Brexit and Trump’s election victory are just the start, western democracies will have to rethink their policies and how they serve ordinary people
A political correction, driven by “ordinary people” is sweeping the West. First we had Brexit, a win for Nigel Farage’s UKIP, and now we have President Trump - a win for the unlikely outsider, a brash businessman, not a politician; both pedalling protectionist, nationalist policies.
What’s next? Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is leading the polls in the Netherlands ahead of next year’s election - he wants to close Holland’s borders and leave the EU. Germany faces the polls in October 2017 and Angela Merkel has growing opposition from the rising Alternative for Germany (AfD) which wants to roll back EU power and control immigration, despite the fact that Germany needs immigrants to prop up its aging demographics. In France, the day after Trump’s election, Marie le Pen said “what happened last night was not the end of the world, it was the end of a world.” That’s perceptive and she is buoyed up for a win in France’s presidential elections in April/May next year. Like Trump she admires Putin, is anti-immigration, would close France’s borders and pull out of the Euro and the EU.
So, what’s going on? It’s the result of democracy; “the worst form of government except for all the others”. Winston Churchill quotes always come in handy in a crisis. Democracy is rule by the wishes of the majority, not the educated liberal elite. Our “majorities” in the West are ordinary working people who have had enough of liberal professional politicians’ “globalised” policies.
If you are a carpenter in Huddersfield, you don’t care about the UK or global economy, you care about your job
In both the UK and the US immigration and jobs have been key issues. In the UK, forget the fact that we in the South-east all love our Polish plumbers who have great skills and attitudes, forget the fact that my office has over 50% of non-UK architects and designers because I can’t get the skills from UK workers, forget all that drives our economy in general and our construction industry in particular – when it came to the polls “ordinary people”, who might have put up with unrestricted immigration from the EU when it was only six advanced countries, really objected to the idea of “hordes” of Eastern European workers coming here to steal their jobs for minimum wages or zero hours contracts - and they turned hard right.
If you are a carpenter in Huddersfield, you don’t care about the UK or global economy, you care about your job. It was the same in the US but substitute Mexico for the EU and add exporting jobs to China or Mexico by buying goods built cheaply abroad through cheap labour.
From an emerging or developing country’s point of view, it’s only natural that their citizens will want to move to more prosperous countries, I would if I was in their shoes, and it’s only natural that their entrepreneurs and governments want to export to the West through free trade to build their own economies but some of our fellow countrymen and women feel that they are paying the price for this. Listen up, they say.
This is a wake-up call, Brexit was not a one off, Brexit was just the start and Western democracies are going to have to rethink their policies to make their economies work for all of their citizens, not just the educated, prosperous middle classes and the elite.
A balanced economy with jobs and affordable housing for all with sensible control of immigration is going to be at the heart of this. The jobs for all issue is a serious problem for the UK. Back in the1980s Thatcher started our drive towards being a knowledge economy trading in goods and services. We destroyed the technical base of our education by ditching apprenticeships, technical colleges and turning our polytechnics into universities. But a working class lad in Sunderland with three GCSEs is not going to get a job at KPMG.
We also all but destroyed our manufacturing base in the 1980s and 90s but there has been a resurgence, for example, as Japanese, German and Indian manufacturers have rebuilt our car industry. The irony of vanquished World War Two powers and an ex-third world colony coming to the UK to show us how to do it is not lost on some of us, but thank goodness they have.
All of this is a shock to those of us lucky enough to be prosperous, particularly as Brexit gave opportunities for racists to voice their vile creed, and riots followed Trump’s election in the US. But we need to take stock regroup to build a better future.
So where is the upside? It’s an ill wind that blows no good. Well, Trump seems to hate the EU and might strike a free trade deal with the UK faster than Obama who told us to get to the back of the queue. So we might swap free trade with the EU; a troubled unstable alliance of 28 counties with different laws and languages for a free trade deal with the US; a 325 million people market of the world’s most prosperous people who all speak English under one legal system. Here comes the sun.
Jack Pringle is principal, managing director EMEA at Perkins+Will