The common thread between Brexit, Trump, Macron and Corbyn…
On the face of it, there is no pattern in the votes in Britain, the US and France over the past year.
With Brexit, a trading nation decided to break from a bloc seen as a meddling bureaucracy, hoping to strike deals with the wider world on its own terms. In the US, voters reverted to an old tradition of isolationism and economic nationalism.
Macron, in contrast to the other two, is very much a multilateralist: he embraces globalisation and sees France’s future firmly within the EU.
But beyond these glaring differences, a common thread runs through those outcomes – and it has implications for next week’s general election in the UK.
Those who have won so far were not afraid to stand up for deeply-held beliefs, however misguided they appeared to be (or actually were), no matter against the grain to seemed to go.
You may disagree with Trump or with the Brexit lot, but you can’t accuse them of equivocating or hedging their bets.
The same applies to Macron. He was dismissed by opponents as a mushy consensus candidate.
But if he had played it safe, he would have remained inside the socialist party rather than start a movement from scratch.
If he had played it safe, he would not have embraced open trade in a globaphobic country. And he would never had spoken face-to-face to striking workers in a factory threatened with closure, and told them that as president he would not spend one euro in public money to rescue their jobs.
His campaign was every bit as daring in the context of France as Trump’s in a US context (remember: I am not comparing the campaigns themselves – for one thing Macron’s was much better organised than Trump’s – but their levels of gutsiness.)
All this supports the old adage that most voters don’t believe in anything, but they believe in people who believe in something.
Of course, there are limits to the attractiveness of sheer conviction. Beliefs that are too weird will turn people off. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders was very much a conviction politician, but he still lost to an opportunistic centrist a couple of months ago.
In the second round of France’s presidential Macron convincingly defeated a candidate whose ideas were even more iconoclastic than his, but were just too far out for most. In Britain, a generation ago, Margaret Thatcher’s willingness to stand up to the establishment eventually backfired.
But when consensus starts to break down, risk-taking will be rewarded. You’re going to piss off a large chunk of the electorate whatever you do. Candidates who stick to their guns in the face of criticism have a key advantage over those who twist in the wind in quest of wider appeal.
This augurs well for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and not so well for Theresa May’s Tories for next Thursday.