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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The little people have had enough – not just here, but in America too

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Donald Trump
‘Like him or loathe him, Donald Trump is not a part of the political elite and he most certainly is not constrained by political correctness’

There are fewer than 30 days to go before the US presidential election. It is a campaign which mirrors many of the arguments and conflicts that we have seen recently in British politics, especially during the recent referendum campaign. Essentially, this election is about continuity versus change, with huge doses of personal vitriol thrown in. 

When I arrived at the Republican Party convention in Cleveland, Ohio, back in July, I was amazed at the reaction to me over the Brexit result. Normally we follow trends in America, not the other way round, but it was clear that many of the delegates saw Brexit as an aspiration for what they see as the Trump “revolution” against the Establishment. I met many others who were not delegates or political anoraks, who were also keen to talk about Brexit. A group of retired US Navy veterans told me we should have done it years ago. Others were less impressed and shouted at me in the streets. Indeed, this weekend while I was in St Louis, I received some proper abuse on the Washington University campus. 

Like him or loathe him, Trump is not a part of the political elite and he most certainly is not constrained by political correctness.

One thing is for certain: our referendum is being talked about the world over and it may well be the first kick-back against the status quo that leads to a popular revolt across the West. While Trump and Clinton may be the most unpopular presidential candidates ever, there has been a growing distrust of the political class. Just as in the UK, where cash for questions and the MPs’ expenses scandals lead to a chorus of uproar, the elites in Washington are seen as remote and detached. 

Many TV campaign adverts pointed to the fact that various incumbents defending their seats on Capitol Hill are in it for themselves, their families and for the money. In America today there is a strong element of the hereditary principle, with Bushes and Clintons setting down their own dynasties. But one of the reasons that Ukip went from being an insignificant political party to winning the 2014 European elections is that we spoke about issues in a language that resonated with ordinary people. 

Like him or loathe him, Trump is not a part of the political elite and he most certainly is not constrained by political correctness. When I spoke at one of his rallies in Jackson, Mississippi, I saw a fanatical gathering of his fans who want to give the Establishment a good hiding. “We want our country back” works as a slogan here, too. The first signs of a political rebellion took the form of the Tea Party. The satirist Ian Hislop once described it as rather like Ukip – but with God and guns. They not only railed against the Washington elites, but made the link between big business, Wall Street banks and Washington politics. The same story is behind the growth of new parties across the whole of the European Union and was an important feature in voters’ minds in the UK this June.

Nigel Farage addresses a Donald Trump rally
Nigel Farage addresses a Donald Trump rally CREDIT: AP

Not only did JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs help to fund the Remain campaign but they increasingly give the appearance of owning a whole section of our political class. When Berlusconi was forced to resign as the Italian prime minister, he was replaced by the unelected Mario Monti, a Goldman Sachs man. 

The recently retired EU Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, now has a job with Goldman Sachs, despite being a former Maoist. This week’s Wikileaks exposé shows that Hillary Clinton has been paid good money doing speeches for Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and the Wall Street giants. They really must like her as she told them that she wants a hemispheric common market.

The similarities between the different sides in this election are very like our own recent battle. As the rich get richer and big companies dominate the global economy, voters all across the West are being left behind. The blue-collar workers in the valleys of South Wales angry with Chinese steel dumping voted Brexit in their droves. In the American rust belt, traditional manufacturing industries have declined, and it is to these people that Trump speaks very effectively, since they have all but given up hope of Washington. 

A delegate attends the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21
A delegate attends the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21 CREDIT: JEFF SWENSEN/GETTY IMAGES

To them must be added the small businesses and sole traders in both the UK and America. Every small business feels put-upon by the sheer volume and weight of regulation. Our new hyper-regulated world makes it tough for the little people to compete with the business giants. These people want deregulation, and Trump is promising them that. Many feel they have nothing to lose in voting for him. 

There was one key dynamic that allowed the Brexit campaign to win. Nearly two and a half million people who had not voted in the last general election – or had never voted in their lives – turned out on June 23. A clear majority of these voted to leave the EU and tipped the balance. 

They felt that, for once, it was worth the bother of going out to vote, and they were right. There are signs of a similar development in Germany, where the growth of Alternative for Germany (AfD) is being fuelled by non-voters. In the end, I suspect that the American election on November 8 will swing on this same factor. 

I met many people at the rally in Jackson, Mississippi, who had never voted in their lives. They may produce an upset similar to Brexit. It does not matter what the opinion polls, bookmakers or markets say, because these new voters are hard to measure. 

I do not see the Brexit result in isolation. Instead, I believe we are witnessing a popular uprising against failed politics on a global scale. People want to vote for candidates with personality, faults and all. It is the same in the UK, America and much of the rest of Europe. The little people have had enough. They want change.

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