Every generation likes to think its circumstances are unique. But the issues facing us now are not new. In the past decade, living standards have fallen; public services people rely on have been butchered; and escaping poverty has become little more than a dream for millions. History shows that times like these are fertile soil for the politics of identity and grievance. And those circumstances allow the voice of the demagogue, with their simplistic solutions, to scream loudest.
The problem with demagogues is that they never solve anything. They know how to use anger and division to get elected, then, manipulate that same anger and division to avoid accountability. Their solutions conveniently appeal to people's innermost prejudices. The solutions fail, we are told, as a result of everyone conspiring against them. How can you argue with that narrative, when people agree because of emotion rather than reason? Once you've inflamed anger and grievance, it becomes more popular to build a wall, or "take back control", than to implement a complex policy to deal with poverty or lack of opportunity.
History has taught us that when populism takes hold, we must reflect on our society and our country. Borders, sovereignty, sexuality, gender and religion, do not matter to a child; but every child grows into a socially constructed and divided world where those issues seem to matter most. When injustice, hunger, poverty, exploitation, and suffering, seem to be a never-ending part of human existence; why does where you were born, what skin colour you have, your religion, sexuality, or gender, really matter? Someone speaking a different language, believing in a different religion, or loving a bit differently to you, does not stop any of us living our lives. Hating or blaming other people because you think they are different, does. And it distracts from those who are actually to blame.
If there are not enough houses, then we should build more houses. If our public services are under pressure, then we should invest in them instead of cutting their budgets. If employers do not pay people enough to live, while making millions in profit, how about we force them to pay people a proper wage? The duty of any government should be to improve the lives of its citizens. And it is irresponsible for a government to seek to blame immigration or external organisations, for internal problems. Or indeed, to pretend something is an issue out of political convenience. Unemployment is at a 42 year low and companies are complaining of a skills shortage, so why is immigration an issue? It is not.
When people are living on the streets, when people are dependent on food banks, and people are struggling on low pay, in the fifth richest country in the world, then we have a problem. But that problem isn't down to a Polish plumber, the European Union, or someone fleeing war. It is a question of priorities. Britain found £500 Billion to give to the banks in 2008. We've found money to cut the taxes for companies and the richest individuals. We've found money for war, for nuclear weapons, and for palaces. How can Britain afford all of that, but not have enough money to look after people? Blaming anyone but our government is a distraction.
Eventually the bubble we are living in will burst. All of the rhetoric, all of the promises, right now represent the will of the people. However, wanting something does not make it happen. Believing in something does not make it true. This will be remembered as the decade when the nostalgia of empire, and the politics of blame and identity, boiled over. I hope we learn something this time.Suggest a correction