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The Third Wayists are quaking in their boots. The middle-class, middle-of-the-road technocrats who have dominated politics for the best part of three decades are freaking out. These people who bristle at anything ideological, are disdainful of heated debate, and have bizarrely turned the word ‘moderate’ into a compliment feel under siege. And no wonder they do, for on both sides of the Atlantic their very worst nightmare — a revenge of the plebs — is becoming flesh.
You can see this sometimes clumsy but nonetheless forceful reassertion of pleb power in everything from Trumpmania to the staggering back to life of Euroscepticism — or what snooty moderates call ‘Europhobia’, because every point of view that runs counter to their own must be a mental illness, right?
In both Middle America and Middle England, among both rednecks and chavs, voters who have had more than they can stomach of being patronised, nudged, nagged and basically treated as diseased bodies to be corrected rather than lively minds to be engaged are now putting their hope into a different kind of politics. And the entitled Third Way brigade, schooled to rule, believing themselves possessed of a technocratic expertise that trumps the little people’s vulgar political convictions, are not happy. Not one bit.
Consider their fury, or bamboozlement, with Trump’s army. Who are these strange creatures pumping their fists in the air for a big-haired billionaire who is most proud of being un-PC, they wonder?
They’re so perplexed by these plebs that they’ve taken to psychologising them. The Washington Post, America’s foremost purveyor of the bland post-politics politics, asked actual psychologists to give their take on the Trump-following blob. Their conclusion? That they love Trump because he tells them their problems are ‘simple and easy to solve’. CNN diagnosed the Trump army as being in the grip of ‘racial and economic fear’. Gawker dispensed with the cod-psychology and went straight for the plebs’ jugulars: they’re simply driven by ‘profound stupidity’, it sniffed.
The great irony of this disgust for Trumpites is that it is precisely such treatment of a vast swathe of the American electorate as dumb or mad or both which has made many see Trump as a refreshing alternative.
From Obama’s writing-off of the inhabitants of industrial downs as people who ‘cling to guns and religion’ to blogging queen Arianna Huffington’s claim that ‘millions of voters’ vote with their ‘lizard, more emotional right brain’ rather than with their ‘logical left brain’, the contempt heaped on ordinary American voters in recent years has been relentless.
America’s new elites, fancying themselves superior to the rural, the old, the religiously inclined and the rest, have increasingly turned politics into something that is done to people, for their own good, rather than by people according to their moral outlook. And then they wonder why people go looking for something else, something less sneering.
In Britain, meanwhile, the Third Wayists are losing sleep over the EU referendum, when ordinary people — including people who watch the football and wave the St George’s flag! — will get to have their say on Britain’s future relationship with the EU. What madness is this, they wonder of democracy.
The middle-of-the-road mob have always been alarmed by the idea that something as sacred as the future of the EU should be entrusted to the plebs. Tony Blair, the first but now hated King of the dull new moderates, warned last year that a vote would cause ‘chaos’.
During earlier revolts of the Euro-plebs, like when the French and Dutch said No to the EU Constitution in 2005 and the Irish said ‘pogue mahone’ to the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, the new elites went ballistic. Such No votes are a ‘triumph of ignorance’, declared gorger from the EU gravy train Lord Kinnock. Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff said the opponents of EU treaties are an ‘odd bunch of… the generally pissed off’. Commentators said the plebs had been brainwashed by ‘populist demagogues’, because of course it isn’t possible that people could really be against the EU.
We’ll see more of this in the coming months, more defamation of those who dare to say: ‘I don’t like Brussels.’ But Euroscepticism represents, not some swirling, xenophobic disgust with Europeans, as it has been pathologised by the pleb-fearing PC lobby, but a people’s feeling of exhaustion with the ossified oligarchy of the Brussels machine. It speaks to a desire among ordinary people to take back some control over their lives and destinies. And as The Economist pointed out, this Eurosceptic urge is strongest among the less well-educated — that is, the plebs, those tired of being treated as welfare, nudging and paternalism fodder by the new political elites.
So bring it on, this revenge of the plebs. Let’s cheer their rude, intemperate injection of ideology into the flat, lifeless sphere politics has become over the past 20 years. And let’s enjoy the squirming of an aloof political class and commentariat who mistakenly thought they had put the pesky masses and their troublesome views out to pasture.