The new role for business in a fairer Britain

Mrs May, in a surprise contribution to Sunday’s FT (…/12a839d4-af18-11e6-a37c-f4a01f1b0fa1), enjoined businesses to work together with government to, I quote: ‘maintain confidence in a system that has delivered unprecedented levels of wealth and opportunity, lifted millions out of poverty around the world, brought nations closer together, improved standards of living and consumer choice, and underpinned the rules-based international system that has been key to global prosperity and security for so long…’

She’s referring, of course, to free market capitalism. Or, more pointedly, to combating what she perceives as voters’ loss of confidence in the system. Voters are, she worries, resentful of unequal distribution of wealth, and perhaps perceive a rigged establishment with tax-avoiding corporations, tax-avoiding non-dom shareholders, and stratospheric financial sector bonuses awarded for taking risks that are underwritten by the taxpayer. Fair enough: they’re all good reasons for voters to be unhappy.

Except, how unhappy are they? Are voters really losing confidence in the system?

May is reading the electorate’s mood through the prism of Brexit. She will likely always be condemned to do so. For Mrs May, Brexit is the drug from Plato’s Pharmacy: a poison that paralysed the establishment, yet a remedy for her ambition to ascend the establishment’s most senior office. Through this lens, the referendum, Trump, the resurgence of populist politics across the Western hemisphere, represent iconoclastic, anti-establishment movements.

Which, in fact, they’re not. Voters still aren’t much interested in politics and economics. The anti-establishment theme is almost accidental. Voters are just having an identity crisis.

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