Hugo Rifkind (a liberal) at the Spectator takes a different view of the meaning of recent events. What if he’s right?
People talk a lot of rot. Ideas spread, and sometimes they gain common currency despite being simply nonsense. One such idea, now almost universally believed, is that the â€˜political classâ€™ is today more estranged from the public at large than ever before. Historically speaking, however, that just canâ€™t be true. Watch The Crown, for Godâ€™s sake. Look at that world of wing collars and waistcoats and country houses, and then look at Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing, and tell me this gulf has grown â€” and Iâ€™m sorry, but youâ€™ll just be talking nonsense.
In truth, it is not estrangement which has grown but familiarity, and that familiarity, in good ways as well as bad, has bred contempt. No longer do people look at power and see a tribe wholly different to their own. Rather, they see people exactly like them who appear, through no obvious or evident virtue, to have won a lottery. And so, rather than forgoing control with a forelockâ€“tugging shrug, they take it back, because they can.
For now, granted, Iâ€™m not wholly convinced theyâ€™re doing anything particularly wise with it. But thatâ€™s the process, isnâ€™t it? Momentum, Scottish Nationalism, Brexit, Trump, all that crazy nonsense; these are the baby steps of a truly mass political engagement, brought about by technology that suddenly makes truly mass political engagement possible. Sure, they might not exactly be steps in a great direction, but the printing press also spread pogroms and mass broadcast technology also spread fascism, so thus far perhaps weâ€™re getting off pretty damn lightly.
In the end, if either Trump or Brexit are even half as disastrous as I fear they could be, then perhaps the masses who voted for them will have learned a valuable lesson about the way that (as Spider-Manâ€™s Uncle Ben put it) with great power comes great responsibility. And if they arenâ€™t, as people keep telling me they wonâ€™t be, then I suppose we donâ€™t really have anything to worry about anyway. So, chin up and happy Christmas. Iâ€™m taking a few days off. Might paint the ceiling.