by John Ward
Quite a lot of data have come to light in recent days to show that – as ever – the political, bureaucratic and financial classes are less than half awake to the dangers of denying powerful social tensions to do with debt, banks and insensitive immigrants. A storm is brewing, but the roof remains unrepaired on the house of democracy.
In my middle years as a communications and brand researcher in advertising, I found myself (more by happenstance than design) debriefing senior civil servants and politicians about consumer reactions to everything from current affairs and welfare to health, political policies, Party imagery and so on.
The overriding memory I have of those meetings is that, whether part of Whitehall or Westminster, the people I came across were, almost without exception, looking for the research to confirm a view they had already formed. That view was based on not very much, reflecting in most cases the bombastic, mediocre and bigoted nature of the average Sir Humphrey or Jim Hacker. Indeed, their general strategy in such meetings was to keep asking had I found this or that by talking to respondents, and the more I said “Not particularly” or just plain “No”, the more they would sum up at the end by saying that the results were “pretty much as expected” and then thank me for “this most enlightening feedback”.
As it happens, I was never personally called upon to give the results of research into the electorate’s feelings about immigration or bankers. But I know from talking to those who did that the Establishment’s ability to go la-lah-lah-laah while sticking fingers in ears on such subjects was legendary. This was true of all Parties, but especially the Centre or full-on Left.
Judging by the bromides uttered in Parliament versus what people are still telling survey researchers, nothing much has changed. A new YouGov survey, for example, shows that the most commonly agreed benefit of immigration across Europe and the US is the contribution made in terms of more interesting cuisine. I’m sure you can sense, as I do, that this gives immigrants a pretty limited area of “approval” and is to say the least somewhat patronising. But it is what people think, and it isn’t going to go away.
The most commonly given downside of immigration is increased crime, coming top of the list in five of the nations surveyed, and second or third in the others. It is especially likely to be cited in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Norway….but less so in the UK. So much for Harpie Labour’s non-stop contention that Britain is “institutionally racist”.
Rising quickly among all electorates, however, is the consistent worry about the impact on national security (between 31% and 62%) and their country’s welfare systems (between 33% and 48%). The former is almost entirely associated with Islamic immigration, the latter with ‘people of colour’….but the latter figure is not associated with Jewish, Chinese or Irish immigrants.
In turn, an international Ipsos study shows that UK citizens are among the most supportive of the right of people to seek refuge from war or persecution, but there are increasing concerns as to whether the so-called “refugees” really are escapees, or simply trouble-makers looking for a soft billet. Across 26 countries around the world, a clear majority of all those interviewed had such doubts, and there are signs that about half are becoming cynical about “whether these people really want to integrate”.
Again, this security, counterfeit status, and separateness negativity is, palpably obviously, largely related to Islamist terrorism and, in the States, additionally drug smuggling from South America.
The vast majority of the political class in Washington, Brussels and Westminster continues to not just ignore these concerns, but also put out risible counter-interpretations which (to most people in private) simply don’t wash. The immediate success of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is a very clear backlash against this denialism. TBP is not I firmly believe, a racist Party in any sane, accepted sense of the term. Mendaciously claiming that it is so only exacerbates the anger ordinary people feel about their quite justified fears being ignored….and makes them more likely to become fiercely loyal to Farage’s message.
This also partly explains the runaway success of Boris Johnson, a man who has been the recipient of vilification (most notably in the liberal press and by Channel4 and the BBC). The things those media have chosen to “use” against BoJo are not (to me, anyway) the reasons why I think he’s dangerous. But the utterly biased demonisation of the leading Tory challenger for the leadership has also (predictably) backfired.
Thus, another YouGov survey of Conservative Party grassroot activists released today shows that over three quarters (77%) of them think he would make the best leader. Rory Stewart – much lauded by some – is viewed very negatively, with only 1 in 3 showing any interest at all in voting for him. Stewart is, of course, the most vehemently Remainer of the ten original starters.
After years of poo-poohing Johnson’s chances, Tory backbenchers have clearly been in receipt of earache from their constituency leaders and voters. Hence their sudden conversion to Boris….while the more detached and bubble-imprisoned Whitehall and Cabinet beasts have remained solidly behind the Anyone But Boris movement.
The irony is that Boris Johnson himself is serially guilty of trying to sell the unsaleable to the British voter. Over and over again he has extolled the virtues of the banking and bourse communities, and over and over the facts have intervened to persuade him, under extreme duress, to shut up about it.
The power of bankers to lobby legislatures and dilute regulation has negated almost every attempt by concerned representatives of the People to get them under control. But the facts behind the calumny are worse now than they were in 2008.
Let’s take the US banking sector as an example. The FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund has roughly $100 billion in it “to cover losses should any of the top nine US institutions collapse”.
Those Big Nine banks account for 40% of all US citizen deposits in the system. The fund wouldn’t even cover the deposits of the smallest of the Naughty Nine, State Street. The other eight are JPMorgan Chase with $1.3 trillion in domestic deposits; Bank of America at $1.36 trillion; Wells Fargo with $1.27 trillion; Citigroup at $504 billion; U.S. Bancorp $314 billion; Morgan Stanley $181 billion; BB&T $161 billion; and Goldman Sachs with $130 billion.
They are still Too Big To Fail, and they know it. Yet somehow during the eleven years since the last débacle, they have been allowed to expand the use of algorithms and dark liquidity pools, and it is a Pound to a penny that every which way sort of nefarious scams are being utilised there.
On this side of the Pond, both here in France and in the UK, more retail businesses are switching to zero-contact smart card payments. Several people I’ve spoken to in the last few months think the cashless economy will be here far sooner than most people realise. Like me, those in the sector who don’t trust the big banks are convinced that the political and financial classes want this done and dusted so they can bail themselves out again at our expense with minimal hassle – literally, at the push of a button – and make it impossible to either evade or avoid tax.
A recent FT article offered the ludicrous opinion that ‘Ten years on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, many experts fear a new financial crisis. In fact, the global financial system is much more robust than before 2008’. Not only is that codswallop, it completely fails to factor in the massive risk that is now much bigger than it was a decade ago: the vast sovereign debts run up by QE stimulus, and equally obscene loose money offered to consumer credit users as a means of keeping the recession that dare not speak its name at bay.
I ponder only this: if our legislators continue to ignore the smelly mammoths in the room, does anyone feel OK and generally relaxed about a Britain and EU where a defeated Corbynist Left is turning more violent, the average debt-laden and underpaid citizen is becoming more extreme about mass migration, Boris Johnson doesn’t live up to expectations about a harder Brexit, the US economy (as predicted) tanks, Deutsche Bank falls over with a bang, and Italy finally reneges on its debts?
There is more than enough evidence to hand suggesting that repression will be the élite’s response to its negligent arrogance. I hope some of what I’ve presented today turns all of this into a self-denying prophecy. But I’m far from confident of that outcome.