10th November 2016
-By Tim Carter-
On Tuesday night, like most people (I jest, most people were tucked up in bed), I sat with my TV switched to the BBC’s news channel, staring at the US electoral map, checking social media and US news feeds. It was a long night.
First I convinced myself we had to wait for swing states; then it was the west coast big numbers; then it was a belief, or was it hope, that the Democrat barricade would hold. In the end I wasn’t even kidding myself. Trump had won and he had won big. He now holds a very powerful hand with enough support to do pretty much as he likes.
This morning a lot of my friends woke up feeling anger. Some were in tears and many spoke of fears about what the future holds.
But what is happening now in politics didn’t start last night or last year and those calling the electorate stupid (or worse) are, probably without realising it, highlighting one of the key issues we need to address.
Away from that we must always remember that democracy doesn’t always give the results you want as an individual but it is far better than the alternatives.
President Trump will become a reality in January and if he keeps his word then his first day will see executive orders stripping away many of Obama’s orders. Some of them will hit those in need of protection and refuge. Others aimed at the gun lobby will probably include removing gun-free zones in schools.
But how did we get here?
The reaction to the Trump victory by many ‘on the left’ has been sadly predictable. When they are not busy claiming voters are stupid or that voters were duped, they resort to blaming the establishment politicians or suggesting that we need ‘a real left wing alternative’, whatever that is.
Does that sound similar? It should because there was the same reaction to Brexit.
But the left have to share some of the blame.
If you encourage people to hate the establishment surely you can’t be surprised when people vote for someone with that message.
If you spend years blaming bankers for everything – and if voters flock to someone with that message – then you must also share the burden of blame.
If you lead marches claiming politics is broken and urge people to vote for ‘a different way of doing politics’ again don’t be surprised when they do.
When you weaponise abuse & hate you don’t control who uses that weapon. But you created it so you have to accept the responsibility for it and understand that others will use it.
I am sure that many will disagree but I believe that Corbyn, Farage, Brexit and Trump are linked and that they all feed on the same thing. They feed on a message that is at its most base a message of fear and loathing.
They have created monsters out of bankers, politicians, institutions and pushed hate and fear in equal measures.
So we now have people, including Richard Burgon MP, citing Clinton’s closeness to bankers as her downfall – in doing so they are endorsing one of Trump’s key messages. A bit of a strange thing for a Labour former Shadow City Minister to do, but of course as long as it is an attack on ‘the establishment’ Richard Burgon MP and his type of politician doesn’t mind. They are encouraging hate. Their message is clear – vote against systems, vote against bankers, vote against pharmaceutical research. Vote against success!
Moving back to the US elections I have been reminded by an old political friend Steve Hanlon that Bernie Sanders marched a lot of people up the hill against Hillary (and elites, and bankers and others) and couldn’t march them down again after the primaries. Another example of the left being responsible for weaponising hate and losing control.
Travel further back in time and shortly after the global financial crash small groups from both the left and right started to demonise bankers. After the 2010 general election Ed Miliband started to create an atmosphere where ‘banker bashing’ was acceptable.
Activists (in most cases spreading a message of hate) spent Saturday mornings attempting to disrupt parts of our retail industry or marching through London wearing Guy Fawkes masks – again sending out a message that politicians and the political establishment were the enemies of the people.
As sure as night follows day these demonstrations fed the Brexit and Farage messages that our politics was broken and needed to change. All it needed was someone to mainstream it.
And when that happened what was their answer? More demonstrations. A cry to move further left. And more masks and placards.
It would be unfair not to look at the moderate or centre-ground reaction to the anti-establishment message, or the general fear and loathing generated by the ‘anti politics brigade.’
We didn’t tackle the issues. We didn’t listen to the voters. We talked at them and not to them. We claimed to be ‘having a conversation with them’ but we were simply telling them what to do. We told them they were wrong.
When that failed we attempted to out-hate the haters!
And when that didn’t work we attempted to demonise their candidates or messages.
And when we lost – we blamed the voters!
Maybe we simply believed that we, and only we, had the right to win.
We need to make a positive case for the things we believe in. If we are campaigning to stay in the EU we need to do just that. Make the case for what we believe in and not just shout and yell about how crazy and dangerous those campaigning against us are.
If we believe in freedom of movement then we should say so and make the positive case for it and not retreat into a comfort zone of calling those who disagree with us racists or worse.
In the UK we need a national debate about our future. That has to include immigration. It has to include what type of country we want to be, and no matter how tough it is we must be at the heart of that debate.
It isn’t racist for someone to express their fears about the changing face of our country. It isn’t wrong for people to worry about employment and their job being outsourced overseas. It is natural for parents to worry about their children’s future.
I honestly don’t know what the Trump presidency will bring but I want politics to go back to being about hope and aspiration and not about hate and fear.
We need to make politics great again! We need to inspire and enthuse. We need to be at the heart of and working with our communities, listening, talking and championing causes.
Sorry if this has been a bit of a ramble. I have been trying to make sense of a lot of things and these are my early thoughts. In coming weeks and months I hope to expand on them. Please join the debate about how we should rebuild the centre left.
By Tim Carter (@forwardnotback)