Across the West, political establishments are mired in a crisis of legitimacy. Outsider parties are thriving everywhere and conventional, career politicians struggle to convince or cut through in the social media age. Two of the most mature democracies produced historic political betting upsets when Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron gatecrashed the system.
Trump and Macron are, on personal, professional and political levels, chalk and cheese. Both, however, benefited from the growing perception that party politics no longer provides solutions to the most salient issues or produce leaders of the highest calibre. That in the 21st century, the best ideas would come from the private sector.
Is this the start of a wider shift or a short-term experiment, already doomed to failure? Could it happen in the UK – where the Conservatives and Labour are bucking the trend, even as the stock of politicians plunges during a farcical, chaotic Brexit process?
Bloomberg proved swapping business for politics can work
Although both Macron and Trump are besieged right now, it is too early to form a confident conclusion. Trump is unique. His business acumen was always hotly disputed and his troubles stem from personality and nefarious behaviour, rather than politics.
The experience hasn’t deterred celebrities mooting political ambitions or entrepreneurs such as Tom Steyer, Andrew Yang and Michael Bloomberg – who proved as NYC Mayor that billionaires can crossover into politics – entering the 2020 fray.
Anybody pursuing Macron’s reform agenda in protest-ready France – politician or not – would be under fierce attack right now. His approval rating stinks but interestingly, he’s polling ahead of his 2017 first-round performance, well on course for a repeat run-off against Marine Le Pen – whom he would surely beat again.
UK has a gaping vacuum in the centre ground
The UK should be fertile territory for an ambitious celebrity. Few if any politicians, past or present, have pull over voters beyond their core constituency. Both Conservatives and Labour are essentially coalitions, whose internal relations have never been more fraught. Their vote share reflects widespread fear of the other side, rather than endorsement.