Signed, Sealed, Delivered, They're Yours: Is there any person more vulnerable than a jilted lover on the rebound? Or, anything more certain than that the charmer, the predator, the glib spinner of lies and promises will seek such broken people out? Yes, of course, he will love every one of them truly, madly, deeply and forever. If only they will give him their vote.
WHILE NEW ZEALANDERS were kicking-back over Labour Weekend, Germans and Argentinians were kicking out. In what is fast becoming a familiar story, “normal” politics has been suspended, incumbents unseated, and voter anger given free rein.
In German states dominated since re-unification by the centre-right Christian Democrats, the far-right AFD (Alternative for Germany) has surged ahead. In Argentina, the political descendants of quintessential populist, Juan Peron, have been returned to power by a vengeful electorate grown weary of neoliberal austerity. Everywhere the centre’s hold is tested – as things fall apart.
There was a time when growing inequality and entrenched poverty would have seen the Left swept into power. Why isn’t that happening? What has the Left done to put its traditional supporters in the electoral market for new friends and causes? The shortest and the most brutal explanation: the Left has abandoned them.
Not rhetorically, it must be said. When elections roll around, talk of solidarity and commitment is heard everywhere. The glorious past is invoked and the grimy glass behind which the old heroes still smile benignly is given its triennial clean. For many, the rhetoric is enough. That number, however, is dwindling. For more and more voters around the world the rhetoric of the traditional centre-left parties is not enough – nowhere near enough.
What they, quite rightly, suspect is that the leaders of the traditional working-class parties don’t really understand them anymore. This is hardly surprising. The incomes and lifestyles of legislators lifts them far above the stress-filled, cash-strapped lives of the people who are expected to vote for them. In Western countries particularly, it is now most unusual to find a member of the legislature without a university degree. Legislators who have risen to political office from anything other than a professional background are even rarer. The socio-economic gulf between the great mass of ordinary voters and their parliamentary representatives grows ever-wider.
What’s worse, many of these voters have begun to suspect that “their” party doesn’t even like them anymore. The worldview of the well-paid, highly-educated, professional politician is, they are pretty sure, radically different from their own. So different, in fact, that they have real difficulty in identifying anything about their electoral base that they could honestly say they admired. While the world of these “left-wing” legislators is chock-full of “tolerance” and “diversity”, their perception of the world inhabited by their party’s traditional supporters is of a place grunting obscenely with prejudice and hate. Hillary Clinton branded them “deplorables”. Less euphemistic centre-leftists call them sexists, homophobes and white supremacists.
That immigration policy has, in so many Western democracies, become the issue over which the traditional centre-left parties have finally parted company with their traditional supporters is not accidental. The emotions charging this issue are simple and raw: as raw and simple as the break-up of a love affair. Traditional voters for the centre-left parties feel abandoned and betrayed; their long-standing trust and affection cast aside in favour of a whole new slew of demographics: younger, smarter and allegedly free of prejudice and hate. Even worse, some of these new demographics are being invited to move in next door!
How else to explain the former Communist Party voters of France who now vote for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National? The former supporters of the German social-democratic party, the SPD, who now vote for the neo-fascist AFD? The former Great Society Democrats who now vote for Donald Trump?
When the party you love and trust: the party that made sure you had a good job and a decent place to live; the party that guaranteed your kids a better economic future than their parents’; turns suddenly into something else. When it tells you, sadly, like the guy in the Bruce Springsteen song: “Those jobs are going boys – and they ain’t coming back”? Well that’s when you and your workmates, your neighbours, your congregation, begin to ask: “How did it happen?” and “Why did it happen?” and “Who do we fight?”
Is there any person more vulnerable than a jilted lover on the rebound? Or, anything more certain than that the charmer, the predator, the glib spinner of lies and promises will seek such broken people out? Yes, of course, he will love every one of them truly, madly, deeply and forever.
If only they will give him their vote.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 1 November 2019.