During the industrial revolution, people were forcibly moved from the countryside to cities or industrial estates where there were factories or mines. Karl Marx turned these displaced people into a class, the proletariat. In the 1970s, they were dispossessed of their places of work by moving their sources of income abroad. Companies seeking to increase their margins treated them as haves compared with employees in the then underdeveloped countries. Since the 1980s, everything in abandoned towns has closed down. No trains, no post offices, no libraries, no schools, no doctors.
In The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson hires a car and drives out to these deserts. He sees these people abandoned. As a result of the collapse in the value of land and businesses, small shops have disappeared. What’s left are supermarkets, business parks and fast-food outlets. What’s left are the agronomic industrialists who have created concentrated farms run by a handful of people. In these places, the minimum wage is paid to all workers, if not the minimum social benefits. Towns and countryside have become uglier, built on the cheap.
In the 1990s, Clinton, Blair, Zapatero, Schröder and Jospin brought factories back from China and the countries prospered. But these companies did not set up in areas lacking infrastructure and services. They went to the cities, widening the existing gap even further. The Left has tried to abolish privileges to promote meritocracy. But the result has been to make these forgotten inhabitants of the Republic take the blame, even though they have not had a chance. These forgotten people who had voted left were disappointed by this neo-liberalism and stopped voting.
The economist Paul Collier has shown that with this concentration of wealth in the cities, house prices have rocketed. It is homeowners who have become rich even though they do not contribute to the country’s wealth. This explosion in the price of housing has meant that the inhabitants of forgotten areas cannot, for example, send their children to get an education in the cities. With the minimum social benefits, the city is inaccessible. In the early 2000s, 90% of elected representatives were homeowners. So they had no interest in developing these forgotten areas, because that would have driven down property prices in the city.
Brexit made it possible for these forgotten people who no longer voted to do so. In 2015, Dominic Cummings realised that he could use social networks to reach people who didn’t usually vote: each person would receive a personalised message.
Farmers are accused of polluting the planet even though they have no room for manoeuvre, living off subsidies. We need to support them financially so that they can use permaculture and organic farming to recompose soils that will become deserts if we do nothing.
This is the population that takes the most drugs because they think it’s their fault if they don’t manage or they blame immigrants. We need to tackle the real causes of these scourges, i.e. the politicians who ignore them.
The far right is the only party that appeals to them, and they are gaining more and more weight in the elections. The humiliated end up being vulnerable to hatred. Facebook and Instagram have enabled these far-right parties to connect with people vulnerable enough to vote for them. Elon Musc’s takeover of Twitter is a step in the same direction.
We urgently need to restore services that should be public: trains, post offices, libraries, schools, leisure, culture and hospitals. But not by force! Physiotherapists are being forced to set up in these deserts. But if there were public services, they would come of their own accord, just like businesses. We need to prime the pump!
We need to give power back to the people so that public services are available to everyone.