A desperate yearning for change

Ben Levitas says Brexit has shown that people want change, even if it means defying logic

Brexit has shown that people want change, even if it means defying logic

People want change because they feel that they have lost control over their lives. Outwardly people are concerned about lack of delivery by governments, by corruption in the political and economic elites, by onerous taxes and by the feeling that things are getting worse. Other outward expressions of this general malaise, are the feelings that governments have lost control over immigration, over policing, over crime and over where their policies are leading.

We see the signs everywhere. Populist leaders, that appear from outside the political establishment and appear to challenge the status quo, are gaining traction everywhere. Boris Johnson, in Britain, although a Conservative parliamentarian, portrays himself an a non-conventianal politician, that wants to lead Britain into taking control over its own future.

This resonates with those people, who feel that loss of control in their own lives. Bernie Saunders, is a maverick political phenomenon, that surprised every political pundit, by the amount of grass root support he garnered, because he touched a chord in the electorate, that the economic and social system needed to be transformed because it was failing them. Likewise Donald Trump, has built his campaign on the presumption that he can offer Americans a better life, because the establishment had conspired against the people and sold them short.

Whilst he has benefitted handsomely from the political and economic system, being an outsider politically has served him well. Hilary Clinton’s deep affiliations with the political establishment have come back to haunt her and Trump is masterfully exploiting that. He appeals, because he offers change, which is what the people want. Hilary offers more of the same.

The aim of every society has been to first create and then grow its Middle Class.  The  economic prosperity before the 2007/8 economic crisis, brought into being enlarged Middle classes from China, to India to South Africa. And then things all changed, because the world economy started to stall. The Middle Classes are now trapped into a cycle of debt, which is aggravated by increasing prices for basic foodstuffs, education and transport, by increasing direct and indirect taxes, and by the feeling that life is getting harder.

In South Africa, we blame the foreigners for taking our jobs, we blame the stagnant world economy and we feel that our politicians have hijacked the political order, leaving us powerless to make the changes required. We call it "state capture”, but it merely expresses our feelings that the government is no longer answerable to us, but to some “other” interest or entity.

This is a fertile ground for populists who purport to offer a way out of the discomfort. With elections approaching, we could be beguiled into believing the election manifestos offering easy solutions.

Remember, Zuma offered creating 5 million jobs, speaking as the leader of a political party, that enjoyed near absolute power, with nearly two-thirds of the vote, and still he could not deliver. The undoubted appeal of Malema, when he offers to redistribute land, to take control of the mines and to create jobs, is alluring and will be very difficult for the masses to resist. 

In our craving for change, hopefully we will learn something from the recent events in England, which turned its back on a well trodden and certain path, to chose to venture into an unknown and volatile future.