‘The mistake we the establishment made internationally was in the 1990s and 2000s when it was all going well – when we thought we’d really sorted out a marvellous new world.’ So Kenneth Clarke observed in a ‘Lunch with the FT’ interview in January 2020, in that ancient time before the pandemic. He went on, ‘We didn’t, I think, know quite what to do about the at least 50 per cent of the population for whom this meant their living standards didn’t rise, jobs they’d been proud of were given up for ones [that are] a way of earning a living, paying the bills … In practical day-to-day terms, we’ve made a bit of a cock-up of it.’
This was quintessential Clarke, earthy, self-deprecating and wise (he deserved the accompanying bottle of Château Haut Pezat for that last line alone). He is right. For decades, living standards grew painfully slowly for many, if not most, of our fellow citizens. Meanwhile, those at the top flourished. The tectonic plates of our societies slowly pulled apart. Then the earthquakes came: Trump, populism, Brexit. Clarke’s ‘bit of a cock-up’ amounts to nothing less than a wholesale failure by the governing and intellectual elite to recognise and address the fractures in our political economy before it was too late.