The Right are dominating public discourse – so why are they still so angry?

By Emil Blake

It’s rare for politicians not to smile. Even the most insincere daren’t show anything but the warmth, comfort and confidence of a smile; the most sour-faced of politicos fake it until they make it. It’s government 101, it says ‘hey, I really do mean this.’

Weather-beaten by the political tempests and low fronts that have swept into our living rooms and bedrooms through television, laptops and the damp glow of phone screens, we probably no longer care whether the powerful smile, because regardless of who we are, there isn’t a great deal to smile about in the world.  

But it’s symbolic of something far greater, a malaise and hopelessness at the very centre of power. The conservative right have been in government in the United States for four years; in the UK for a decade. For those concerned with governing in these administrations, and for their supporter base too, these should be encouraging times. 

… regardless of who we are, there isn’t a great deal to smile about in the world

In the US they swept Trump to power against huge odds; it’s allowed him to appoint Republican attorneys to the highest offices, given him licence to make enormous tax cuts to the wealthiest, and set up detention centres to rounded up illegal immigrants. In the UK the conservatives slashed public services and safety nets and won four elections in doing so. They not only won the right to hold a public debate and referendum on leaving the European Union, they even won it – against all the odds they won the argument; despite all the setbacks they are on course to get the Brexit they wanted. The state has been rolled back and any threat offered by socialists has been quelled in the form of election victories.

So, why are they all angry? Why does modern conservatism lash-out at every cause, recoil at civil redress when injustices are highlighted? You have to wonder what a conservative idyll would look like, and what it would take to get there.  

Most of us should by now have a fairly clear idea what this idyll looks like – and it ain’t pretty. It leads to orthodoxy, puritanism, ‘difficult decisions’ and ultimately, purges. Identity politics, while necessary to highlight injustices and give a voice to those facing discrimination, has unwittingly divided the left into competing tribes that focuses on difference rather than commonality; a market place of ideas where even six-figure salaried white columnists for The Telegraph can feel the sting of discrimination, merely for denying science.

The Right will now go after any cause – no matter how hopeless in the face of facts – like a rabid dog after a postman’s calf.

The culture war has enough mileage in it to maintain and drive the anger of conservatives for ever more, as it’s no longer just about freedom of speech, taking offence or personal identity; it stretches out into the horizon, when even wearing face masks in the midst of a global health crisis, is a sure sign that the marxists are in the driving seat even though election results show a social justice movement scratching in the dust through the rear view mirror of history. Where do we go from here?

Nationhood stands as the primary symbol of one’s political identity for the conservative; it is an abstract concept that is both irrefutable and intangible. God and country. Flag and country. Queen and country. But what even is ‘the country’ and what is it that they love so much about it?

Why is then not a patriotic duty to feed starving kids in the midst of a pandemic and oncoming recession?

For, one’s country somehow loses the same emotional power when homelessness and poverty of one’s compatriots is presented to the right-wing. Somehow, when a footballer asks for government help in ensuring that thousands of children’s school meal costs are covered for low-income families while schools remain closed, suddenly the issue comes back to the individual, and the responsibility of the family.  Why is then not a patriotic duty to feed starving kids in the midst of a pandemic and oncoming recession?

The empathy gap in British, and I suspect, western society is a yawning one: as living standards drop, the politics of envy begin to take over. But this is no ‘normal’ envy, a keeping-up-with-the-joneses competition seen as healthy by the most enthusiastic supporters of the capitalist economy; no, this is not about a twitching of the curtain and a resentment at their new car or conservatory. It’s about the keen sense of injustice that other folk, other demographics are getting more attention and more help than you – even if you don’t need it. ‘Why them? Why not us?’

Prioritise our own people before refugees. White lives matter. All lives matter. Until of course, they don’t. Whether its the poor using foodbanks or ex-servicemen sleeping in the streets, it requires us to draw on our ever decreasing resources of sympathy. This envy, although misguided is in some way dressed as a fight-or-flight survival response, the bestowing of further rights by consensus to a minority, means that we might lose our own rights along the way.

In an age etched into tree bark and permafrost by pollution and over-consumption, when every day brings some reminder of our finite resources, perhaps there is some logic to the knee-jerk; yet rights are not a finite resource – in an equitable society they should be abundant and and not subjected to supply-and-demand laws of economics. Nevertheless the underlying mantra for our age: ‘there’s not enough to go around’ covers not only our societies in monetary terms, but in empathetic currency too.

The working class drift rightward towards a siege mentality nationalism can be mused upon in tomes, but perhaps we need to dump the word ‘privilege’ in order to clarify the juxtaposition of white-skinned advantage. Certainly, in the UK the word has a very loaded meaning in terms of class consciousness and identity: while the ‘average’ person might respect or even look up to the Rees-Moggs and Farages, none would be so self-deceptive as to believe they were peers.

We could talk about ‘black disadvantage’ instead but this still sounds as though it’s white people talking among themselves; although this might be a good starting point in itself. Our utterances now have been boiled down to sound bites – be it in 280 characters or updates to our ‘networks’ – the ‘friend’ is dead it seems – and in a seemingly uncertain world our announcements become ever more set in stone and bind us to fixed positions. We now build walls with words, in ways we could never have previously. Sadly, conversations have been replaced by ‘discourse’, ‘debate’ and any other euphemism you can think of for invective.

There is always someone else to blame – whether it’s Fake News, Black Lives Matter, Anti-fascists, economic experts or working class families struggling to feed their kids.

Social media is of course powered by anger, grievance and counter-claim. The masterminds behind Trump’s digital campaigns in the 2016, or Vote Leave’s Brexit campaign were all too aware of the growing dis-satisfaction that has been growing among a sympathetic demographic. Tyrants and dictators have been using communication manipulation throughout the ages to seize power, with very similar methods.

The malaise that western democracy finds itself in now, however, requires not just a blame game but a perpetual culture war: with every daily development there is a fresh angle to exploit, and the direct means to do so. Politicians no longer have to negotiate their messages through the traditional gatekeepers of journalist or editor, and it’s no coincidence that Donald Trump is the Twitter Presidentdespite the US government being the world’s second most prolific PR machine.

Trump and his advisors clearly learned a trick or two from their junior partner in the ‘special relationship’: note how cleverly the British right-wing have taken the resultant ills of 50 years of neo-liberalist policy in the UK and managed to convince a large enough section of the electorate that the EU was responsible for the struggles that the UK currently face. There is always someone else to blame – whether it’s Fake News, Black Lives Matter, Anti-fascists, economic experts or working class families struggling to feed their kids.

The Right will now go after any cause – no matter how hopeless in the face of facts – like a rabid dog after a postman’s calf. Take The Telegraph’s recent article about Jacinda Ardern’s ‘disastrous’ leadership in the wake of her recent election victory, as a shining example of the dogged pursuit of a contrarian opinion in the face of hard evidence.

The bad news – for all of us, regardless of our political persuasion – is that the cultural war is here for good, and every good deed must be justified. The positives that we can draw from this is that the ‘whataboutery‘, the revisionism and the heaping of mistruths upon lies is not sustainable. Even in an ill-functioning democracy, they must sure run out of road.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2551.jpeg
Emil Blake

Sometime writer, sometime journalist, sometime teacher, sometime dreamer

Featured image By Becker1999 from Grove City, OH – aaIMG_0755, CC BY 2.0,

The decade of political idolatry

It’s staggering that as the world spiralled into a political death loop over the past decade, and trust overall in our electoral systems has taken a severe beating, that another phenomena should have come about: the political icon.

Leaders have, of course, always commanded a certain reverence. Charisma, good looks and oratory skills help elevate the ambitious to the very top, just as elite schooling and networking enable those with more modest skills to attain positions of power.

Yet such attributes have been in short supply in British politics, at one of the most turbulent points in the country’s modern history. There has arguably not been a single politician over the last decade – of any variety – that had the persuasive power to reach across the yawning divides to create the groundswell needed. Staggering to consider, when the ruling party has never once looked like a competent administration – even if one overlooks the ideological nastiness, barely concealed corruption and cronyism that have been the hallmark of their incumbency.

Yet what has become truly shocking is the whole-hearted buy-in of political idols from across the political spectrum – Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, and now, Dominic Cummings – to at least some degree. Most political commentators would drape this in the fabric of ‘populism’, which I find a vague term that misleads for want of more precision. All of these figures have been divisive perhaps due to the ever widening rifts in society, and it remains to be seen whether any of the outcomes of their political impetus benefits the country in the long-term. 

There remains a hard core of Tory and New Labour fanboys who still get misty-eyed at the thought of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, drunk on nostalgia, the political equivalent of it-was-better-in-my-day, who maybe yearn to remember when class divisions were more binary, victories more emphatic for their team, the world didn’t throw up such harsh moral ambiguities.

Jeremy Corbyn, is of course a slightly different breed, not only because he was  the only socialist ‘populist’ of the lot. like many Labour voters, I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn became leader – as it finally gave the Labour party a shot at establishing truly progressive policies based upon the roots of party’s history; but despite some very positive policies and a solid manifesto in 2017, it became apparent that he was unlikely to unite a country when he was unable to even unite his own party.

Of course the media smears and the undermining of his leadership from within his own ranks severely undermined his credibility, but the same naivety from Labour resurfaces time and again, in its inability to make capital from Conservatives’ mistakes. Even the election strategy for the 2019 General Election showed either an outstanding naivety or Corbyn’s belief in his own popularity was greatly inflated and misguided.

This however, is not about denigrating or praising a former Labour leader, who was in the grand scheme a principled man in an exceptionally cynical universe. Perhaps he was though, a man ‘out of time’ – a leader would have perhaps faired better running for Prime Minister in 2010 or even 2015, but by the time his chance came the country had irrevocably changed.

What separated Corbyn from the other aforementioned populists, is that they are all merely vehicles to initiate single issues – for Farage it was to provoke debate about EU membership, which he was considered an authority, but not so much of a political authority in the eyes of the public to elect him as a Member of Parliament; Johnson’s vehicle is his own ego – but he has served as a useful vector for his political party in that being a former member of the press corp, it would guarantee him – and his party –  an easy ride to power. Journalists, after all, do stick together. And Cummings is an unelected oddity that has helped manipulate public opinion to push through Brexit, and as we’ve learned over the past fortnight, made himself his own fall guy, in order to justify his ‘herd immunity’ theory. 

Let us not forget this is also a political culture that has created ‘Millifandom‘ and ‘Moggmentum‘ as a the ultimate homage to figures who are likely to leave any positive impression on political life in the UK.

Our political totems then, rarely manage to convince the electorate to coalesce around a grand vision. The electorate are after all, a reactionary crowd who vote with the instincts of a binge-and-purge addict who get what they want, then can take no more.

Corbyn carried a movement on his shoulders – one greater than any single issue – that of social justice and equality. Yet like the oft-parroted soundbite that Labour bods have regurgitated over the past 4 years – ‘for the many not the few’ – these precepts are intangible, abstract ideas that promises little and explains less: Old Blighty is repelled by this, preferring to leave the philosophical and the cerebral to our continental cousins, while we deal with common sense, nous, and concrete concepts. ‘Get Brexit done’ for all its vacuity and bluster, was – and remains – a remarkably effective piece of sloganeering in appealing to the Anglo-Saxon work ethic.  

As Europeans go, the English are not intellectual. They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic ‘world-view’. Nor is this because they are ‘practical’, as they are so fond of claiming for themselves. One only has to look at their methods of town planning and water supply, their obstinate clinging to everything that is out of date and a nuisance, a spelling system that defies analysis, and a system, of weights and measures that is intelligible only to the compilers of arithmetic books, to see how little they care about mere efficiency.

George Orwell – The lion and the unicorn

In some respects, the Labour Party ‘dodged a bullet’ in losing the last election – just six months into the current parliament, the government has to deal with a global pandemic, an economic depression with millions of jobs gone – and crucial Brexit talks still on the horizon. If 2008 demonstrated anything, it is perhaps that the British public are less forgiving of Labour’s attempts to tackle a crisis than it is when the Conservatives do so. But it is precisely during times of crisis that the country needs an administration whose policies and realpolitik is borne from equality, fairness and justice. As such, a progressive government victory in 2024 would require an entire parliament to unpick the damage caused over the previous decade and half, should they have the appetite to do so.

Given that the parliamentary democracy of the UK has offered such slim pickings for progressives throughout modern history, it is astounding that we have, and continue to, place such faith in the mechanics of it to give us the saviour or the salvation required to address inequality. An active democracy, if one exists, certainly doesn’t look like the kind of model where we place our utmost faith in individuals, and hope that they can bend the system to their will.

As the British left has discovered to their substantial cost, a social justice movement fit for the breathlessly rapid, tumultuous 21st century can only succeed through collective action and decentralised collectivism. Leaders can be ridiculed, smeared, or just not be up to the task. We must first convince and then each of us lead.

Kondratiev and the next K-Wave

Now AI is Coming for the Middle-Class

Kondratiev studied the economic cycles of the 19th century

By Emil Blake

In 1925 a Russian economist, called Nikolai Kondratiev published a book called Major Economic Waves in which he predicted the rise and fall of economic prosperity driven by new, era-defining technologies. The crux of it, according to Kondratiev, was that economic cycles last 40-60 years. His starting point, which studied the economic cycle for the 19th century, applying it further into the future, was ultimately to cost him his life.

The economist was killed by Stalin’s firing squad 82 years ago, largely because his theory demonstrated that capitalism went through stages of decline and renewal, rather than absolute collapse. Ironically, the next Kondatriev Wave might demonstrate most clearly capitalism not as the Ouroboros of eternal life, but as the self-consumption of its most craven desires.

According to Kondratiev’s waves — a term coined by economist Joseph Schumpter, posthumously in 1939, our current wave — that driven by the global information technology epoch, is due to, or has already expired. The theory, which posits that each epoch is marked in four stages — prosperity, recession, depression and improvement, – much like the cyclical seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring – predicted the current era finished around the turn of the millennium.

What now looms – is the industrial expansion of automation and the disappearance of significant chunks of low-skilled work

If Kondratiev is right, the next epoch should’ve started at some point between the turn of the century, and now, 2020. And now, looks like an exceptional fertile time for huge changes to occur. Obviously, global pandemic or other such events do not figure in economic theory but they have through the course of history brought forward or altered human ways of being, living and working.

Many economists would argue that Kondratiev’s waves are not a reliable measure, either in when these waves start or end, and there are also question marks over the data collection of grain yields that provided his theory of economic seasons within each industrial evolution. There’s also the small matter of natural disasters – and pandemics – which clearly affect economies. Yet, Kondratiev’s ideas still have a considerable number of proponents, even if perhaps it might be another form of prediction or pattern recognition.

Blogger Charles Hugh Smith, writing in 2011, claimed that 2020 would be at the intersection of four long-term cycles: the passing of the war generation – those born in the war, the longer-term cycle of price inflation and wage stagnation, the credit expansion and contraction cycle, and the downward movement of Peak Oil depletion.

While the wage stagnation and credit bubble predictions are still a decade out, it makes for sober reading what comes next. Despite the transition to a digital economy over the past 20 years the biggest driver of industrialized economies, has been growing levels of domestic, commercial and national debt, which suggest a global economy out of ideas and out of steam. Quantitative easing and low interest rates have kept the engine ticking over but the petrol tank is empty.

Once the cold winds of the Kondratiev winter begin to blow and the typical overclass member sees the permanent collapse of his 401K, elimination of his bonus, and his stock options expiring worthless, he will learn he is not the same as the rich.”

“During the Kondratiev fall when conditions favour asset appreciation and the secondary wave represents enormous opportunity to the educated and savvy, the non-rich members of the overclass can pretend they are the same as the truly rich, and that their interests coincide. […]

Once the cold winds of the Kondratiev winter begin to blow and the typical overclass member sees the permanent collapse of his 401K, elimination of his bonus, and his stock options expiring worthless, he will learn he is not the same as the rich.

While the current K wave – if it’s to be believed – brought industrial decline to the West and the age of information in all its forms: the office cubicle, teleconferencing, industrial-scale telephony, hotdesking, the bullshit job, the death-rattle of unions and the atomisation of the labour movement. It is up for debate whether, in light of covid-19, the next wave will be more an industrial de-escalation rather than a revolution. The working class have been feeling the effects for years, and will feel it even harder. AI is coming for the middle-class.

Companies and corporate entities that seek to adjust their losses, during financial crises through staff lay-offs and redundancies, rarely recruit to the same levels again even if they survive and flourish in later times. New technology usually allows larger companies to replace gaps in their staffing, and those that can’t will go to the wall.
AI and automation research and development will likely be hastened by the frustrations and furloughs of a global lockdown for the wealthiest companies. For the multitude of SME’s that keep the biggest Western economies afloat, this could be a Darwinian moment.
Certainly, it will give context to technology that has long been in creation. A global pandemic of course, brings about both the necessity to down-scale, but also to bring forward projects that might have been longer-term investments – particularly if they are ‘ready to go’, labour-saving and justify the productivity output of taking x labour from the balance sheet.

The working class have been feeling the effects for years, and will feel it even harder. AI is coming for the middle-class.

This obviously won’t spell the end of labour and working. But we are beginning to see the shrinking of human labour, which in historical contexts looks obvious. If Kondratiev’s general theory is correct, the start of the last (or current) K wave would’ve been around 1970 – roughly when expanding Western corporations began cost-cutting and eventually moving industrial work to the cheaper labour markets of Asia, and is generally considered the decade when ‘globalization’ as we know it began.

The erosion of the industrial base in industrialised economies soon followed – and so it would be logical that the next industrial wave should continue the trend of de-labourisation. Robots and AI technologies have been steadily been worming their way into our daily life for years – whether it’s supermarket checkouts, streaming services, smart cars or Amazon’s Alexa. They’re here to help us, but….for how long?

What now looms – is the industrial expansion of automation and the disappearance of significant chunks of low-skilled work, and indeed tasks or jobs performed by the more skilled. Planned obsolescence might be something we have become wearily accustomed to in the life-cycle of our tech, but soon it could be a feature of the human workforce.

Examples of algorithms making crucial decisions in recruitment and HR; replacing face-to-face diagnoses for those without medical insurance in the US, the increasing presence of Al in legal work to manage caseloads, or even how AI can manage your investment portfolio (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

Examples of AI and robotics abound, and yes they’re coming for your job, despite all the talk of ‘Cobots’ helping to share the workload. Despite this, in more recent (October 2019), and socially intimate times, more than two-thirds of Americans believed that robot technology would aid their work rather than making them obsolete. the bottom line remains cost efficiency and ‘streamlining’ – or any other euphemism you can conjure, for what equates to staff cuts. While we apprehensively wince at the thought of a nightmarish future with driverless cars – and all of the moral questions that could come from it – there is already the tech to do so, and to deliver your goods to your front door, in the process. All that is stopping those that can afford it is legislation – and public acceptance. Both will come.



…the slow removal of the labour market, and the economic crisis that that will prolong or eventually bring, could be a more immediate crisis for humanity than the environmental problems that capitalism and consumerism have been slowly storing up.

What the four day working week and UBI will not provide is tax revenue, which might not make a significant dent in tax revenues for the many workers in retail or catering, but when automation and AI begin to make a significant impact on the professional services and comfortably middle class – that provides more telling issues for the powerful to deal with. There’s always robots when it all goes wrong.

Of course, governments will need to increase tax receipts, to cover the full costs of the pandemic in a post-pandemic time; and that will be significantly harder coming out of a potential economic depression and with the looming threat of a whole host of vanishing jobs. A forward-thinking response to these crises, might be to implement an asset or land-value tax rather than an income-based one, in order to keep the working-class afloat, but would punish middle-class the most; an approach politically, that appears to make sense in polite conversation but not, at the critical moment, in the polling booth.

Certainly the imperatives are all present for the next technological push – the next K wave: the necessity to power our societies in clean and efficient energies and avoid ecological disaster; reconfiguring economies based, not on output and growth but by other measures that demonstrate a universal prosperity; the acceptance that infinite supply and infinite demand on finite resources is not a possible outcome in any universe. For this to happen of course sensible public discourse should follow, but we are farther than ever from this through the deepening networks of misinformation and alarming societal fragmentation that have come about through the immediacy of digital publishing, and the flowering of troll farms and bots to skewer reality once more. AI, once more.

But the way to extend the infinite supply – demand delusion is of course, to invest in the removal of labour costs to continue it, but for how long? The stock markets will sing – just look how they’ve rolled over and had their tummies tickled mere weeks into an economic crash – but the slow removal of the labour market, and the economic crisis that that will prolong or eventually bring, could be a more immediate crisis for humanity than the environmental problems that capitalism and consumerism have been slowly storing up.


”Michael A. Alexander, The Kondratiev Cycle: A Generational Interpretation

Emil Blake

Sometime writer, sometime journalist, sometime teacher, sometime dreamer

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