Is the great bull market in politics about to peak?

Boris Johnson © LORRAINE O'SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images
Nobody’s interested any more

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I wanted to posit an idea in today’s Money Morning.

It’s to do with politics, or rather the incredible and growing public fascination there has been with politics over the last decade or so.

You could call it a bull market in politics.

But all bull markets come to an end sooner or later – even in government bonds. So when will this one end?

How the great bull market in politics got going

In the UK, you might argue that the lows for politics came shortly after the turn of the century, with the general election of 2001.

I remember it well because I had a residency on the Radio 4 show Loose Ends at the time. Each week in the lead up to the election, I had to do a party political broadcast by one of the parties.

The Tories were quite easy to satirise – they just seemed so divided and out of touch. Labour was harder, and I based my sketch around the idea that they never seemed to have an opinion about anything. There was always a “third way”.

That election then saw a turnout of just 59.4%, compared to 71.3% in the previous election of 1997. It was the lowest turnout since World War I. Labour’s win was dubbed “the quiet landslide”. I had to write another sketch that week and so I came up with “The Victory Speech By The Apathy Party”.

People just weren’t interested in politics. They didn’t care.

But, since then, so many things have happened to change that. There was the phony premise for the Iraq war, and the unprecedented numbers of protesters around the world who marched against it and went ignored.

Technology has played an enormous role, especially social media. It has brought greater transparency to government. People are better able to see what is going on. They are brought into more immediate contact with their representatives, better enabling them to hold them to account. Ordinary people have a greater ability to shape and participate in the debate.

There was the reaction to the global financial crisis of 2008, when governments ordered banks to be bailed out and money to be printed. The rich got richer. That was not supposed to happen.

Here in the UK we had the EU referendum. At last, an election that could actually change something. Your vote counted, and was not lost according to your local majority.

I’ve always felt I’ve had a pretty good nose for trends. From an early age I’ve felt I’ve been able to spot them early. As a teenager I used to pride myself in being able to spot what clothes or music would be popular next year, for example.

One of my closest friends is a TV commissioner, and we have a running joke that whatever proposal I submit to him will get made in three years’ time with a celebrity in the role I was pitching myself for. It is a running joke because it has happened so many times.

Four years ago, I pitched a documentary series idea about Greek myths. It never got commissioned. A fortnight ago sent me an article detailing, almost to the word, the exact same series idea. However, this one had a celeb in the main role and so it had been commissioned by the BBC.

I now realise I am not some great futurologist or soothsayer. What happens is that if I have an idea, usually lots of other people are having similar ideas. If I make an observation – “that thing is really good” – lots of other people are making the same observation, and so trends start to form.

Until perhaps the mid-noughties, I was never interested in politics. Gradually, I started to get interested, just as this huge bull market in politics started to take shape.

But recently, I notice, I’m starting to feel like I’ve had enough. I’m starting to feel bored with politics. Perhaps I’ve got Brexit fatigue, and it will get re-ignited once the withdrawal from the EU is complete and the next phase of negotiations begins. (That’s the amazing thing – we haven’t got started on the main event, what our future relationship with the EU will be, yet.)

Are people getting fed up again with politics?

I don’t think it’s just me.

In the US, for example, incredulity at Donald Trump is morphing into something more like resignation. Italy and Catalonia may still be simmering but they are not perhaps the hotbeds they were two or three years ago.

I ran into Paul Staines last night, the man behind the Guido Fawkes website (order-order.com). I told him my idea that we may be hitting peak politics.

“I think you might be onto something”, he nodded. “I think I feel the same way”.

One obvious measure of interest in politics would be Guido’s hit count. So I asked him about it.

“We have seen incredible growth in our traffic. We used to be happy if we got 100,000 hits a day. Now we feel a bit disappointed if we don’t get 300,000. It has been like the last throes of a bull market when it suddenly goes vertical”, he said.

“Maybe I should be selling the site”, he added. “Problem is, I wouldn’t know what else to do with my time.”

Maybe what I’m describing is simple exhaustion in a bull market. We pull back a little, consolidate and then get set for the next leg up. Perhaps this latest parliamentary recess will give us that.

But maybe it is something more.

My view is that technology is ushering in a new era of politics in which referendums will be more commonplace and democracy more direct than representative. In such a scenario, the electorate will always be more engaged than they were in 2001.

But I wonder if we are in the final throes of this phase of the bull market in politics. We may even already have peaked.

And if so, what would the investment implications be?

I’m not sure. I’ll have to go away and think about that.