"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Boris Johnson's cabinet consists of two-thirds of people who attended private schools. Half are Oxbridge graduates."
As Donald Trump fights to keep the presidency having lost the election, I must credit him with exposing the fickle state of democracy. While I'm guessing he will come to his senses and exit the White House, I doubt it will be a dignified departure. He's made that much clear. The great disruptor will continue to disrupt.
This is the second in a series that assesses the current standing of western-style democracy.
What strikes me is that after four years of Trump insulting and degrading people, as he assailed institutions, he still managed to garner over 72 million votes. That the most ever for a defeated presidential candidate. Besides, he dodged every opportunity to play the statesmen, or display an ounce of magnanimity. In the process, he's confounded the pollsters, the pundits and even his party, many of whom still question if the man is unfit for office. What does this tell us?
For sure the so-called experts don't have a handle on the evolution unfolding at the grassroots of public opinion. Have the people grown wise to pollsters? Do they hold back their genuine beliefs, with a covert desire to punch the establishment on the nose for all their deceits? Are citizens baulking at the conventions, rules and machinations of politicians? They ask is the system more designed to distract than deal with real issues?
Something odd also occurred in Great Britain. Are Brexit and the startling win by the UK Conservatives in 2019, another manifestation of a hidden phenomenon? What are the processes driving these changes, and what does it say about democracy?
A definable elite, who share common roots, hold sway in the UK Parliament. For starters, parliament's key positions come dominated by Oxbridge graduates. Eighty-eight per cent of MPs went to university, with twenty-two per cent attending either Oxford or Cambridge. Boris Johnson's cabinet consists of two-thirds of people who attended private schools. Half are Oxbridge graduates.
In the Labour Party, thirty-three per cent of MPs attended either Oxford or Cambridge. Note that much less than one per cent of the population go to Oxbridge, and yet these folks dominate. It's the same in the civil service.
More than half of all MPs held previous occupations in politics, law or finance. Also, there is an over-representation of lawyers with few engineers or scientists.
The proportion of graduates in parliament has risen significantly in recent years. In 1979, 37 per cent of Labour MPs came from manual occupations without a degree. By 2015 that dropped to 6 per cent. These changes have made parliament less representative of the population, where 70 per cent don't have degrees. A similar change has taken place across most democracies in Europe as a professional political class seized power.
Thus, authentic working-class representation has disappeared. As a result, the Labour Party garnered a reputation as 'out of touch metropolitan-types playing identity politics'. No wonder Labour's so-called 'Red Wall' collapsed in the 2019 election.
Then you have the long march of liberal radicals through the institutions. Education, much of the media, the police and the courts are in their hands. Notably, the views and conventions of these people are out of kilter with a significant part of the population.
Why then in late 2019, did the UK voters, including from the working class, decide to give a Falstaffian posh-boy an overwhelming mandate? This privately educated man, who studied classics at Oxford, has an undetermined number of children by various women.
A judge described his behaviour as 'reckless', while his repeated lying comes well-documented. How come the people decided he's the appropriate choice to run the country? Granted he was up against the inept Jeremy Corbyn, but that doesn't answer the question. Boris Johnson is hardly the role model a nation seeks.
With parliaments worldwide more the preserve of people filtered through higher education, working people face exclusion. But when allowed to show their displeasure, they opt for a dodgy, crass businessman in the USA, while in Britain an archetypical elitist wins the vote.
Is it a case that when the opportunity arises, such as Brexit or when a Trump comes along with messages that resonant, they are willing to make their displeasure known. After all, the un-credentialed are not unintelligent and can see that their interests get ignored.
On a couple of occasions, the curtain pulled back to reveal the contempt of these elites. Hilary Clinton didn't help herself by calling Trump's supporters' deplorable'. In the UK, the Gillian Duffy incident exposed the disdain that Labour leaders have for ordinary citizens.
Something else is also going on. There is evidence that the Internet, in particular social media, is driving polarisation. William Davies proposes that the slow work of researching a subject and excavating the detail has stopped. We know that few issues are black and white, yet the Internet drives us to define ourselves in those terms. Davies attributes this to the use of simple up-ticks and down-ticks on social media platforms. People must give 'yes' or 'no' answers to matters that are not straightforward.
Harness that to the mind-shaping processes of the Internet, and you can see the impact. Chunks of 'content' – images, screen-grabs, snatches of video – circulate according to the number of thumbs up or thumbs down they receive. It is easy to lose sight of how peculiar and infantilising is this state of affairs.
Once a person indicates several preferences, the system does the rest. Algorithms offer up more of the same material, pushing them further down the same track. They are now in a feedback loop without meaningful discussion.
The result is a people polarised, unable and unwilling to consider the other side of an issue. In turn, this prevents community cohesion, disrupts democracy and leads to mayhem.
Aristotle identified in ancient Greece the core difficulty with democracy and its an issue that runs right up to the present day. He noted that in a democracy if the majority of voters wish, they could take away property from the rich.
He considered this unfair on the assumption that the rich had worked for their success. Aristotle concluded the best way to deal with this is to have support systems that reduced inequality. He asserted everyone must have a chance to become rich.
Has that happened? No, because all the evidence points towards reduced social mobility in recent decades. These days the most disadvantaged group in the UK is not black youth or Asians, its white boys from working-class backgrounds. With the sole exception of Roma Gypsy, every ethnic group attends university at a higher rate than white British. Of the white British who do attend, most are middle class, and 57 per cent are female. A similar pattern emerges with pay.
While the merits of a degree are eroding, this demographic data should cause pause for thought. That minorities can make admirable progress is commendable. But, at the same time, a resentful disenfranchised cohort from the majority falls behind.
If you want an explanation of the Brexit vote or support for Trump, perhaps look no further. The people broke with their norms of voting because politicians broke with them.
As we enter a new political era, how is this going to unfold? Are we looking at intensifying political polarisation, declining economic mobility and the outsized influence of special interests? It's looking that way. If so, then democracy will come under increasing stress because it fails the many.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.