course the government should act on the result, but the precise way in which this should happen needs to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I fail to see why upholding the rule of law in this case is some kind of elitist attack on the beleaguered electorate. Personally I am more worried about a PM pushing through completely unconstitutional reforms than I am about Brexit, yet whenever I voice my concerns about how undemocratic this is, any conversation gets shut down with accusations of being a “Bremoaner.”
On the whole, I think a major political decision which 48% of the electorate opposed needs a bit of consensus-building, but I have yet to see any constructive engagement from Eurosceptics on this issue, and to be honest I don’t have much respect for the “we won, you lost, suck it up” school of political thought.
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I’m actually fairly relaxed about the judicial challenges to Brexit, so long as the ultimate decision lands back in the lap of elected politicians, as I argued here:
Though I did also point out that the British constitution and legal system is so complex and deliberately opaque that it covers up a multitude of sins, few “ordinary” people on the street (including me!) really understand it, and so we lack a common frame of reference for discussing constitutional issues and the validity of political decisions, unlike (say) Americans:
Funnily enough, like you I am now coming under fire for being a “Bremoaner” because I fail to subscribe to the most swivel-eyed, extreme form of Brexit in which we sever all links to the single market, stick our heads in the sand and pretend that quick deals over tariffs are all that is required to keep the show on the road as we unplug from 40 years and myriad ways of EU schemes and cooperations (some of which we will inevitably want to keep). So much as it goes against my usual rants against centrism, I think there should and will be a new consensus forming in the middle ground, certainly in Parliament, to reject the extreme “forget Article 50, just repeal the European Communities Act and wash our hands!” or “screw the single market!” carefree approach and pursue an interim deal which maintains our present level of access to the single market as we look to build a longer term solution.
What a superb piece. Your analysis is spot on. I can only reiterate your point about the elite treating us ordinary people as beyond the pale. I have nothing but contempt for them, because they have only contempt for me – so yes it is mutual, and its becoming visceral. You reap what you sow.
“hope to avoid finding ourselves in another situation where so many people see the likes of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage as their only salvation.” It is perhaps the elite that have created Trump and Farage – who it has to be said are remarkable men; for having the courage to stand up and say publicly what millions of us think. If the elite has just listened now and again instead of labeling us as racists and xenophobes and all the other pejoratives, they wouldn’t be in this position, but they didn’t and we are.
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Just out of interest, what makes you ordinary?
Where do you want to start? To begin, the few things I am not is a) a politician b) a banker. Nor do I work for the MSM or government. I have worked and paid my way, and all my taxes since I was 16 (1974). Apart from a 4 month period in 2008 I have been employed. I have a reasonably paid job, but it’s under 50K a year before taxes. All that I have, I’ve paid for. I’m neither right nor left.
Like most Britons I’m caucasian. In short squire – I’m nothing special.
Similarly to you, I’m neither a politician nor a banker, and although I have no idea what you mean by MSM, I suspect I don’t fall under that category either. I am lucky enough never to have been unemployed, but I have sympathy with people who are unable to find unemployment (having grown up in a mining family affected by Thatcher’s short-sighted handling of the decline in British industry), and I consciously chose to work in a job that doesn’t pay very well because I believe in the value of doing it. So, by your definition, I guess these are the things that set me apart as not ‘ordinary’. Am I right?
The way you talk about being ‘ordinary’ makes it sound as though your political opinions are entirely based on your national/cultural/economic identity. Which is fine if that is how you approach your politics, but a political opinion is still an opinion. And I believe that anyone professing an opinion based on an identity of anything other than a ‘normal’ working caucasian Briton would get short shrift on this blog. ‘Ordinary’ identity politics are still identity politics.
Short shrift on *this* blog? When have I ever evaluated somebody’s statements or beliefs based on their racial identity? I would hope you know me better than that.
I mean, if someone discussed their politics in terms of their racial/cultural/national identity, since you seem to be on a bit of a crusade against divisive identity politics at the moment – not at all suggesting that you would evaluate someone’s statements based on who they are. But surely you realize that talking about ‘ordinary people’ like this is a kind of identity politics – unless you can show me a definition of ‘ordinary’ in this context which is not political.
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It was a fellow reader who used the phrase “ordinary people” – that wasn’t actually my comment or phrasing.
I would guess that “ordinary people” refers to the “hoi polloi” – the average Jack & Jill-in-the-street.
Indeed. Thank You
Yeah, I know. But it’s still something that I find interesting – what makes it identity politics when minorities are concerned, and not identity politics when majorities are concerned? Just wondering out loud, which is a dangerous thing to do on the internet!
To take the ‘ordinary’ thread out of the loop (I think it’s been dealt with successfully here) you say – ‘…divisive identity politics’. It’s a helpful – possibly inadvertent – but nonetheless helpful qualifier.
Who would not be against ‘divisive’ identity politics?
Probably the whole of the human race define their relationship with the rest of it in terms of their localised identity. Identity politics if you will for convenience. However, when that identity grouping – minority or majority – is used in terms of forcing or claiming division then that’s a reasonable ground for railing against the practice.
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Yes, I agree. However, it tends to be seen as divisive when it goes against what is accepted as the norm. When people like Nigel Farage claim an identity for “ordinary decent people” and then put it in opposition to other groups who are implicitly excluded, I see that as divisive identity politics; I am interested in why others do not.
Angharadlois – Seriously, you don’t know what MSM means ? I’m not going to bite on this one. Just Google it.
I would point out that Wilson shut more pits than Thatcher did, and the mishandling was by the likes of Scargill. What she could and should have done was to separate the miners from Scargill. Scargill wanted a fight and he got one, but not with the ending he wanted. He could not see that you cannot forever subsidise an industry that was not competing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s cars, coal, steel or whatever, if you have to subsidise it, it’s a failure, and all you are doing is throwing hard working tax payers money away.
What else can one’s politics be based on if not National/cultural/economic bases? Are we not the products of where we are born/live/go to school and work? I don’t agree with “Identity” politics as all it does is to seek differences rather than what unites us. You and I may be identical in many ways, but eventually we’ll discover that we have a difference (whatever that may be) and that may repeat may cause an issue. All identity politics does is to exacerbate that issue
I did search for a definition before asking. Using jargon which you refuse to explain in your comments is hardly conducive to debates, but it is entirely up to you how much you want to engage.
As for being the product of where we were born/live/go to school and work, I still disagree to some extent. Is everyone from your hometown and in your workplace the same as you? Do they all share the same opinions, based on those life experiences? I would expect not. Assuming that there is such a thing as ‘ordinary’ and that people with different life experiences are deviations from the norm is a very divisive way of thinking, in my view. But as I commented before, these are opinions, not self-evident truths. I am not the one looking for differences here, nor am I the one claiming a definition of “ordinary”.
Incidentally, I’m not suggesting that the pits should have stayed open; I’m just suggesting that removing the entire economic basis for a town’s existence without investing in providing alternative sources of employment causes long-term problems, which getting on a bike cannot fix.