This fight of the next decade will not be between left and right – those labels have become meaningless in the post-Brexit, post-Trump world. We are witnessing a battle between the pessimism of an anti-politics and a centre ground struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world
There can be no doubt that the twin victories of Brexit and Trump will embolden the right – and particular the rise in post Brexit hate crime should concern us all. However, the right are capitalising on what is happening to our political narrative. They are not the cause of it. The Brexit vote was delivered not by the traditional Tory shires or far right extremists, but by nonpartisan, ordinary voters in places like Nuneaton, Hastings and Dartford. A large majority of the 52 per cent would not describe themselves as ‘rightwing’ and nor should we think of themselves as such. Dissatisfied and looking for better answers from politics? Yes. Rightwing? No.
Trump has been swept to the presidency off the back of blue collar and middle-class voters in states such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These are not the Republican heartlands – not even Republican voters in many cases. What they have in common with many Brexit voters is the deep feeling of disengagement with the political system and a feeling that a rapidly changing economy and world – unrecognisable from even a decade ago – is leaving them behind and not listening to their concerns.
Donald Trump has no answers to these questions in the same way that Nigel Farage does not. They simply amplify and give voice to the questions and fears of voters. It is anti-politics in action – a story that tells you that it is not the role of politics to provide answers or a vision of the future, but instead to hold a mirror up to anger, disillusionment and fear. It is a delusion that says a valid response to the challenges of globalisation is to run away from them. It is dangerous and we are living in dangerous times.
While talk of a ‘new right’ emerging may have some credence, I suspect on the ground it is a more straightforward proposition. Anti-politics versus the ability of progressive, centre-ground politicians to renew, provide a compelling vision of what the future looks like and make globalisation work for the many, not the few. On 9 November, it does not seem a stretch to say we are not winning that argument on either side of the Atlantic. And we will not win by simply buying into a different version of the same anti-politics argument that delivered Brexit and Trump in the first place.
A centre ground that is currently battered and viewed by too many as devoid of relevance needs to renew, start asking the tough questions and producing new answers for the decades to come.
A centre ground that is able to articulate a pro-immigration argument with the need to manage it so it primarily advantages, not disadvantage our communities has a chance of doing that. A centre ground that starts to engage with the fourth industrial age – or more simply – how we manage the increasing role of technology in our home and working lives – has a chance of doing that. A centre ground that recognises that internationalism should never render our feelings of place and identify irrelevant has a chance of doing that. A centre ground that can reimagine the role of the state has a chance of doing that.
We are in the fight of our lives. But it is a version of fight we have faced – and won – before. Brexit and Trump have left many of us depressed, fearful and feeling we have lost the argument. We need to step up. Our politics is at its best when we are modernisers and optimists defining the future. We are at our most effective when we do not simply diagnose the problem but begin to devise solutions. In this moment, progressive politics on both side of the Atlantic needs to take that role. Our future needs to start today.
Jonathon Hawkes is a candidate in the councillors’ section in the Progress strategy board elections. He tweets at @CllrJonHawkes