Saturday, 3 December 2016

“Brexit, Corbyn, Trump and Jesus" Believing in a better land or the bigger lie? Part 1

2016 has been a year for shocking, subversive election results (or monumentally  stupid, as some might describe them). Weve had a hat trick of such electoral decisions:

·       in June the Brexit vote;
          in September the re-election of  Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader (OK less of a shock but still subversive);
     then in November the unthinkable- the election as US President of one Donald J. Trump.

It  was only Michael Goves knives in the back that prevented a fourth- the appointment of Boris Johnson as our Prime Minister. And what a fine matching pair of bombastic blonde bombshells he and Trump would have made as leaders of the United States and United Kingdom! (However, then we would have lost Boriss unique skills as our Foreign Security going round the world to make friends and influence people to help secure all those valuable post-Brexit trade deals).

I pose three questions:
  • ·         What can we learn from these three iconoclastic election results?
  •       What, if anything, do they have in common?
  •       And what on earth (or in heaven) do they have to do with Jesus Christ?

Lets take them in order of chronology (as opposed to sagacity).

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Even 6 months after the referendum we still have little clue what this will mean for us all, beyond Brexit mean Brexit (thanks for those insightful words Theresa!). It is clear what sort of Brexit most of the country and government would like: the sort of Brexit that leave voters were promised in the referendum campaign- complete control of our laws and borders but with free trade with Europe (and the rest of the world), whilst saving us billions in club membership fees. A win, win situation for us. A kind of pain free divorce where having walked out on our partner we somehow take the house, the car and all the other assets.  And why not? After all they owe us. We saved Europe from Hitler 70 years ago (ok with a bit help from the yanks). Its now pay back time and time for Britain to be great again. Dont listen to those niggardly naysayers who say otherwise. After all the economic sky over Britain hasnt fallen in after the referendum, contrary to what some doomsayers predicted (rest in peace Dave and George). All we need to do is have a bit of faith in ourselves as a country and, as our brilliant Foreign Secretary says, well make a Titanic success of Brexit.

I guess it all depends on how you define success. Does it include striking a giant iceberg and sinking an unsinkable ship, Boris? Because thats the sort of success that Brexit is likely to bring us.  The only reason why Brexit hasnt done us too much damage so far (beyond the fallen pound) is that it hasnt happened yet and may not for at least another two years. But if you look up at the skies the storm clouds are gathering . Our nasty neighbours have already made clear that the sort of Brexit wed like just isnt going to be on offer to us: its free movement and free trade. (They have to take a hard line with us to prevent Brexit being followed by Frexit and Nexit and the whole EU project falling apart). So free movement and free trade must come as a package. And if we want that package well still have to pay the club membership fees and still have to follow most of the club rules. Only this time well have no say over those rules as well no longer be a proper club member.

But then who needs Europe to trade freely with when weve got the rest of the world? Hmm and hows that international trade charm offensive going then Boris and Liam? Not too well I hear. India and the USA are two of the biggest prizes. India have just told our Prime Minister that theyre not interested in more trade links unless we ease up on immigration. Not more bloody free movement for free trade nonsense! Isnt that why we left Europe? And America? Well after the election of a US President whos made it his mission to tear up America's "damaging" free trade deals, I dont think we can expect too many rich pickings there. The cold reality is slowly dawning that, rather than being a win, win situation, Brexit will be a lose, lose situation, just as us pessimistic poo-pooers had warned during the Referendum. The only way to avoid hitting the iceberg will be to sign up to the European single market  (or something very similar) with all the stuff that brings which most had voted to leave behind; free movement, EU laws and membership fees. The alternative is being shut outside from our immediate trading neighbours with whom we do half of our trade; big tariffs barriers and more not less red tape for businesses trading with Europe. If we choose to remain outside all serious economists predict we will lose us tens of billions of pound a year in business and tax revenues and hundreds of thousands of jobs. And the rest of the world, Im afraid, isnt going to be our salvation, because they dont feel they owe us a living any more than Europe does. All this was exactly what nearly all the experts economists, businessmen and academics had warned us would happen. But the public (or 52% of them) chose to ignore them.

So why did the 52% vote for this economic car crash? I think the best answer was probably seen in one of the leave campaigns posters. No not the horrible racist one showing the mass migration hoardes that leaving the EU would protect us one. A much more reasonable and aspirational slogan- Take our country back. When I read that I thought, hmm, but take our country back where and when? Back to Europe and a world as it was in 1972? But that world doesnt exist anymore. And I realised no, its much more aspirational than that: they wanted to take us back to a mythical place and time that only really exists in peoples minds. A place and time where Britain is great again and free”: free from the enslaving shackles of the EU, free to limit our immigration to 10,000s a year, free to be the greatest manufacturing nation in the world again. And I do think that most of the Leave campaigners actually believed in this better land, this mythical place they were striving for. (Probably not Boris; he just saw it as his best way of becoming Prime Minister). And I think its that vision of a better land that the 52% bought into.

So many people had felt the country had forgotten them. In the once thriving industrial towns of Northern England and South Wales- our own rust belts- they saw the southerners who had done well out of  our Euro-centric Britain, epitomised by  the financial fat cats in the City. You know the ones who crashed the economy and brought us all this austerity (Or was that new Labour? All in it together no doubt- some truth in that!). At the same time they were left behind in crappy zero hours jobs, struggling to make ends meet and seeing our NHS and other public services increasingly falling apart, as (so they saw it) they strained under the weight of all that European immigration. That immigration and its cheap labour might be good for some businessmen, but it was no good for us ordinary folk.  The leave campaign had seized on that discontent and offered them a vision of a better land where they would get a fairer share; no need to compete with EU immigrants driving down their wages and draining our public services and with £350 million a week more to invest in our NHS from membership fees saved. Oh and dont forget freedom from silly EU laws that even tell us the size of the bananas we can sell (We can be free to make our own silly laws instead).

Sadly, the people of this country were sold a lie. It went well beyond made up banana size laws and  the other mythical 75% of our laws that werent actually made in the EU (its about 13% in fact) or the big bus fib about the £350 million a week membership fees we could  re-invest into the NHS (its about a third of that and  nothing at all once the free trade benefits are factored in) or that the EU need us more than we need them because were a net importer (conveniently forgetting that for each EU country were only one of 27 EU nations they export to but for us were talking about our exports to a whole 27) or that EU migrants were a burden on our public services when actually they contribute more in revenue than they take out (unlike the many elderly UK citizens living in France and Spain who when they are sent home really are going to be a burden on us). Those lies were all part of it, but they were just materials being used to paint a much bigger lie; a picture of a better land that never existed and never will. It was a lie most of those peddling it may have believed themselves but it was a lie nonetheless. (And for which the Leave campaigns are currently facing possible prosecution for electoral fraud). The real country Brexit will leave us with will either be quite a lot poorer (and invariably when countries get poorer its the poorest that suffer most) or equally rich but with even less control over our own destiny (access to club facilities, but no say over the club rules we have to follow and still paying the same membership fees).

And so what about Jeremy Corbyn? Consistently he has been the most unpopular Labour leader ever, who has brought Labour its lowest ever opinion poll ratings in opposition. He has made a whole series of gaffes, which a hostile press have been ever keen to highlight, and in the eyes of many his lacklustre referendum performance contributed to the Brexit vote. On current projections he would lead Labour to their worst election defeat since 1931. 85% of his MPs and most of his cabinet members voted that they had no confidence in him, recognising that he was going to sink the boat. But Jeremy clung on to that boat like a belligerent barnacle and overwhelmingly the Labour members and supporters- 62% of them- voted to keep him as leader. I was one of those who had voted for him first time round, as I share most of the policies and principles he stands for. However, seeing what a disastrous leader hed been- lacking any of the basic skills needed to be party leader- I voted for his rival, Owen Smith.

So why was Jeremy re-elected? The answer I think again is that belief in a better land. Amongst  the Labour partys selectorate there was a widespread feeling that the New Labour establishment of the party had allowed  vested rich  interests  to get away with too much for too long, whilst others had been left behind. Despite the many good things the last Labour governments had done, they had too often served the interests of the rich elite against the interests of the majority and especially the poorest. This was seen especially  in their unquestioning embracing of far too much Thatcherite free market dogma, perhaps exemplified most in two things. The  opening up of our public services to private interests leaching profits from public money.  And their blind love affair with the City of London, which lead to the laxer regulation of financial services which contributed to the crash and the bankers' bailout and then budget deficits and austerity that followed it. What made this even more offensive was that far too many new Labour politicians (like their Conservative colleagues) were seen to have directly benefit from this privatising free marketeering of our public services, e.g. through sitting on the boards of too many privateering companies. New Labour was also seen to have borrowed the Tory clothes in another offensive way; through dishonest spin. This was exemplified most by sexing up the case for a totally unjustified invasion of Iraq. This led to the pointless deaths of many of our own servicemen and ultimately has been a spur to terrorism and an escalation of tensions in the Middle East.

Ultimately this was why, with hindsight, Jeremy Corbyns leadership rival never really stood a chance. He might have had more leadership skills and been more convincing to the wider electorate. However he was too easily seen by the Labour selectorate as tainted by his association with New Labour Old Establishment. Even though he had not even been a MP at the time of the last labour government, his previous employment by multi-national drug companies for many characterised him as on the side of the selfish privateers rather than the wider public interests.  We can throw in his pragmatic willingness as a parliamentary candidate in the noughties to be seen as behind rather than hostile to Tony Blair as the sitting Prime Minister. The fact that there were only two real policy differences between him and Jeremy (the EU and nuclear disarmament) in some ways only exacerbated the problem. To many it just made him look like a dishonest spin meister prepared to say anything to get elected. Yup New Labour Old Establishment just dressed up in new socialists clothing. No, were not falling for that one, most of the members decided. Jeremy has shown us the door to a better land of more honest politics leading to a Labour government, who will at last rule in the interests of the many, especially the poor and downtrodden. Jeremys the only one pure enough to lead us there, so were sticking with him.

And Jeremys loyal supporters convinced themselves of their own lie; the lie that Jeremy was capable of leading the party and winning over the wider electorate. They wrongly assumed that Jeremys ability to draw in mass crowds of supporters could translate to the wider electoral, who would somehow catch the same fever and fervour that had infected them. Jeremy even kidded them that Labour were ahead in the polls before his MPs rebelled. No they werent. In all but a couple of opinion polls since Jeremy became leader Labour had consistently been behind the Tories, significantly so in most cases. No opposition has ever won power from such a position. Sadly, the situation has of course only got worse since Jeremy was re-elected and all the evidence suggests that the only land Jeremy is capable of leading Labour to is an electoral wasteland.

And Donald Trump? A man with zero experience of political office, habitually rude and offensive, accused of sexual assault by a dozen woman, a billionaire whos paid zero income tax for years and who defrauded hundreds of students through his fake University. How did such a man get to be elected to the most powerful position in the world? Because for once here was an honest anti-political politician who cut the spin and tells it like it is? Tell like it is? He did anything but. He just told it like many wanted to believe it was. His whole campaign was founded on lies. The lie that human climate change is not a serious threat to the world, the lie that you can cut everyones taxes and massively increase investment by trillions without bankrupting the country, the lie that America is overrun by illegal Mexican immigrants (net immigration is actually falling), the lie that to stop that immigration he can build a wall and get the Mexicans to pay for it, the lie that you can just  tear up international free trade agreements without damaging the national and world economy, the lie that he can turn back the clock 40 years to revive long-dead industries, the lie that liberalising gun laws will make his country safer (rather than hugely more dangerous), the lie that giving sanctuary to Muslim refugees  puts his country at serious terrorist risk (theres far greater risk of getting killed by a toddler accidentally picking up their fathers gun). And the lie that his rivals misuse of email was a criminal offence or that he would lock her up for it.  A number of these declarations he has (thankfully) already

 backtracked on within days of his election.

So why did so many American voters fall for his lies? Because many felt forgotten for decades and given a bum deal by the establishment politicians (both Democrat and Republican). This was particularly seen in the rust belt states of the Mid West like Ohio and Michigan. Here they saw the traditional honest industries- ones that dug and made real stuff and which had been their regions economic lifeblood- left to rot. Meanwhile the country was seemingly flooded with cheap foreign imports and immigrants and seaboard cities grew rich on hi-tech and service industries, especially the dodgy financial services industry that through the crash had brought so much damage to America (and the world). And just as in our own country they felt the establishment politicians had repeatedly lied to them about the case for foreign military action dragging the country down by involvement in pointless foreign conflicts killing 100s of American servucemen and yet only increasing the terrorist threat they were fighting.
It was in those same regions that in the democratic primaries Bernie Sanders so trounced the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton with his radical socialist message. He promised a different, better land of increased investment, better welfare and healthcare, funded by hiking taxes on the rich. And he too promised to tear up some of those free trade agreements and halting American military interventions. One wonders if the Democrats had chosen him as their candidate whether instead of the most right wing President ever we might now be celebrating America's first socialist President.

 But the Democrats nominated the establishment figure Hillary Clinton as their candidate. And incredibly (or perhaps not so incredibly) in the forgotten rust belts many of the same voters who backed the socialist Sanders in the primaries leaped right over the political grand canyon and voted for the ultra right wing Donald Trump.
 And why did they do that? Again I think it's because like Bernie Sanders had done Donald Trump offered to the forgotten and left behind a vision of something that gave them hope; a better land they could believe in where their old industries and towns and prosperity would rise again like a Phoenix from the ashes. For he promised he would "make America great again". And yet that whole promise was based on lies; a totally unsustainable economic policy allied to narrow minded racism.

With all three of these political shocks I believe we can see similar processes at work. People who feel lied to, forgotten and left behind by the establishment and the powerful forces of big money and globalisation. This has made them feel sick to their back teeth with the establishment politicians. They want to give them a bloody nose to demonstrate the anger and despair they feel. At the same time they are desperately reaching out for something new, a change from the status quo they can believe in. They have been offered a vision of a better land where they will be given a better deal, a fairer share. But sadly I believe in all three cases they have voted for something, someone, some place that can never and will never exist. They thought they were voting for a better land. In reality I believe they just fell for a bigger lie. In the case of Brexit it was a lie that we could leave the EU and be a greater more prosperous freer country again,  by still having the benefits of free trade but without the shackles of eu immigration and rules. With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn it was the lie that a man who had lost the confidence of nearly all his mps and with the worst ever poll ratings could lead the party to election victory. With Donald Trump it was the lie that such a dishonest and vile man could make the country great again and themselves more prosperous by a combination of totally unsustainable economic policies and narrow-minded xenophobia. In all three cases the irony was that it was the lies and deceptions of establishment politicians that had thrown them into the arms of even bigger lies.

As a bible believing Christian, sadly I'm not surprised when people are taken in by big lies. The bible teaches that from the very start humans were always susceptible to the big lie and ultimately they all have their origins in the first and greatest liar of them all, the Father of Lies. When it comes to lying he makes the likes of Tony, Nigel and Donald look like complete amateurs. But I believe there is one man and only one man who is entirely trustworthy. I believe he will eventually expose all lies (including our own) and will be a leader who finally will deliver the promised "better land".

... to be continued

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