Forget Left v Right; it’s In v Outs
Caption: Krieg Barrie   

Forget Left v Right; it’s In v Outs

  • Starting this week UnHerd has been examining ‘the rise of the global Left‘ – but are we actually seeing the rise of global Outs?
  • Voters and politicians from highly-educated or well-to-do areas benefit from global trade and migration and are increasingly voting to protect their gains – they are the “Ins”.
  • Voters and politicians from poorer or less-educated or declining areas are being hurt by global trade and migration and are increasingly voting to restore their status – they are the “Outs”.
  • “Ins” v “Outs” is increasingly replacing “Left” v “Right” as the most important dividing line in Western politics.
  • Ins tend to support policies that would have long-term benefit, but at the expense of short-term pain to many. Outs want the relief of this short-term pain to take policy precedence.
  • Ins can only adopt one of three policies to address the outs’ concerns: ignore, avoid, or adapt.
  • Adapting – listening to the Outs’ concerns – is the only way to keep Western democracies on course over the next two decades

Artwork by Krieg Barrie

Artwork by Krieg Barrie

Politics in most Western countries1 have been characterised for nearly a century between left and right. This division, rooted in opposing evaluations of the nature and exercise of state power, has been so dominant that nearly all political analysis is framed by this axis.


The Left-Right Order Is Collapsing

Clinton-Kaine versus Trump-Pence. More In versus Out than Left versus Right? – Douliery Olivier/ABACA USA/ABACA USA/PA Images

This division is now collapsing. In nearly every Western country, the share of the vote that is given to identifiably left and right parties is shrinking in favour of new parties that mix elements of both.  This fact takes political expression in the rise of “populist” parties and figures throughout the West. Put these parties and figures in the same room and they’d have serious disagreements. A conversation between Pablo Iglesias, of Podemos in Spain, and Geert Wilders, of the PVV in the Netherlands, would be explosive, for example, but new era politicians of their stripe share the core instinct that what is good for the voters of their own nations – or at least the angriest and most disrupted subsets of that nation – should, over the short-term, take precedence over the maintenance of a global politico-economic order that, however optimal it might potentially be in the long-run, is creating too many casualties1.


Ins = wealthier, educated people; Outs = poorer, less-educated voters

The Ins may look down on the Outs – Johnny Green/PA Archive/PA Images

Contemporary politics begins to make more sense when viewed through this lens. On the one side we have parties and figures who helped to build the multi-national orders that came to be after World War 2. One the other, we have the parties and figures who seek to tear down or seriously restrict these orders in the name of a national popular interest. The first side tends to collect people from left and right who are better-educated and have been benefiting, economically and socially, from these orders. The second side tends to collect people, again from left and right, who are less well-educated and have been on the losing end of economic, technological and social trends associated with internationalism.

The first group I call the Ins; the second group, the Outs.

Representatives of the Ins dominate the corridors of power. Ins are generally confident about their present and future. They’ve emerged from and/or are still part of the institutions that underpin globalisation – notably the university, professional groups, and elite subscription-based and paywalled media.

The Outs are not only outside corridors of political, economic and cultural power – they often perceive themselves to be disdained and ignored by the Ins who are supposedly their fellow citizens. Feeling pessimistic about their present and future, they are increasing dropping out of participation in informal group or institutional activity. Increasingly, we see that formerly antagonistic Ins vote together to prevent the Outs from taking power.

Left and Right Ins increasingly vote or work together

Hillary Clinton, hero of the Ins? Credit: Ron Sachs, DPA/PA for original photo

This tendency was on display in the most recent election in France. Emmanuel Macron made it to the second round because he did particularly well in the economically vibrant sections of France, receiving about a quarter of the first-round vote in four of the five wealthiest areas of France. He finished behind Marine Le Pen in all but one region that was at or below the French median in terms of GDP per capita1. Once through, he was endorsed by the losing candidates of the old left-right duopoly and received the lion’s share of their voters to win a decisive second-round victory. Even here, however, he did notably better in the wealthier regions, winning 90% in the city of Paris and 86% in the wealthy suburban towns west of the Paris city line. Places with low wages and high unemployment were notably more favourable to LePen2.

This trend also shaped the recent UK general election. The Brexit vote map neatly divides the prosperous and educated bastions from poorer areas,3 and the British Election Study shows that whether one voted Remain or Leave in 2016 had a lot to do with whether you switched your vote in 2017. According to a recently released analysis of the recent general election, many UKIP and Labour Leave voters joined Theresa May’s Tories, while many Tory Remainers made common cause with the old-style socialist Jeremy Corbyn – causing May to lose the Tories’ parliamentary majority4.

Nor are these trends simply a matter of debates about the EU. Sweden’s anti-EU, anti-migrant party, Sweden Democrats, gets most of its votes from the poorest regions in Sweden5. In Australia, the anti-Muslim One Nation party received minuscule shares of the vote for the Senate in posh districts in major cities. It received much, much higher shares of the vote in poorer, rural regions nationwide, hitting a high of over 18% in Flynn, a rural seat in Queensland, the home state of its leader, Pauline Hanson6.

The trend even extends to the United States. Despite being one of the most unpopular presidential candidates in history, Hillary Clinton still ran ahead of President Obama’s margins in most major metropolitan areas7. Even very wealthy Republican areas in places like Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and California’s Orange County voted for a progressive Democrat to keep the blue-collar populist Donald Trump out of the White House. He still won because he had correspondingly larger swings from less-educated non-Republicans in poorer, declining areas – outside America’s major cities.


Ins and Outs use similar words and themes regardless of left or right

Former leader of Britain’s Conservatives once referred to some UKIP supporters as “fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists”

Even the language used by leaders of in parties to describe outs does not vary between left or right. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron once called supporters of the United Kingdom Independence Party “fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists”1. When Prime Minister, his Labour counterpart Gordon Brown got in hot water by calling a 66-year old woman “bigoted” after she expressed concern about the level of Eastern European migration during a campaign stop. Hillary Clinton went so far as to label half of Trump’s voters as “deplorables”2 – a comment that haunted her for the rest of the campaign. That she made the remark to donors at an upmarket New York restaurant only underlined the perceived gulf between her kind of supporter and the Outs.

Similarity of language extends to Outs too. Sometimes the similarity is shameless and laughable, as with Pauline Hanson’s transformation of Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp” into a more Aussie-friendly “drain the billabong” 3. Other similarities betray a deeper, more substantive identity.

Leaders of these parties denounce corruption and out-of-touch elites, frequently using the phrase “{country name} first” as a shorthand way to communicate that idea.  Out parties whose leaders have background in the left such as Spain’s Podemos, Ireland’s Sinn Fein, and France’s France Insoumise all oppose or want renegotiation of the TTIP and the EU as much as so-called right-wing populists like Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, and Alternative for Germany’s Frauke Petry. Even the leader of Italy’s broad-tent populist 5 Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, says the EU “is a total failure”4.


Out leaders often befriend autocrats

Marine Le Pen meets Vladimir Putin – Mikhail Klimentyev/Tass/PA Images

More disturbingly, leaders of Out parties tend to overlook the authoritarian tendencies of many world leaders. Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, has praised Venezuela’s former strongman leader Hugo Chavez and consulted for the Venezuelan government and its autocratic ally, Bolivia. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – an Out who, like Donald Trump, has come to lead a major political party – continues to avoid openly condemning Venezuela’s government even after its president, Nicolas Maduro, masterminded the unconstitutional unseating of the country’s freely elected, opposition-dominated, National Assembly. Other Outs make friendly with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Marine Le Pen visited Putin prior to her presidential campaign, UKIP’s Nigel Farage stoutly defends the Kremlin’s Syrian policy and leaders of other out parties like Austria’s Hans Christian Stracke and Italy’s Mattias Salvini have signed cooperation pacts with Putin’s United Russia party. Salvini went so far as to say that he hoped Italy would hold “real parliamentary elections, just as open as in your country [Russia]”1 – a statement that is either laughable or frightening, considering that international observers continue to criticise Russian elections as unfairly tilted toward Putin and his party2.

Ins have often underestimated the Outs to their dismay. One could have counted on the head of a pin the number of serious pundits or analysts who thought that Leave or Trump would win. Recent electoral setbacks for the Outs, such as the defeats of Le Pen and Austrian Freedom Party nominee Norbert Hofer in those countries’ presidential elections, comfort many Ins that the populist tide has crested. But that view is likely to be wrong. Outs continue to do well in polls in most countries, notably in Italy. The Italian Outs – the 5 Star Movement, Lega Nord/Us With Salvini, and Brothers of Italy – currently combine at over 46 per cent in polling, enough3 to form a governing pact under Italy’s electoral system4. This early lead could evaporate by election day next spring, but leaders who don’t think a former comedian ought to be the Italian Prime Minister might do well to avoid complacency.


Addressing the Outs: Ignore, Adapt, or Avoid?

Not listening. Credit: Deutsche Fotothek‎, via Wikimedia Commons

In party leaders initially try to avoid discussing the issues that animate the Outs. The 2010 British general election was notable for the lack of attention paid to immigration, Europe, and the distributional consequences of the post-crash era. The result was a significant rise in support for the working-class-based UKIP and the racist British National Party. This rise became a groundswell as David Cameron’s Conservative-led government ducked serious discussion of these issues once in power – partly because it was in coalition with the liberal party of Nick Clegg but partly, most suspect, because it also suited the Tory PM who saw himself as the ‘heir to Blair’.

The 2012 American elections were also notable for their lack of serious discussion of trade, immigration, and the intense hardship America’s Great Recession caused. Republican Mitt Romney tried instead to campaign on a standard right versus left basis only to discover to his shock that blue-collar voters who disliked incumbent Democrat Barack Obama would nevertheless vote to re-elect him when the alternative conspicuously avoided their concerns.

Ins that recognise the political threat posed by Outs then try to ignore them by working together. When left and right work together, as they did in grand coalitions in recent years in Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands, and in an informal pact in Sweden, they generally form common cause without adopting any new policies that give Out parties something of what they want – perhaps hoping their complaints would pass. In no case did those coalitions’ policies stem the political tide flowing to the outs. Ignoring the Outs’ demands have seemed to merely increase the number of people issuing those demands.

Some nations have begun a third phase of engagement with Outs: adapt. In some countries, In parties have invited Out parties into government – Norway, Switzerland, and Finland are recent examples, while the right Danish Venstre Party relies on the parliamentary support of the larger Out party, the Danish People’s Party, to govern. The Nordic governments that have done this have offered some concessions, usually on migration, to their Out partners, and this has tended to see support for the Out parties stagnate or fall. It may even moderate the Out parties themselves: Finland’s Finns Party and the DPP have both joined the European Conservative and Reformists.

But doing this does not necessarily reduce the popular demand for Out ideas. The Finns Party recently split, with a new splinter party, Blue Reform, staying in government while the Finns Party itself joined the opposition while calling for more limits on migration. Sometimes the demand for Out ideas causes Out voters to embrace another opposition party that pledges support for Out ideas. This has happened in Norway. Norway’s main left party, Labour, has pledged to maintain the conservative-populist government’s immigration and asylum policies1. Meanwhile, its traditional agrarian partner, the Center Party, has nearly doubled its poll standing from the last election by emphasising anti-migrant, anti-free trade, and anti-European integration policies2.


Absorbing the Ideas of the Outs

Dutch PM Mark Rutte – NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

Other political leaders on the right adapt by adopting some of the Out demands as their own. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte published a full-page ad in late January in preparation for that country’s March election in which he told migrants to “be normal or be gone”1.Rutte’s right VVD party was trailing the populist Geert Wilders’ PVV when that advert was published, but Rutte’s party went on to win the election by a comfortable margin2. The right Austrian People’s Party seem to have learned that a stitch in time can save nine, or at least their party, when it dumped its leader in May in favour of a young politician, Sebastian Kurz, who came to prominence by campaigning against radical Islam and for greater control of borders. Prior to that date, the OVP had been polling at an historically low level of approximately 20%. Immediately after Kurz’s election, the party jumped ahead of Austria’s Out-ish anti-immigrant Freedom Party and looks set to win October’s parliamentary elections3.

Many Ins will look askance at these moves. They value immigration and want to take in asylum seekers, often as an expression of their liberal values. They want to continue to ignore or avoid. Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt went so far as to refuse to back down on Sweden’s liberal migration and asylum policies, telling Swedes they should “open their hearts” to mass migration during his 2014 re-election campaign4. Swedish voters rejected that plea, giving the Out party Sweden Democrats their highest share of the vote to that point, nearly 13 per cent,5 and forcing Reinfeldt out of office and out of politics.

Newly elected French President Macron seems to be gambling that Reinfeldt’s key failure was not to generate fast enough growth. Like Reinfeldt, Macron has maintained his support for relatively free movement of peoples, although he has made nods to the Outs by criticising Africa’s civilisational problems and maintained a policy that stops migrants from the global south at the Italian border. He nevertheless continues to back the current EU structure and was the only candidate to back new free trade agreements6. He aims to stimulate the moribund French economy with tax cuts and labour law deregulation, passed by decree if necessary. He and the parliament, controlled by his Republique En Marche party, have five-year terms. If his party can hold together and he can also overcome France’s strong unions he therefore has time to see if his plan can work.


The West’s time for choosing


The alternative if it does not may be chilling. Support for Out parties surged in the countries most seriously affected by the Great Financial Crash1. Even French voters gave only 50.4 percent of their votes in the first round to Macron and the other candidates of the traditional In parties. Even that overstates support for Ins: François Fillon, the surprise nominee of the main right party’s primary, was himself close to Putin, argued for EU reform, and supported Thatcherite economics. Le Pen, Melenchon, and a third anti-EU candidate, Daniel Dupont-Aignon, received 45.6 per cent and carried six of metropolitan France’s twelve regions, mostly those with high unemployment and below average incomes. Indeed, France nearly saw two Out candidates – Le Pen and Melenchon – survive to contest the second round against one another. Macron’s resounding second round victory masks the degree to which France sits on a knife’s edge. A deep recession or second financial crisis could very well put a less threatening Out leader than Le Pen into the Elysée Palace  in 2022.

The course for this new political order has yet to be plotted. Time remains for Western leaders to see what is happening and take stock. What leaders ought not to do is assume that these trends are transient and will dissipate any time soon.

Rising global economic integration will continue to put downward pressure on income and opportunities for people in competition with the new workers whose skills are being rewarded with investment by Western multinational companies and with access to Western markets. Falling costs of transport along with the rising populations and continued conflicts in countries like Syria that do not yet benefit from membership in global economic arrangements will continue to drive their populations West in search of better lives. Economically depressed people tend to become generally depressed people, dropping out of society and losing the sense of citizenship that ties them to others. We are not near the beginning of the end; we are not even at the end of the beginning.

Leaders who close their eyes to these trends will be like the conservatives at the turn of the 19th century who failed to see that rising education, industrialisation and urbanisation were producing a much greater demand for welfare and for democratic regulation of factory owners. Those leaders ended up being swept aside, often violently, while wiser heads adapted to the times and forged the liberal, capitalistic democracies that we live in today. Adaptation of some sort is our only course forward. Pray that today we choose wisely, and work to bring in the Outs before it is too late.