This is typically the time of year when newspaper columnists are asked for their predictions for the coming year. However, I’d like to frame the question in a different way: which establishment/authority figure will face a backlash in the coming year?
We are living in the age of the backlash. Perhaps it’s down to economics – the paucity of growth, the lack of opportunity for many, the gulf in incomes and living standards between rich and poor – but every year since 2008 seems to have brought with it an episode of major public revulsion with a key UK institution.
Think about it: we’ve known for some years that multinational corporations have tended to pay far less in taxes than many other companies. There’s nothing new about transfer pricing and similar tax avoidance techniques. And yet for some reason 2012 was the year the public deemed that to be unacceptable, boycotting Starbucks and other companies, causing such a fluster that the company voluntarily gave a £20m “gift” to HM Revenue and Customs.
And that was only the latest in a series of backlashes against a whole host of establishment institutions in previous years: MPs (and their expenses), the media (and phone hacking), banks and financiers, the police, regulators and others.
The common factor in all of these cases is that, generally-speaking, the abuses of power these institutions have allegedly been guilty of have been going on for some time, but then one particularly egregious incident has triggered a landslide of public disgust.
As a result, guessing who will fall victim to a backlash next is fiendishly difficult. I’ve had a suspicion for some time that there might be a widespread backlash against Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks (much greater than the Instagram incident a few weeks ago). And I’ve always wondered why the legal and accountancy profession seems to have avoided some of the widespread disapprobation others have suffered throughout the financial crisis.
But that’s all guesswork. What’s clearer is that we are living in a period when the public’s relationship with leading institutions is more volatile than ever before. And although we don’t know who the next victim is, it seems inevitable that the backlashes will continue in 2013.
PS But one thing that’s more predictable is that the ongoing backlash against the media, politicians and bankers will continue. That pretty much goes without saying.