For almost a century the royal road to becoming a top politician in Anglo-Land was to study law and/or a bit of economics. In Australia that was the ticket for Keating, Hawke, Gillard, Howard, and Turnbull. In the US, that mold fit Obama (law), Clinton (law), and both GHW and GH Bush (one studied economics, the other business). In the UK, the royal road is recognised to be the PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) study in Oxford, which for instance begat Cameron and several other prime-ministers since WWII.
Yet, currently, we have marketeers in charge of the most populous Anglo-countries. They are invariably men who have spent their working lives engaged in selling ideas and themselves to the general public. In Australia we have Scott Morrison, a marketing man, and before him Tony Abbott, a journo. In the US we of course have Trump, who spent decades in showbiz. I include Justin Trudeau of Canada in this list because I regard him as a born marketeer. And in the UK we now have Bojo, a journo for many years who is also, like Trudeau, a lifelong and natural self-promoter.
This is a bit much for coincidence. Politicians have always had to sell themselves, but in previous decades it was the marketing departments of political parties that helped them do it. Margaret Thatcher was famously re-dressed and re-branded to make her electable, and the Bushes had a lot of professional help in selling them. What is interesting is that now the top people themselves are marketeers. Any other skill or interest other than how to sell stuff seems a burden when it comes to reaching the top of the political tree.
Can we say the same for top politicians outside of Anglo-Land? Not really. One might at a stretch include Berlusconi, who is in many ways Trump’s predecessor but with more panache. Yet, if you look closely you will find that all the major countries are run by the usual types: Macron of France studied public administration and was in charge of a ministry; Merkel of Germany is an engineer-administrator with a similar trajectory as Thatcher; Modi of India did political science and then became a professional pollie; Jiping of China is the usual engineer-administrator normal for Chinese leaders; Putin is the usual for Russia (secret service); and Bolsonaro of Brasil is the usual for that region (military). Even Berlusconi turns out to have started with a degree in Law, the usual for Italian politicians before and after him.
So no, the non-Anglo countries do not get their politicians from the world of marketing, not even in those places we associate with populism or right-wing nationalist politics. In the rest of the world, politicians still come from the same place they came from 20 or 50 years ago. Anglo-Land has changed with the rise of the marketeers.
What is equally interesting is that really, tree of these seem to have had to reform the way politics was done in their own party and have pushed policies their parties disliked: they were resisted internally and had to force their parties into new ways. This makes their rise to power even more impressive because they will have been told constantly how wrong they were and how obviously their attempts at gaining power would fail.
Trump’s constant critics in the media and within the Republican Party are famous. Bojo argued for Brexit against the top of his own party, then once in charge kicked out his rivals from within the party, notably alienated his own brother, and was famously unpopular and disliked by the vast majority of his own parliamentary party when he was voted in by his MPs. Morrison had to battle Dutton and others for supremacy within, and was then written-off by the Labour supporters and their friends in the media till his stunning single-handed victory. In all three cases did their party insiders only grudgingly accept them as leaders in the belief they had to in order to have a chance of retaining power.
They also had professional or political careers outside of the center of their party: Boris was first major of London and then had to work his way up in the parliamentary party; Morrison was a tourism manager for many years; and we all know the stories of what the Donald was up to before politics, even trying to get into the other party first.
What is it about Anglo-Land currently that makes marketing men so electable now and not before, to the extent that these characters can make it even against the wishes of their own party? Maybe we should have a look for clues in history and find someone similar who rose to power, looking at the characteristics of that time.
I think it is not coincidental that Boris Johnson is such an admirer of Churchill, because really, all four of these men are children of Winston Churchill. Their previous careers, rise to power, and even their alleged inadequacies are close copies of Churchill.
Churchill was also a journo, a child from the elites with huge charisma who milked his journalistic experiences in the Boer War in South Africa in 1899 to great effect in order to get into parliament. There, he made sure he was constantly in the news, even switching political parties when it was convenient to him. Twice no less, earning him a lifelong reputation as a ‘rat’, a disloyal liar!
He was also a famous womaniser and drug addict, playing with the institutions of his country with total disregard for expertise or loss of life to others. Sound familiar? By the standards of today you would have to call Churchill corrupt, racist, and a war-mongerer (see here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29701767). Again, sound familiar? Amongs the policy disasters that have been laid at the feet of Churchill one can include the disastrous campaign of the Dardanelles and even the loss of the British Empire, though of course people disagree about this and this is not the place to argue either way.
My own English grandparents, who were conservatives their whole lives, thought Churchill was one of the biggest idiots in British political history (a title for which there is stiff competition!) and the biggest disaster to its standing in the world. They had to bite their tongue for decades as their country decided Winston was a hero, not an unmitigated disaster. But even my grandparents recognised he was someone who had the gift of projecting authenticity: a wonderful speech writer, quick witted and charismatic. He was a gifted marketeer and a magnet for romantic nationalists, just like Trump, Boris, Scott, and arguably even Trudeau.
So really, we are seeing the return of Churchill. It is almost as if the spirit of Churchill has infested four different men of different ages in Anglo-Land, each managing to grab power at almost the same time. Each has a bit more of this talent and a bit less of that talent than Churchill, but with essentially similar skills.
It is tempting to conjecture that our times, at least in Anglo-Land, must resemble the time and place in which Winston rose, which was the UK of 1900-1910.
What are the similarities between 1900-1910 UK and Anglo-Land now? In 1900-1910 the UK was at the height of its colonial powers, a period of rising nationalism. It was also the time of impending loss of power as the UK was economically already overtaken by the US and, arguably, Germany, with Russia well on its way too. It was a period of immense inequality, with previous elites (the aristocracy that controlled land) feeling the hot breath of new ones in their neck (industrialists that controlled labour). It was an era used to violence and used to solving international problems with gunships.
Is our time really like this? Some bits seem similar, some not. The times are not violent at all now and the indicators we have of support levels of nationalism have been very stable for decades. What is true is that geopolitical power is being challenged by the newcomers, China and India. Inequality has also increased, though the big increase already dates back well over a decade now.
Still, then the UK was shoring up ties with France, not breaking up with France as the UK is doing now. The Labour movement challenging wealth then was up and coming, whereas now it is weak and waning.
Conversely, the 1900-1910 period in the UK had no Murdoch media, no social media, no analogue migration issues, and an even less educated and informed voting public.
The analogy with the 1930s is similarly poor, not merely because the usual politicians were in charge then of Anglo-Land (with Churchill somewhat sidelined, only to be dug up after the outbreak of the War). We are now not in the aftermath of a huge recession, but enjoying record levels of low unemployment in the UK and Australia. There are no colonial empires to lose. And there is no obvious ‘embedded elite’ that is fighting a battle with rising socialism, certainly not in Australia or Canada.
So what is going on? Why are the marketeers now again so in vogue? And why only in Anglo-Land? What are their skills that were undervalued by the existing party machineries and why are those skills so much more important now than before? Essentially: why has Churchill returned?
I have many ideas, but none that really convince me. It’s a puzzle. Maybe it’s just a coincidence and the analogy is less good than it seems. Maybe Churchill was a one-off marketing genius who was going to make it in politics in any era and we should not look at his career for clues why we currently have so many lookalikes in Anglo-Land. Any good ideas?