Why is it that every so often we have the
triumph of a Corbyn or a Tsipras, a Marine Le
Pen or a Nigel? What is it that they
offer which mainstream politicians fail to
First of all, we should note the obvious fact that the new pretenders are not all of the same political persuasion. The first two are of course on the far left and the other two are far to the right in standard political language. But whether left or right they each have something which resonates with their audiences. I would suggest however that it is not the political programme which they propound which wins them their popularity. Obviously their words enshrine their political thoughts, such as they are, but it seems to me that these are a secondary factor. The more important one is the nature of the people to whom they are talking. It seems to me that they all think in the same way. They wish to live in a fairy-tale world. The common factor with all the people I have mentioned, and a good many others having similar appeal, is the simplistic nature of the solutions which they offer for the world's ills and even the definition of those ills. For their listeners, the actual solution is secondary to its simplicity. To succeed it must appeal at a superficial emotional level to people imprisoned by their wishful thinking, people happy to be hoodwinked in order to feel that they have “The” answer to everything.
The right says that if we could just curb immigration by leaving the EU and the dead hand of the anti-democratic European Commission or by building razor wire fences, we would find that our economic ills would suddenly evaporate. The figures show that immigrants actually cost the state less than the average member of the population as a whole. They add to the economy. Mr Corbyn and Mr Tsipras share the view that because the bankers got us into this, then the current state of the economy is not our fault. If it is not our fault, then this means in turn that we can ignore the debt burden we have and pretend that we can act as if the financial crisis had not happened. Mr Corbyn says that, under the control of his future dirigiste government, our Central Bank would create money to spend on all the presents we would like to have, such as lots of houses, bigger and better schools, roads and railways. He wants the banks, the energy sector and railways to be renationalised. And because it would be the “Peoples' Quantitative Easing”, it would transcend all the normal rules of economics and bring us the wealth and well-being which we so richly deserve. We could impose substantial increases in the taxes paid by big business because it is run by capitalist fat-cats and therefore very wicked. And yet we could still have the employment for which it is currently responsible. We could get the rest of the tax we need by increasing the top rate of tax for the super-rich in the sure and certain knowledge that they will sit in their mansions and just pay up rather than moving to a country where the tax rate is lower. No, it is not the specific nature of the remedy which is offered which is particular importance, but the fact that it is simple in the extreme, or more precisely, simplistic. All of them offer a cure which is blindingly obvious to the faithful, those not caught up in the 'politics of yesterday', 'the Westminster bubble' and, of course, the global capitalist conspiracy.
But it is not only the solutions offered, but the background to those who are making the offers. All of these great leaders, without exception, say that they are not part of mainstream political life. They are outsiders to the political system. They are not tainted by the fall-out from what has gone on in the past. This is why they are able to offer this fresh vision of our future. But, of course, none of this is true. Even in the case of Donald Trump, future president and star of 'the Apprentice', it is foolish to say that he is not part of the political system. He is not a professional politician, having never been elected to office, but we may be sure that his efforts to lobby Congress and the Senate (as well as the Scottish government - successfully) have been Herculean. He is therefore a part of the system - probably the worst part. And not only that, he has said that he would be happy to have as a member of his administration that well-known intellectual, Soviet expert and former vice-presidential hopeful Sara Palin. In Europe, we have a group of wannabe leaders claiming to be outsiders, but who are in fact career politicians striving for power on populist tickets but who have never held office. This though is not for want of trying. They cannot be therefore be described as newcomers to the system or fresh faces with new ideas. For the most part they have held the same discredited ideas for all their adult lives. They have done deals with those of like mind and expelled from their groups others who have not fallen in with the narrow sectarian view of politics accepted by the high priests of their group. They are not the pure fresh minds they would have us believe, but hitherto unsuccessful ranters and ravers. They are coming to the fore because some people seem not to like the grown-up, painful solutions which are actually necessary and have forgotten the disasters of the past when such solutions were in vogue.
Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage are slightly different from the others in that, in the name of getting elected, they have attempted to change the image of their respective parties. No longer are they overtly racist, but instead attempt to woo us on the basis that in straitened times, we must look after the people who live here rather than the stranger hammering at our gate. Both have expelled the worst examples of the blatant racism and obvious fascism of their parties including, in the case of Marine Le Pen, her father. But the underlying message is the same –pull up the drawbridge: the enemy hordes are coming!
But there is something-else which works in the arrivistes favour. Having a simple message – tax the rich, get rid of foreigners, they can be quite definite in what they say. The politicians in power have long since taken to hiding what they mean in the language of PR in order to display party unity and avoid upsetting the electors. And in the end, we get very fed up with the lack of specifics coming from them.
So then, are we all doomed to be taken over by this sort of idiocy? I am unlikely to vote in favour and I do not think that I am alone. After all, the present government was elected on the basis of a refusal to accept a Labour government propped up by the very left wing Scottish Nationalists and so perceived (rightly or wrongly) as willing to spend money without counting the cost. But it was also elected on the basis that it would limit immigration. Fortunately (in my view) we are now seeing it respond to belated people pressure. It is starting to distinguish between people wanting to come here allegedly simply to benefit from our welfare system (for which there is very little evidence, incidentally) and those wanting to escape war or dictatorship. It is starting to accept that, as a country, we should do something, even if we are still willing to leave the heavy lifting to Germany and Sweden. Which perhaps confirms that in the end people are not quite so naïve as the left may wish or as xenophobic as the right may hope. Maybe we'll carry on muddling through. I suspect we're still not ripe for revolution.