If we don’t listen, Trump is just the beginning.
We have been building up to this year for a very long time.
Both in politics and the media, the concentration on a narrow band of people who feel entitled to lead has led to a disengagement with the wider electorate by media and politicians – apart that is from popular press, which has exploited this sense of exclusion for its own and its proprietors’ interests.
The disengagement and entitlement of political parties and media commentators has manifest itself in a toxic combination of complacency, contempt and repulsion at the things that are valued by the ‘lumpen electorate’.
From popular culture to their aspirations and fears, the wider populations on the both sides of the Atlantic have been dismissed as both irreverent and untouchable.
They have also been taken for granted. The prevailing view among too many liberals has been ‘How could they vote for the likes of Farage and Trump when these men are so contemptible?’
This assumption was based on what? Certainly not on engagement with the very people for whom our political and media leaders claimed to speak.
How could those in power speak on behalf of us? They are of a class that has been born into unquestioning privilege. They have never had to claw after privilege or desire it without hope. They have never held it and felt like an imposter aware that their ambition makes them out as outsiders, as arrivistes.
They cannot understand these feelings because privilege was their birthright. They have never questioned it, because it is the norm. Their engagement with the lower middle and working classes is based on a patrician sense of social obligation not solidarity. It is not about handing over their power to create a more equitable society. It is about maintaining a pyramid atop of which they sit.
You can see this in their engagement with issues of diversity: that attempt after attempt has been made to ensure women, the under-privileged and BAME people have the same access in society as the white upper middle classes have failed in the long term proves it.
Why? Because if their engagement were as radical as it needs to be to bring long term change, power would not still be concentrated in the hands of those born into it. It would have moved to a group more reflective of wider society.
I see the choice of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ candidate for president and Labour’s choice of public school educated Corbyn as leader as two of the most obvious manifestations of this disconnect between power and people.
Neither have traction on the door step, but their parties endorsed them and resolutely refused to engage with why the electorate would not vote for them.
Worse, they resolutely refuse to understand why the wider electorate vote in a way they neither understand or approve.
I saw this last week at my local Labour Party AGM when a visiting Labour front bencher was unable to answer my question. The question? Given the numbers of people visiting food banks, struggling over housing and employment, why are they not seeing Labour as the party that represents their interests? Instead they are voting Tory and UKIP.
The answer that came back was for us constituency members to work harder and get out on the streets.
The MP speaking was Jon Trickett, Labour’s Campaigns Co-Ordinator. It was an appallingly complacent response that, to me and others, reflected a failure to admit why people who should be voting for Labour were not.
I used the word ‘approve’ earlier deliberately. It says much. Like parents of a child who refuses to follow in the parents’ choice of career, our liberal leaders are confounded. Not because the child has refused to speak up, but because the parents cannot hear because they are so convinced of their own opinion and understanding of the situation. They haven’t changed, Their children have.
The electorate are not children. They are using the small amount of power that they have to say ‘enough’. ‘Listen to us!’
And we should listen.
They need to be empowered. And the sneering at what they read, think and say needs to stop.
Politicians and media need to hear what is said and to engage with it. They can only do that if they stop reinforcing their own power group. That means not recruiting from their own little bubble of privilege, but recruiting those who challenge their entitlement and who may do a better job than them.
If they don’t, they will never be able to connect with an electorate who, if continually ignored, will become more radical in their shouting to a group unable to hear and, as a result, vulnerable to any demagogue who does listen to their hopes, aspirations and fears and exploits it to their own ends.