It has been a tough time for those of us who think of ourselves as progressive. The fall out from the EU referendum has seen the right-wing of the Conservative Party gain in both confidence and influence. At the same time Labour has continued their retreat to the ideological (if unelectable) comfort of the far left. On the other side of the Atlantic, President-Elect Trump is building a cabinet of the bad, the mad and the downright racist. In fact, wherever you look, the liberal agenda that looked almost invincible only a few years ago is on the retreat, replaced by nationalism, populism and protectionism.
With this sudden reversal of fortunes it is perhaps unsurprising that despondency, blame and contempt have taken over as our overriding emotions. I am no different. In the days and weeks after 52% of my fellow Brits voted for Brexit, I railed against them. I accused people of being racist and xenophobes. I told them they were ignorant. And with each insult I delivered I became more angry, not less. More intolerant. Less willing to listen.
But slowly the anger died down and a few things got through. First a conversation in Uganda with a brexiteer. She wasn’t a racist or a xenophobe and she certainly wasn’t ignorant. She had listened to the arguments, done her research and made a judgement. Then a chat via Twitter with a Corbynite. I spoke to a Republican strategist about Trump and why he had garnered such support.
And finally things began to make more sense. The current phenomena is more complex than we give it credit for. People vote for a whole myriad of reasons and we have to be cautious about making sweeping generalisations and jumping to conclusions that fit our particular world view. That said, there are some general patterns.
Whether you are 25 or 75 the world is changing at an incredible pace. Technology and Globalisation continue to make the world smaller and at times more claustrophobic.
Whilst a small number of ‘the elite’ seem to reap the rewards of this change, the majority, with some justification, feel the benefits have passed them by. This economic-gloom is compounded by a wider sense of unease about the future, whether it be terrorism, climate-change or national identity.
At the same time, the current ‘establishment’ — from politics to business to (to a lesser extent) the media — either through a lack of inclination, vision or skill are seen as not up to the job. As we saw in both the EU referendum and the election of Donald Trump this sense of frustration and lack of trust has now spread to include all ‘experts’.
People are on the look out for something different. Something that will shake things up. And they are willing to take a risk to do it.
So far, this desire for change has been most successfully exploited by those with a closed view of the world. Those who stoke fear and hatred by blaming others — whether that be migrants from the right, or business and wealth-creators from the left. Those who believe that isolationism and protectionism are solutions. In short, fear is trouncing hope.
Which is why, as progressives, we have to change the tune. The doom-mongering, whilst it might make us feel better (or at least more virtuous), plays right into the hands of the very people and attitudes we want to defeat.
‘A time for greatness’. ‘New Labour, New Life for Britain’. ‘Yes We Can’. Whether it be John F. Kennedy in 1960, Tony Blair in 1997 or Barack Obama in 2008, progressives win when they are able to articulate a simple and positive message of change. A vision of hope that people can buy into and be part of.
This is what I, and I believe millions of others across the UK are desperately searching for from our politics. Whilst I wait, I am going to try and practise what I preach — taking the time to listen rather than rushing to judgement, engaging in positive ideas and solutions, creating my own vision of hope. What are you going to do?