All the way through the early stages of the General Election campaign last year I encountered real hostility to all politicians and a degree of healthy curiosity in what an alternative like the Greens might look like. The anger on the streets then went well beyond anything I had expected and it was only in the last couple of weeks of the campaign that people started saying that they supposed they had better vote Conservative because they might have fixed the economy and now we'd had the pain we really should let them finish the job.
The Conservatives attracted a lot of voters who had absolutely no confidence in the people they were voting for but thought they were the least bad option. The anger on the streets now appears to have strengthened. Person after person told me that they were voting out with great emotion and when questioned revealed reasons that were about anger with "the whole lot of them". I was told by one person that "this is our chance to punish those buggers for all the lies they've told us." Another said she was voting out for certain because "you couldn't trust any of them".
The in campaign have, in my opinion, a rock solid case based on logic and calculation and an army of very senior and responsible politicians and economists backing them. They have all the reason. The out campaign have got through to a lot of those who are angry. They have all the emotion. If my street questioning is anything to go by then many will be voting out because they think it is a risk free way to send a message about how cross they are with the behaviour of politicians of all kinds.
This reflects what seems to be happening across the world. To have a US election campaign in which the extreme right winger Ted Cruz is viewed as the more conventional of the two serious contenders for the Republican nomination whilst a self declared socialist wins 7 straight Democratic primaries says something about political alienation. In France the Front National have become so strong that they are serious contenders for the Presidency and regularly poll over 30% of the votes despite being way to the right of UKIP. That party has 4 million UK voters whilst the Greens have another million and Corbyn won the Labour leadership from a platform that was supposed to make it impossible for him to be a serious candidate.
Voters are turning away from conventional political parties in droves and support for them is volatile and insecure. The days when any party could assume that it could simply weigh the vote from its reliable supporters have gone. Electors are out to punish someone and some of them are not too picky about who or how.
I think the key reason for this is that there is a fear of the future. After 2008 I expected people to quickly turn on the politicians who told them the free market could cure everything only to discover that it produced a gigantic crash. That didn't happen on anything like the scale I expected. Instead a lot of people bought the argument that times were now tough and we had to face up to realities and cut back.
Now they are starting to realise that the cutting back was at their expense and the people who caused the problems have got away with remarkably little pain. Put simply it is the devil's own job to get an appointment with your GP but it doesn't appear to be very much harder for a banker to make a very nice living out of moving hot money around. The system has been saved from collapse but it is not seen to be working to deliver the services that ordinary people expect and keeps coming up with examples of corrupt or dishonest behaviour being rewarded. The consequence is huge distrust.
In these circumstances it is desperately easy for someone who promises that he can solve it all simply to win a lot of hearts and minds and scoop up disaffected votes. Hence Trump. Hence out. Their arguments need taking on with passion as well as with logic but no amount of words or arguments are going to fix the deficit of trust.
I believe there is only one constructive way forward. Trust cannot be rebuilt by words or arguments. Trust can now only be rebuilt by practical useful work in local communities. People need to see their politicians actually doing something for them and responding to their concerns. This means that if the left want to convince people that they are worth voting for they have to provide those people with evidence of useful delivery.
Under Tony Blair the Labour party learned to prosper in the short term by effective management of publicity. They achieved a great deal of re-organisation, much renaming of services, and many promises that the latest re-launch would fix it all. They delivered an out of control financial system which resulted in the biggest crash in history and three bad wars. No wonder they lost two elections.
The Liberal Democrats promised responsible mature government from people they could trust. They delivered a rise in tuition fees and a conviction amongst the vast majority of the public that they liked their Ministerial offices a lot more than they liked delivering on their firm commitments. No wonder they were voted out in disgust.
After these experiences it is going to take decades of steady work on actual delivery to win back trust. People on the left are going to need to focus on providing decent rented housing, well organised reliable health services, effective local schools, trustworthy local councillors, and a sustainable reliable economy. These are the kind of things that Liberal and Labour parties originally earned the trust of their loyal supporters by fostering and which they are now seen as failing to provide. We need to harness the newly found enthusiasm for change amongst young people by persuading those young people not to talk about what a socialist ecological utopia might look like but to start earning a reputation for delivering a little bit of it in their local community.
It took decades for Labour politicians to squander the trust that had been built up by generations of honest activists delivering decent housing, decent education and decent healthcare in the teeth of fierce resistance from the rich. It is going to take decades of good practical work in local communities and on practical service delivery to get that trust back.
The Conservatives are, as I predicted immediately after the election, imploding under the weight of the contrast between their promises to serve all the people and the reality of their urgent desire to protect the rich at the expense of the poor. If we wish to see them replaced by a more honest alternative then that alternative has to be built in practice on the ground by people who are prepared to get their hands dirty delivering useful services. The alternative is the raw emotion of anger of a Donald Trump.