Political elites around the world have been infected by an inability to provide genuine and convincing leadership. This partly because of examples of personal ambition or plain greed getting in the way of rational governance but it is much more to do with a far more insidious and profound undermining of concern for the big issues of politics.
It is thirty years since the “big bang” in the City of London, this, emblematic of a global process of financialisation and deregulation. Everything, being given a monetary value, traded and then gambled through more and more “sophisticated” derivatives.
The idea that there is something called society or that the economy is anything other than a series of rational, utility maximisers with perfect knowledge seek personal advantage has been undermined if not destroyed.
Politicans when they looked to set up the European Community had a rather greater vision. They had just come through two “Great” wars which had devastated a continent and killed millions of men, women and children. They knew that there were things that were more important than the price of bonds and derivatives. No one worries about the LIBOR rate in the cemetery.
I am not suggesting the past was a land where politicians were noble, selfless guardians of the greater good of humanity. Men’s motives have roots deep and complex. Neither am I suggesting that a well functioning economy is not vital for a good society. However I am arguing that there are some profound political issues which have been increasingly marginalised. Issues about who gets what and why have been parked on the basis that all boats rise as the productivity tide come in and what is there to worry about if living standards are increasing.
This model probably always had a limited life but when the tide is no longer rising, all the little boats in the harbour are stuck in the mud and the only ones gaining are those in the ocean going yachts the prospects for the future are grim.
We now have a set of politicians on the remain side of the argument who are reaping the discontent they have sown over the past thirty years. The everyday disparagement of the European Union, the failure to challenge a world-view which sees all current evils through the prism of immigration, an unwillingness to accept that being filthy rich is not a sign of being one of the elect and that inequality is eroding national solidarity.
Worst of all a failure to make a case for the European Union that is more than, it is the least worse future. Europe clearly has its problems, the democratic deficit being a key one. But the same politicians who rail on and on about faceless unelected bureaucrats would go apoplectic if you said ok we want to elect them. Europe needs radical reform, Britain should be at the heart of that process holding up a vision of a better future which is more than simply a more efficient economy. For many people “the economy” is a mythical beast. Which, bites them when there is a recession and does very little for them when there is a boom.
Whilst the remain side are reaping the seeds of discontent, the out campaign are busy sowing a more virulent strain of the crop. If they win I fear we are all in for a bad harvest.