Just what is an establishment?
Throughout education, we are always told to be as academically successful as possible. Why is this the case? Good qualifications are more likely to guarantee a stable, well paid job, that has a greater impact on the world. This can inevitably mean a better quality of life with more choices and flexibility. The education system then, it could be argued, is creating new generations of children that both accept the existence of an establishment and wish to become part of it.
This is clearly damaging for children across the world who don’t succeed. Both the education system and society might paint them as failures for taking up lower paid jobs even if, as we have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, their work is vital. There is this concept of an ‘establishment’ above ordinary people, dictating decisions and holding influence on the world.
I struggle to accept the reality of this term. It is both too nebulous and wide ranging, neither specific or coherent. An ‘establishment’ presents a group of people working against everyone else in society. One would have thought such an outrage would have been exposed by now. When you break up what establishment means, the term falls to pieces. For example, there is often anger towards a media class and commentators in the Westminster village. But society should celebrate journalists that hold politicians to account and report the news. In an age where anyone can have a view online, accountable organisations like the BBC and Sky should be valued.
That being said, there is at least a perception the establishment exists. This has always led to anti-establishment sentiments and political actions. In the 1960s, both the social and cultural scene were transformed by rebellion against the established order. This was most notable by cultural changes becoming political, with the Home Secretary Roy Jenkins decriminalising homosexuality and abolishing capital punishment. Established views and wisdoms have always been challenged. We may live within them in our daily lives but there has always been scepticism.
The supposed existence of the establishment has significantly impacted the results of elections around the globe. In the UK, the decision to leave the European Union may have been fuelled by the majority of MPs and businesses wanting the UK to remain. Similarly, in America, the success of Donald Trump was defined by ‘draining the swamp’ and rejecting the establishment credentials of Hillary Clinton. Across Europe, new parties and leaders have emerged as part of a populist trend that seeks to reject political norms.
Discussion inevitably turns to a political class. This again is a vague term: does it simply refer to MPs or councillors, mayors and beyond? While some politicians only enter the political scene to benefit themselves, most genuinely want to improve the situation of their constituents. Besides, any country should celebrate having elected representatives who have gained the necessary skills from scrutinising and formulating legislation for decades. While new representatives provide a different perspective and allow parliamentary evolution, society should value established politicians who will have seen history repeat itself.
Much of the populist surges rejecting an establishment are far less revolutionary than they initially appear. Brexit was supported by many of the wealthy Home Counties as much as Northern areas. As a project, it was defined by putting sovereignty back in the hands of the elected House of Commons and the unelected House of Lords. Is there any institution as established as the Palace of Westminster? Similarly, an individual like Donald Trump was backed not only by former industrial Rust Belt states but wealthy Republicans from across America. In Europe, many figures like Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orban in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey are long established political figures. If there is an establishment, they have to be part of it.
This demonstrates how much apathy towards any establishment is less towards the structures in place but more the individuals in charge. The public have favoured outlandish mavericks to deliver changes and make citizens feel optimistic. However, as has been evident with both Brexit and Trump, very little is going to constitutionally change on a day to day level for the individuals who supported them the most. Despite feeling some alternative is around the corner, in reality, life is neither going to significantly improve or worsen.
An opposition towards any kind of establishment reflects the beauty of democracy. It is defined by anti-elitism. Anyone, regardless of their wealth, education or expertise is able to vote to decide who they want to govern them. This is why, in most societies, representative democracy is far more effective than direct democracy. Voters only have to decide the candidates who will make the decisions, not the decisions themselves. The actual process of governing, then, is a form of elitism. Particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, ministers like to argue they are following the science. While scientists can tell politicians how the coronavirus is developing, politicians themselves will need to make the final decisions.
If the establishment is to mean experts, there will always be a level of public support. Any traveller wants the most experienced pilot flying their plane overseas. All patients want the most skilled surgeon operating on them in their hour of need. The establishment is a loose, shape shifting concept. While economic disparities and inequalities have always existed, an institutional set of organisations trying to perpetuate inequalities is less obvious. Besides, established figures like politicians and journalists will always be held to account, regardless of their quality of public service. As for populists, far from revolutionising the political system, many only reinforce its legitimacy and existence by acting within parameters.
Image - Unsplash.