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Out of Touch

What’s going on in world politics at the moment? Have previously sensible people gone completely mad? That might be the conclusion after the events of this year, culminating in the recent vote for the UK to exit the European Union.

Until that, the unexpected success of Donald Trump was probably viewed as the most bizarre and worrying trend in global politics, but there are many lesser events around the world where things seem to be getting just a little bit out of control. Even countries like Iceland joined in when their prime minister resigned after being caught up in revelations from the Panama Papers.

Many people have offered opinions on what it’s all about and the eventual conclusion usually relates to the person’s pre-existing political biases. Of course, I am no exception and because I am both anti-establishment and highly skeptical of the “new right” (as well as the old right for that matter) I blame the political establishment and years of neoliberal market reforms.

You might ask in that case why parties who traditionally keep away from right wing politics aren’t doing better. Well I have two answers there: first, the anti-establishment thing applies to all traditional politicians equally; and second, most parties of the left dabbled in neoliberalism during the 80s and 90s and are now tarred with the same brush as the parties of the right who would more normally follow that particular political ideology (think Tony Blair in the UK for example).

I think no one can reasonably doubt that there is huge disenchantment with the current political elite in many parts of the world. In the US both likely presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, are highly unpopular with voters and only Bernie Sanders, who is more outside the current political establishment, has gained much respect.

Normally I would think that it was quite remarkable that even though Bernie has been sabotaged by the more mainstream sections of his own party he has done so well, but with the current trends perhaps it isn’t so unexpected after all.

Many people are saying that the major factor leading to the exit vote in the UK was immigration and how people were concerned with the negative consequences of increased numbers of immigrants allowed by EU rules. But I think it goes beyond that. Immigration was just a convenient focus for more general fears about the way the country is being run by the Conservatives, and by Labour before that.

People are scared about future jobs, about inequality, about their rates of pay, about the health system, about austerity politics, and about all the other factors which seem to be common in other advanced western nations. In many ways immigration was just a convenient touchstone which the exit side used in a rather cynical and dishonest way to gain support.

Leaving the EU might seem like a way to escape those issues but that might be a false hope, just like voting for Donald Trump is not a good way to “make America great again”. I totally understand the wish for change because the current political regimes in place around the world are completely out of touch with reality, but if you are going to make a change it’s important to make the change to something that is better rather than something which is even worse than what you already have!

Also, many people who do want change aren’t particularly extreme in their attitudes to the issues which are ostensibly at the core of the problem as they see it. But a successful vote for change like this one does give strength to the extremists. So now we see irrational and hateful racist comments such as notices saying “Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin” being posted through letter boxes, and assaults against people with various European origins.

I recognise the problems with the current establishment as much as anyone, but I think I would have voted to stay in the EU, even though that was the side supported by a Tory prime minister. It’s important not to let simple political point scoring get in the way of doing what’s right.

But people are often not rational when it comes to politics, especially when both sides have used so many emotional arguments. I quite like this quote by Winston Churchill about voters: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” And regarding the results of Brexit, Ricky Gervais said something like “The rich will still be rich, the poor will still be poor, and we’ll still blame the immigrants.”

I heard another useful piece of advice too, which was too remain calm and wait for things to sort themselves out. One New Zealand commentator recommended something like: “stay calm, we need banal and meaningless statements now, and no one can do that better than prime minister John Key!”

Unfortunately John Key is a classic example of the exact problem we have with most politicians around the world: he is completely out of touch with reality. Well the indicators are that world opinion is changing. The zeitgeist cannot be denied. Change is coming, but it’s going to get pretty ugly before it gets better!

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