THE ELECTION OF TRUMP demonstrates a crisis of legitimacy not just of the economic model that has dominated capitalist economies for the last 30 years, but also of the political system associated with it. Neoliberalism, as the economic theory driving political decision-making since the days of Thatcher and Reagan, is collapsing around the ears of the politicians who have espoused it.
I have heard it sometimes argued in left circles that we shouldn’t use the terms neoliberalism or austerity because they are meaningless to most people. Sometimes this verges on a patronising attitude to working class people as though we can’t get our minds round concepts and theory. This is patent rubbish as demonstrated by the hundreds of people turning up to, and participating creatively in, each meeting I have convened around the country to talk about our economy and economics.
People have no illusions about the failure of the neoliberal trickle-down theory that if you make the rich richer, somehow some of this wealth will trickle down to the rest of us. They have witnessed the tax cuts to the rich and the corporations and they have seen successive governments turn a blind eye to industrial scale tax evasion and avoidance by the wealthy and big business. They have experienced the crisis caused by this type of politics because it is they who have been forced to pay for it in pay cuts and cuts to the public services they rely upon. The Brexit and Trump votes were the product of anger that the economic and political systems that promised to deliver so much have failed all but the very rich.
The crash of 2007/08 was the first to shake people’s confidence in the neoliberal system and its leaders, especially in the financial sector. In some countries it forced revolt onto the agenda. The first wave was exemplified by Occupy in our cities, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. There was a rush to stabilise the system and also politically to close the waters over the crisis quickly to stem further revolt.
Ironically the state that was reviled in neoliberal theory was used to stabilise the system with a set of emergency liquidity measures and the introduction of a grinding longer-term austerity programme.
After six years of austerity with low wages, the intensification of exploitation with increasing job insecurity, expansion of forced self-employment and zero-hours contracts, erosion of working conditions and even the undermining of future pensions, people began waking up to the fact that, despite their sacrifices, nothing had changed. The same freeloading, tax-dodging elite were still in control and ripping them off. In fact most of the establishment elite had a pretty good crisis with their assets appreciating with quantitative easing and their taxes being lowered. There has been no austerity for them.
This growing awareness that nothing has changed - but has in fact got worse - has mobilised a majority of people to use the first major electoral opportunities to demand change. It is pure historical contingency that these electoral opportunities were the EU referendum in the UK and the election for a President in the US.
The irony is that in the US in particular, having been deprived of the chance to vote for a radical left alternative in Bernie Sanders, large numbers voted for a billionaire demagogic oligarch, allowing the vagaries of the US electoral college system to deliver the presidency to Trump without an electoral majority.
In the UK the vote went against a system that many people lost all faith in and which they felt had ignored and neglected them.
Ironically again some of this disillusionment found its expression in support for UKIP, a party led by a city stockbroker, whose main employment for many years has been in the European parliamentary system that he expresses contempt for. To have mobilised a campaign against an anti-establishment elite by members of that establishment elite is the height of all ironies.
Faced with the prospect of a programme of deeply reactionary policies in both the US and UK, the left needs to forge ahead in creating a real progressive alliance of forces - not just to oppose this threat to society but to create the alternative.
A real progressive alliance will comprise not Lib Dem Tories who would still be implementing austerity in government if the electoral maths had been different in 2015, but at its heart the Labour and trade union movement, the numerous liberation groups and struggles, the anti-austerity campaigns fighting against privatisation and cuts to the NHS and public services, the climate change and environmental campaigners, and the vast number of civil society organisations that have a profound sense of unease at the society that could emerge under Trump and May.
Let’s seize the moment and start the work to build that real progressive alliance.