UK Politics

The Age of Simplicity – and the risk of voters wanting the impossible

BY Steve Moore | tweet steve4good   /  9 June 2017

After Brexit and Trump, now this. A surely terminally wounded Prime Minister propped up by the social conservative ultras of the DUP. The British public eschewed the smaller parties piled in behind the two main parties but ultimately, one senses, considered neither May or Corbyn to be a suitable Prime Minister.

Yes, underpinning all this is a tableaux of political realignment tied to class, educational attainment and geography. Labour won in Canterbury, the Tories in Mansfield both seats they haven’t held in a century. In its excellent commentary on the outcome The Economist posits alarm that all the signs of the ‘culture war’ that has redefined American politics are now manifest in the U.K. It is hard to deny his trajectory.

The now commonplace description of this new divide is that it is less about left versus right and more about open versus closed. Of course there is something in that when it comes to immigration and terrorism but I sense another dynamic and its a more troubling one.

Last summer the Brexit vote was predicated on reducing immigration, transferring funding we send to the EU into the NHS and regaining sovereignty. Each struck an emotional chord and enough people figured ‘hell yes’ to secure a win for Leave. A year on the sheer complexity and the full consequences of implementing this referendum result barely featured in this election campaign. It was as if last year’s vote was a great guttural roar of indignation. People who voted for it considered their victory as an end in itself. It seems unfathomable that we weren’t debating the most appropriate new immigration arrangements this past seven weeks. I think I saw Keir Starmer Labour’s nominated Brexit lead negotiator once in the whole campaign.

Similarly given we are leaving EU at the same time that we are drifting into a new industrial revolution which will be shaped by machine learning it is staggering that we had no debate in this election about what sort of economy we might want.

Instead we became embroiled in an angry zero sum game argument regarding the funding of public services and raising corporate taxation without any consideration given to the economic consequences. Put simply, given the socialised model for healthcare we have chosen to not have any debate about how much we can afford to invest in it. It is wholly interconnected with our wealth creating capability. The Tories push this message but only as a platitude.

It feels as if this really quite damaging election result has been produced by the same people who wanted less immigration last summer and now demand better funded public health services. When Theresa May proposed an imperfect but progressive policy for addressing the tsunami in social care funding it didn’t survive a weekend. There was no real debate as to its merits or the alternatives. Just a howl of rage and it was parked.

Perhaps you do get the politics you deserve but it seems to me that right now as a nation we have lost the capacity for making hard choices and a recognition that seemingly simple decisions involve trade-offs.

Complexity has become the enemy. Globalisation and technological advancements have brought great benefits but compounded a sense that the wealthy are using complicated devices – QE, offshore tax accounts – to game the system.

Is it any wonder many are the public are eschewing complexity for simplicity.

Politicians such as Farage and Corbyn you sense have a better antennae for these sentiments than their peers. They have both, in their own way, become cyphers for the public craving simple answers.

But as Trump is discovering, governing is much more complicated than trading insults on Twitter.

Perhaps the defining hallmark of this age of populism is not so much a battle open and closed but instead between the public craving for simple solutions and the complexity confronting those charged with enacting their wishes.

I am not convinced that right now we have the calibre of politicians to ensure that this ends well.


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