Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Not everyone likes greens - lessons about popular politics from Australia

Not everyone likes greens

Every place is different. We're told this - don't take what's happened in Australia or Texas or Greece as a guide to what might happen in England or Tuscany or Austria. But maybe there is something happening? Here's Tyler Cowen:
Sometimes political revolutions occur right before our eyes without us quite realizing it. I think that’s what’s been happening over the last few weeks around the world, and the message is clear: The populist “New Right” isn’t going away anytime soon, and the rise of the “New Left” is exaggerated.
Cowen frames this in the context of the Australian election where "an evangelical Christian who has expressed support for President Donald Trump" won despite every prediction saying the Australian Labor Party with its achingly 'new left' agenda (identity politics, climate change, immigration) were going to win at a canter. Cowen then touches on the Brexit Party and the emerging contests in the early stages of next years presidential elections pointing out a similar pattern. The intellectual agenda may be left wing but politics is not - and politics is what people vote about.

We could equally have seen reference to Salvini's Lega, to the Gilets Jaune in France or to a host of other manifestations of this populist 'new right' - this week's European Parliament elections could see a host (Cowen says up to 35%) of MEPs from these anti-establishment parties. Everywhere we look, we see people sticking two-fingers up at the established parties of the centre left and centre right.

Looking at Australia we begin to see where the problem is for "urban cosmopolitans" - here's urbanist Ross Elliot writing in New Geography:
The denizens of trendy inner city secondhand bookshops may have been filled with confidence, but not of suburban and regional voters. Struggling with flat real wage growth and having borne the brunt of a changing employment landscape, rising electricity bills and falling confidence in their future, this was not the time to tell them it was their duty to sacrifice even more to ‘save the planet’ by paying ever higher electricity bills, or buying an electric car they can’t afford. Especially when that message comes from smug sounding public servants or wealthy, entitled inner city residents who have been the beneficiaries of economic change, as well as overseas investors, rather than its victims.
The climate change warriors organised a convoy to protest against a new coal mine at Adani in central Queensland and got a frosty welcome when they arrived with locals organising a counter protest and stores, petrol stations and restaurants refusing to serve the protestors. This was rural Australia but the same sentiments will be heard is thousands of other places - everywhere but the places inhabited by what Elliot calls "the inner urban elites of government, the bureaucracy, media and industry" - the great and the good.

Telling people who don't think they've enough money that they need to make sacrifices to 'save the planet' is lousy politics yet this is precisely the tone we hear from those who share every one of Greta Thunberg's inane utterings as if they were on golden tablets received from god. Hardly a day passes without another initiative designed to 'save the planet' or 'fight climate change' that mostly acts to add a little more mild irritation into the lives of people who are already mildly irritated. Maybe we do need to ban plastic straws but can we stop pretending it's any sort of vote winning political strategy.

Right now the mainstream of political opinion is more concerned about whether there'll be minimum wage labour from Romania to serve them in Pret, how terrible it is that a very well-paid and wealthy female news presenter is paid slightly less than her male colleague or if they'll have to fill a form in to drive a car in France. These opinion-makers are the sorts who can afford to pay a tax on flying, have the time (or staff) to fuss over recycling and are very keen to ban things that they don't use but disapprove of. And these people really do look down on the proles - here, quoted by Ross Elliot, is Elizabeth Farelly from the Sydney Morning Herald:
“The suburbs are about boredom, and obviously some people like being bored and plain and predictable, I'm happy for them … even if their suburbs are destroying the world.”
For a long while people hadn't noticed that the great and good didn't like them very much - why would they when their paths seldom crossed. But, with Brexit, with the climate change agenda targeting the less well off, with an identity politics that disdains the working class, people have now noticed. And when it comes to voting those people are going to kick the inner urban elite's snobbery right in the ballot box.


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