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Where Will All That Anger Go When The Populist Promises of Trump And Brexit Turn Out Hollow?

07/11/2016 11:53

On November 8, America decides for the world. Will it succumb to the firebrand promises of populism and lowest common denominator politics playing to fears and prejudices by electing Donald Trump? A couple of weeks ago that seemed nigh on impossible, but the polls are closing once more. The only thing that stands in the way of the biggest upset US politics will have seen in decades is Hillary Clinton, an archetypal figure of the old liberal elite, the very embodiment of the foreign interventionist, media polished yet reputationally tarnished Third Way middle ground. Arguably the safe choice, but far from inspiring for so many turned off and shut out by mainstream politics.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the colossal upset has already happened: Brexit. With the ruling Conservatives caught between a democratic rock and a hard Brexit, pitching ever further towards xenophobia and Little Englandism, with the Liberal Democrats reduced to a rump and with Labour weakened after a summer of infighting, who is left to speak for the 48% who voted to remain in the EU? Enter that archetypal figure of the old liberal elite, the very embodiment of the foreign interventionist, media polished yet reputationally tarnished Third Way middle ground: Tony Blair.

"We're the insurgents now," says Mr. Blair.

He hasn't always been the insurgent. Once upon a time, he was the future. Any notion that he is likely to be again, that he is the man to return to lead a broken Britain into a bright new future, again, is likely delusional. The same kind of delusions that led Mr. Blair to ignore all evidence and take the country into a war that has left his reputation irrevocably shattered, no matter what electoral, economic and diplomatic successes came before it.

But it's a curious pattern we're seeing played out, of destructive populisms bent on tearing up the old order, and probably economic prosperity and international standing with it, rising up against the liberal elites who until recently thought it their right to rule. It was once the case that Western societies found themselves polarised between ideological left and right, before the Third Way ushered in the collapse of the left. Now we are seeing politics become polarised again, but with that polarisation being between an anti-immigrant far-right and an ultra pro-business centre-right, it is probably not all that healthy for democracy. The left, whose traditional job has always been to bring it to the establishment, is beginning to see some resurgence in the likes of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, but as yet, it is the right-wing populists who are best capitalising on the dissatisfaction with the mainstream and when their promises almost inevitably turn out to be hollow, where will that cynicism go? Where will all that whipped up anger turn?

We live in dangerous times. And only the left, reunited and reinvigorated, with a clear plan on how it can genuinely improve the lives of those left behind by globalisation, can save us.

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