by Derek Morrison
Its hunger is insatiable
This Beast of Expectation
Fed junk-food promises
By leaders of the nation
Beast’s girth then so inflates
Its demands rise even more
Yet none dare tell the truth
Lest hell burst through the door
So golden futures are promised
For delivery on undetermined date
Or it’s given another lie injection
Thinning more the ice they skate
This Beast of Expectation
The politician’s voracious pet
Its cage stores disappointments
Of those promises never met
Till one day the Beast escapes
Seeks souls of those it blames
They that failed to manage it
Perish first in dragon’s flames.
[To listen to this verse select below]
The verse above was informed by the Rising Expectations Hypothesis – long beloved of social and political scientists. In this hypothesis it is a wide and sustained mismatch between raised voter expectations and the perceived ability of a political system to deliver, that becomes the engine of revolution, i.e. the Revolution of Rising Expectations. An important aspect of this theory is that it isn’t at the lowest point that the pot of frustration finally boils over, it’s when perceived improvements aren’t progressing fast enough to align with a population’s expectations. That creates a particular dilemma for the populist wings of the global political class whose promises may well appeal to voters sufficiently dissatisfied with – or anxious about – the status quo to risk what appears to be a radical change. When the populist messages and promises actually enable a political group or movement to assume the leadership mantle (sometimes to their surprise), the raised expectations that got them voted into a position of power can then become somewhat problematic when faced with the reality of delivery. At the time of writing we are certainly living in a world of rising expectations and many many promises of golden futures by the political classes.
There have been several recent exemplars affecting even apparently stable systems. In the UK the so called Brexit movement evolved as the portmanteau term for the ultimately successful 2016 campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union via a UK wide referendum on 23 June 2016. The key political figures feeding this Beast of Expectation were:
- Nigel Farage – then leader of the UK Independence Party (despite multiple retirements from the role) and the person most identified with the Brexit ideology. Ironically – and controversially – he is also a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Farage had fully expected that the Brexit campaign(s) would lose and had actually prepared his concession speech after close of voting on 23 June 2016.
- David Cameron – former Conservative Prime Minister who had devised the UK’s 2016 referendum as a means of neutralising the growing influences of both his Party’s own right wing and the UK Independence Party both whose mission was for the UK to leave the EU. Cameron miscalculated and narrowly lost the referendum vote held on 23 June 2016 and announced his forthcoming resignation on 24 June 2016. He formally resigned as UK Prime Minister on 13 July 2016. Arguably, Cameron’s failure to specify a clear majority result in the EU referendum, e.g. 60:40 for each country of the UK enabled the eventual narrower England & Wales leave result to prevail (England 53.4%, Wales 52.5%, Scotland 38%, Northern Ireland 44.2%) and so has served to amplify divergent national opinions.
- Boris Johnson – former Mayor of London, Conservative MP, after Cameron’s resignation he withdrew from his leadership bid of the UK Conservative Party after betrayal by his then friend and fellow MP Michael Gove. At the time of writing he is Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a high profile role to which he was appointed by Theresa May thus ensuring he remains in the public eye and so retains accountability during the Brexit process (while also weakening opportunities for realising any future leadership ambitions).
- Michael Gove – Conservative, Secretary of State for Education 2010-2014, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 2015-2016. Failed leadership bid UK Conservative Party 2016 after withdrawing support from his friend and fellow MP Boris Johnson in the former’s leadership bid. Not reappointed to any UK Government role by Theresa May the successful leadership candidate.
At the time of writing, the key political figures in the UK now charged with managing this Beast of Expectation are:
- Theresa May – At the time of writing she is Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister who survived the turbulence after the then Prime Minister David Cameron lost the EU referendum of 23 June 2016. She emerged as the victor on 11 July 2016 after the very brief leadership campaign that followed the referendum. She assumed office on David Cameron’s formal resignation to the Queen on 13 July 2016. Despite the narrow EU referendum vote and her own low-key EU ‘remainer’ preference she invoked the ‘Article 50’ process on 29 May 2017 that will take the UK out of the EU probably in 2019.
- Nicola Sturgeon – First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP). Scotland has a devolved Parliament and a clear majority of Scots voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 UK referendum (62%) and so Sturgeon now has to both feed and manage the Beast of Expectation as the SNP exploits the dissonant result of the UK wide referendum as a driver of support for a repeat referendum on Scottish independence from the UK. Sturgeon’s premise is that Brexit was a fundamental constitutional matter involving all the countries composing the United Kingdom and so unanimous support of each separate nation should have informed the decision rather than absolute number votes which were always going to favour the largest country, i.e. England. Both Scotland with its 62%, and Northern Ireland (55.8%) had voted by clearer majorities to stay in the EU whereas in England (53.4%) and Wales (52.5%) a narrower majority had voted to leave. Sturgeon can therefore now cast the Brexit decision as a Westminster Parliament imposing its will upon a Disunited Kingdom.
At the time of writing the key political figures feeding the Beast of Expectation in the US are:
- Donald John Trump – Now 45th President of the United States. A reality television star with no background in politics this Republican wildcard of the US 2016 Presidential Election confounded the expectations of both the traditional mainstream political class (of all parties) and the mainstream media by defeating his Democratic opponent Hilary Clinton and taking up office in the White House on 20 January 2017. An enthusiastic user of social media or public platforms to communicate directly with his audience Trump at times gives the impression of being driven by an ‘impulse engine’ with his apparently improvised unfiltered reactions to issues or events attracting plaudits from his supporters and censure (or expressions of anxiety) from his critics. Trump appears to be an unashamed populist who has declared the traditional US political culture to be an elite ‘swamp’ that he intends to drain. Among his many promises were: to “build a big beautiful wall” between the US and Mexico; replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), ban all Muslims from entering the US, and eject all undocumented immigrants. It remains to be seen whether this apparently unpredictable White House incumbent can adapt sufficiently quickly to the exigencies of his Presidential Office, or whether global political systems will adapt (or react) to him. The quality of the team he builds around him will be key to the outcomes of his election – both positive and negative.
- Steve Bannon – Former Executive Chairman of the ‘alt-right’ Breitbart News Network (an aggregator of activist right wing news sites) and, at the time of writing, the controversial Chief White House Strategist to Donald Trump (see above). Encapsulated in his world-view Bannon appears to consider the mainstream media as part of “the opposition” and components of a political and media global elite that needs to be challenged as part of a “cultural and political war” (Source: New York Times – Ed note: part of the alleged media ‘elite’ identified by Bannon). This ideology appears to feed into the somewhat ‘robust’ at at times confrontational approach currently adopted by this new US Administration, e.g.
“The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” (Source: Breitbart News)
(to be continued)