September 17, 2015
Corbyn and Trump are different reactions to the rich getting richerPosted in Irish Independent · 115 comments ·
Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend have their gaffs here. Looking out over the Thames from Richmond Hill – the only view which is protected by a 1902 Act of Parliament – it is hardly surprising that ageing millionaire rockers want to hang here.
Richmond is true-blue Tory, the gateway to the stockbroker belt and Surrey. The designer furniture shops and swanky art galleries evidence of the ongoing property boom in London and the associated concentration of wealth in the south east of England.
Places like Richmond are threatened by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the British Labour Party. Central to his platform will be moves to wrestle wealth from the very rich to give to the average man. Corbyn – incidentally younger than both Jagger and Townshend – is the most radical politician to hold a senior position in the UK for 50 years.
His manifesto reads like a wish list from ‘Citizen Smith’, the very amusing sitcom that reflected British societal politics in the 1970s and gave way to ‘Only Fools and Horses’ (both written by John Sullivan), which perfectly encapsulated Britain in the 1980s.
Corbyn wants to re-nationalise industry, tax the wealthy, force the Bank of England to execute a “helicopter money drop” into people’s accounts (ie, printing money and giving directly to the public) and roll out a massive public infrastructure programme.
His election tells us a couple of very interesting things about politics today. The first is the disconnect between the parliamentary machine and rank- and-file party members. Corbyn was rejected by 90pc of Labour MPs yet embraced by 60pc of the party faithful, underscoring just how far Labour’s parliamentarians are from their grassroots. (Could we see something similar here?)
A second interesting aspect is that Corbyn is not alone internationally: we are seeing similar developments in many countries. The mainstream political parties and institutions do not chime with the electorate any more. In fact, Corbyn is a left-wing version of Donald Trump. This might sound odd when one represents greed and self-interest and the other frugality and self-sacrifice. Bear with me.
Both men are a threat to mainstream parties: Corbyn to New Labour and Trump to Republicans. Both appeal over the traditional party machine to the electorate directly and both are unafraid to lay out exactly what they want to do. Both have been vilified by the respectable media: Corbyn by the left-wing ‘Guardian’ and Trump by the right-wing ‘Wall Street Journal’.
Yet both have trounced and continue to trounce consensus, middle-of-the-road candidates on the left in the UK and on the right in the US. Why is this?
One reason may be that both individuals are appealing to the forgotten guy who is unrepresented by the political machine, who feels left behind and locked out of the political process. Nobody really speaks for them. These guys are the outsiders and they can be left-leaning or right-leaning. The church-going, conservative small business person in Idaho can feel as much of an outsider as the atheist, tattooed barista in Soho.
Possibly the common denominator – to return to Richmond – is the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people, and the impression that the very wealthy have hijacked and lobbied the mainstream parties on the left and right and excluded the people in the middle.
The reason Trump and Corbyn are different reactions to the same concentration of wealth is because of the way Europeans and Americans think about wealth and riches.
In America, the little guy, when he sees a rich guy, says to himself, “One day I want to be him,” which explains Trump’s bizarre attraction to the middle ground. In contrast, when a European little guy sees the rich guy, he says, “One day I want to get him”.
And Corbyn has said, ‘I’m going to get him for you’. Maybe, just maybe, the reason why the centre ground in politics is atrophying is because the centre ground has done a deal (implicitly) with the wealthy, allowing the rich in the last five to 10 years to garner enormous amounts of the world’s resources. In Ireland, for example, the top 100 individuals in the ‘Sunday Independent’ 2014 rich list saw their wealth increase by €12bn in one year.
This was twice as much as the increase in the entire Irish GDP in the same period, implying that 100 people did considerably better than the other 4.8 million of us. We are not talking about “the 1pc”; we are talking about only 0.02pc of the population.
These levels of wealth inequality are incompatible with democracy and maybe – although it is not really articulated and we can’t feel it yet – it is wealth inequality which is driving people to the margins of the political process.
As I stroll down Richmond Hill, surrounded by possibly the most expensive property in the world, the developments in British and American politics and the link to the unfair divvying up of the world’s spoils strikes me as a link that has been highlighted again and again by maverick politicians of every hue.
Watch this space.