LONDON — As a rising tide of angry, right-wing populism sweeps across the West, the left has been left scrambling for answers.
From Brexit to the shock election of Donald Trump in the US, disillusioned voters are increasingly turning to an isolationist right for solutions. “Therefore, the great task for progressive politics at the next stage is how do you hear that raft of discontents and then respond to it,” said Labour MP Jack Dromey.
“Ignore it at our peril, there’s a xenophobic populism on the march,” Dromey told Business Insider in an interview in his Westminster offices. “Brexit, America, France next year, Geert Wilders in Holland, the emerging far right in Germany. These are dangerous times through which we are living.”
It’s a problem that has beset Britain’s leftwing Labour party. After thirteen years of power, ending in 2010, it is currently out in the wilderness — heavily trailing in the polls, not trusted with the economy, with an unpopular leader (Jeremy Corbyn), and losing heartland voters to the right-wing populist UKIP.
In the US, race undeniably played a part in the election of Donald Trump — a man who has called Mexican immigrants rapists, promised to ban all Muslim immigration, challenged the suitability of a judge to hear a case on the grounds of his race, and picked cabinet members labelled racist by critics.
But there are also deep economic anxieties at play, in an era of globalisation, stagnation, and automation. Labour concerns and workers’ rights are traditionally at the heart of leftwing politics — and Bernie Sanders, the failed Democratic primary candidate for president, saw surprising success by putting these issues front-and-center.
“The fact that people voted for Brexit, or voted for Trump, does not mean they are bad people,” Dromey, the MP for Birmingham Erdington, said. “But what you have is an unscrupulous, demagogic politics that seeks to take advantage of discontent, even if it does not have answers to that discontent. But these are profoundly worrying times through which we are living, no question about it.”
As shadow minister for labour — and a 68-year-old veteran trade unionist — job security and workers’ rights are at the heart of Dromey’s diagnosis of the problem, and his answers. “There is growing anger on the part of millions of working people over their lot, over how they’re treated … it is incumbent on a government and society to hear the voice of the precariat and to recognise that we cannot continue to go down this path,” he said.
“I think we ignore that growing insecurity at our peril. I think it’s bad for the workers concerned, it’s bad for their families, it’s bad for the economy, but it’s also bad for the kind of country we want to be.”
You can read Business Insider’s full interview with Jack Dromey on Uber, the gig economy, and workers’ rights on Monday, November 21.
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