Left, Right, Centre…who cares?

Left, Right, Centre…who cares?

It’s been an interesting time to be a politics nerd. Trump, Brexit, the British General Elections, Irish political inertia, Leo Varadkar’s slick leadership election win and now Grenfell; it’s a confused chaotic cauldron of talking points. It’s enough to make me reflect at length about where politics is going and how the 20th century left/right paradigm is fracturing under the weight of information and maybe more importantly, disinformation generated in this 21st century mobile, internet age.

What winger are you?
During Leo Varadkar’s acceptance speech, he declared there was no right or left, only a ‘European Centre’ and that “others in the House might be obsessed with the political debates of the 1980s” but he’s got more important stuff to do, a thinly veiled defense of him being constantly branded a right winger. Is he right? Trump has also dismissed the notions of right and left. His populism is more of the ‘them and us’ variety…them being Washington insiders, us being everyone from billionaires who hate regulation to the poorest of the poor who live in industrial wastelands, their jobs outsourced to China and whose taxes bailed out the banks. An unlikely and frankly ludicrous coalition. Trump bypasses the media, much to their displeasure, and tweets directly to his base. It’s a whole new game and Trump, love or loathe, is a disrupter and game changer. The likes of Ruth Coppinger will tell you that the politics of Marx is alive and well, just look at Corbyn in the UK election as proof? UK Labour also bypassed the mainstream media and went directly to their new base to add support – the college educated, the young, students. They went with an aggressive, clever and effective social media campaign. 80% of the UKs newspapers supported May and actively wrote her up, whilst slagging off Corbyn as useless. It was a waste of their print. The days of newspapers influencing elections are long gone. It certainly wasn’t ‘The Sun Wot Won it’. The Tories thought they’d suck up all the free UKIP votes now that Brexit was done. They failed to understand that like Trump’s base, UKIP was made up of an uneasy coalition of ‘them’ and ‘us’, them pro EU, us anti. Simple. I think some UKIP voters liked to see themselves as radical pro-British thinkers and so much of Corbyn’s traditional working class Labour messaging reminded them of a 50s Britain they’d love to go back to somehow. Here in Ireland, let’s face it, we’ve never done left and right. Fianna Fail are the shape-shifters of Irish politics. They’ll don any ideological clothing that gets them noticed, even if the fit is saggy and the cut unconvincing. Labour? Well, a nice mild middle class type of socialism light, with a good dose of political expediency and shape-shifting of their own. Fine Gael I suppose have always been a little to the right but had their own social reformers and a hodge-podge mentality to ideology. The real left are too splintered to effect any real change. Unfortunately the only ideology we’ve mainly had in Ireland has been of the Civil War kind. Still in play with Sinn Fein, another shape-shifter, except this time with a very single-minded United Ireland goal.
Ultimately, politics is tribal and as human animals, that’s built into our DNA. We’re designed over time to exist in groups of about 150 and look after our tribe. Irish politicians are very good at doing that. They look after their tribal voter base, their friends, their colleagues. What amazes me is that the media huffs and puffs and thinks there’s something alien about that. Behaving the opposite way, having clear ethical incorruptible decisions on all public policy, only seems to happen in countries that have a very mature system of government and a very stable society. Ireland is less than 100 years at this democracy lark, still establishing a tradition of social ethics. Political animals will act instinctively. No point expecting them not to. It takes a lot of storming and norming and forming to batter out those instinctive tribal behaviors.

Grenfell

Grenfell is a stark reminder of the morally bankrupt arrogant English upper wealthy class at work. The list of Conservative laissez faire deregulation, under-investment in social policy and sucking up to the landlord class directly caused this tragedy and is a reminder of a supposedly bygone age of English slumlords and absentee Landlords. I found it deeply distressing watching the Facebook live videos, reading the names of Muslims, Africans, Arabs, blacks and poor whites for all intents and purposes dumped in a death trap tower block and clad with flammable panels that were £2 cheaper than fireproof ones, simply to improve the view of their posh neighbors. No sprinklers, incorrect safety advice, improper escape methods, the list of indifference goes on. If this doesn’t charge your socialist fervor, I don’t know what will. Watching the Tories obfuscate and dance around, do nothing, utter platitudes that ring hollow is so frustrating. Why do they do nothing? Clueless.

Despite the fact that many of the divisive social issues that caused left wing ideology to surface in the early 20th century are as keenly evident as ever in some respects, the key problem with the old school left and right paradigm is 21st century aspirational social mobility. And the oligarchical class are old hands at blinding this crowd with consumerism, and the chance of upward mobility. So distracted are this group, that they fail to see the that they have more in common with those pesky workers than they do with the 1% of us that hold all the power and money.

The bottom 20%-25% in earners, those most reliant on the state, the ‘working class’…will always vote for left candidates or not vote at all (see Ruth Coppinger and Richard Boyd Barrett). The top 5% of earners, the super rich, will always vote for whoever they decide will leave everything alone and let them continue to earn and keep their money. They buy influence. In the middle you have a cohort of 70% of the population. They work, they PAYE, they want a comfortable life but most importantly, they aspire to a better life. What if I get that promotion, what if I win the Lotto, what if my business takes off, what if, what if. In the world of ‘what ifs’, you can’t make a decision that negatively affects the group that you aspire to be in. So, more taxes? No way. What if earn more money, I’ll pay too much tax? Universal health care? No way. What if I earn more money. I’m not paying for that. And so on and so on. The sad problem is that the ‘what ifs’ will mostly never happen. Whilst aspiring to a group above you in terms of earning and social status, you can take on the traits of that group, whether you have the funds to back it up or not. It’s extremely difficult to get this large group of voters to understand that provision of social services, solving infrastructure issues, making a country fairer, taxing the wealthier and better off, is a good idea to which they will benefit from when they do not see themselves as needing to benefit from it. It’s a perfect storm of denial. So we’re at a stalemate where in many countries there are hung parliaments, ideological vacuums, pragmatism breeding inertia as political parties offer up just enough to get a part of the 70% on board, whilst keeping their political masters happy.

Back in Russia, in the days of Marx and Trotsky, masses of working people were so conditioned to buckling under and doing what they were told, they had no information, no ability to travel, no money, they lived and died in small communities which they mainly never left, unless drafted off to war to be slaughtered in their millions. Marxism? Up the Workers? Sure…lets go with that, en masse. Better than what went before. It’s a shame for them that tribal nature kicked in and corruption, nepotism, strokes, scams and utter ruthless control were the order of the day in Stalin’s Russia. Today, you can’t simply set out an ideology, with core principles that must be followed to the letter. It won’t wash. The electorate, the whole world in fact, thinks it knows everything about every issue, has been bombarded by messaging, fake news, true news, who knows what facts, alternative facts, has been manipulated, they gossip, they take urban myth anecdotal evidence as fact, they comment on everything. It’s a mess that is becoming so difficult to decipher. We all want to dine on ‘a la carte’ politics on an issue by issue basis. There’s no left or right these days…it’s them and us, ‘them’ being anything ‘they’ want it to be at any given time and ‘us’ being any number of fractured tribal groups.

Some serious political leadership is needed to regain the truth for ordinary people and tame the wild west of the social media age.

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