The votes for Trump and Brexit were not the ignorant mistakes of the misguided. They were declarations by millions of families that they will no longer tolerate the countries they love being run against their values and economic interests by a self-renewing elite. The surge in the vote for Corbyn also has to be seen in that framework.
Britain, Europe and America have become much more ossified. Fewer people are escaping a disadvantaged start in life, especially compared with the post-war years, which is when my dad really got going on his journey from Bayston Road in London’s immigrant East End to the House of Lords. There is less social mobility.
One of the most important social phenomena of our age is the collapse in confidence that our children will be better off than us. It is no longer rational for someone born today to hope that their lives will improve as much as someone born eighty years ago, if at all.
A world in which all news is perceived as convenient fiction is one susceptible to takeover by tyrants.
What the EU referendum demonstrated above all was the remarkable power of the astute use of social media to promote a simple positive statement.
To be crystal clear, worrying about the language we employ when it comes to the issues of race, nationality and faith is not the stuff of political correctness gone barmy, or the hypersensitivity of the Snowflake generation. It will determine whether we can properly face up to the constructive and important identity questions thrown up by the Brexit and Trump votes – or whether we fuel hatred and mutual misunderstanding, and find ourselves on the streets of Charlottesville, in Virginia, confronting stupid white men doing Nazi salutes.
It is probably as well to begin with some ritual humiliation, which is that the UK’s productivity record is pretty much the miserable equivalent of our performance in the international football. Our productivity, or output per hour worked, is eighteen percentage points below that of G7 average of big developed countries. More starkly it is thirty percentage points below that of America, thirty-one percentage points less than France and thirty-six percentage points inferior to Germany. Even Italy, which is usually seen as the sick man of Europe in an economic sense, is ten percentage points more productive than UK. In respect of productivity, the UK is the equivalent of the England national football team, and Germany is the equivalent of – well, Germany (which may be less of a coincidence than it appears, when you think about it).
A culture of mutual acceptance of second best is so much less stressful than striving for perfection, and it is hard to come up with a more compelling explanation for why so many British companies are sub-standard than that their respective bosses are inferior compared with their overseas rivals.
To rework an infamous chant of Bristol City FC, ‘We’re crap, and apparently we don’t really know we are.’
Britain’s poor productivity performance in recent years is almost all down to the vast number of sub-standard firms.
This long tail of below average corporate performers is, according to the Bank of England, observable in many different industrial and service sectors. That said, exporting firms ‘have systemically higher levels of productivity than domestically oriented firms, on average by a third,’ says Haldane. And the average productivity of foreign-owned firms is twice that of indigenous ones.
But the Crash was not the whole story, the sole cause. The political earthquake was caused by the conjunction of two economic phenomena: stagnation overlaid on a system that discriminated against whole regions, generations and classes.
Paradoxically, those who have been to university may be more closed to intellectual challenge than those who have not; the prejudices of graduate communities may actually be harder to challenge than those of working-class groups. For graduates, voting for a sexist billionaire star of a reality TV, of for a rift with Germany and France, is the equivalent of farting in public. It’s not done.