LONDON LETTER: Current zeitgeist not hipster friendly

WHEN not foaming at the mouth and spitting dummies out of cribs, the hipsters are genuinely mystified why Donald Trump became President.

Me too – except I’m mystified at why they are mystified.

Apart from the obvious observation that the ruling elite is so out of touch with the person in the street that they could be in different galaxies, indications of a global leftwing collapse have been around for the past five years.

In Britain it’s even longer. Indeed, only one Labour politician has won an election in the past 40 years.

Okay, he did so three times in a row, but Tony Blair was only a leftie in the loosest sense. You couldn’t wedge a wafer between his and his Tory successor David Cameron’s beliefs.

He was the ultimate political cuckoo in the nest, and today a staunch Labour supporter would rather smear himself with honey and lie on a seething anthill than be called a ‘Blairite’.

But England has always had a strong conservative wing. In fact, if you shear off Scotland and Wales, Labour would never win at all.

But this is now spreading across the channel, most noticeably in the country that hates the English the most – France.

There the National Front led by the fiery anti-immigrant politician Marie le Pen is neck and neck in the Presidential election polls, while in Holland Geert Wilders’ equally fiery Freedom Party is poised to win the general elections next month.

Ironically Wilders, who has to have round-the-clock police protection owing to threats from Islamic terrorists, is considered one of the more modern right-wingers.

He may be against immigration, but he supports gay marriage and legalizing drugs.

If anything, the global pendulum swing has restructured stereotypes.

Rightwingers are more likely to favour free speech, freedom of religion and civil partnerships than the hipsters who first championed those causes.

Further south, socialists are watching in dismay as the conservative New Democracy Party in Greece is ahead in the opinion polls, while in Spain Ciudadanos, a centre-right party, is also gathering support at speed.

Towards the East, in Hungary the rightwing Fidesz party which has ruled for the past 11 years is extremely unlikely to be toppled, while Poland’s Law and Justice Party is riding the crest of a popular wave.

In Italy, the pro EU Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had to resign after losing a referendum in December last year.

Gaining momentum

The staunchly Eurosceptic Five Star Movement is gaining momentum and could see Italy’s own Brexit ‘moment’ in the next couple of years.

In Germany, the EU powerhouse, Angela Merkel is becoming a reviled figure.

In fact, the only two countries with old-school socialist governments are Sweden and, surprisingly,

Portugal, which logically should be as angry as Spain and Greece over stringent EU austerity penalties.

Most pundits say rightly or wrongly the turning point for Europe’s lefties came with the bailout of investment bankers in 2008, where champagne socialists were seen to be more sympathetic to financiers than to the electorate.

Also, growing disenchantment with escalating poverty in the Mediterranean region coupled with increasing anger of the northern countries whose taxes are bailing out the south, is playing right into conservative hands.

But the most significant indication that the global momentum was swinging, hardly even registered a blip on the hipster Richter scale. In fact, it wasn’t even in the West.

Instead it happened almost three years ago in India, the world’s largest democracy.

That fact alone should have indicated that political tectonic plates are shifting. But few batted an eyelid when Narendra Modi’s BJP coalition, which is far more rightwing than Donald Trump on a bad hair day, won a landslide victory.

In fact, the hipsters seemed pretty blasé when Modi ramped up the turnout among his political base by using Hindu nationalism, fierce anti-government bureaucracy, and pro-business rhetoric.

Perhaps if they had been paying attention, they would not be so mystified by the Trump and Brexit results today.

I think at least two hugely significant factors are becoming pretty clear: the current zeitgeist is not hipster friendly, and Trump has more friends than the political elite dare imagines.

Graham Spence

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