Try and stay positive… because things are set to get a lot worse in 2017 suggests Steve Beauchampé.
There was a moment back in late 2015 when UK politics might have moved leftwards, rebalancing decades of neo-liberal, monetarist economics with an anti-privatisation, pro-public services philosophy, one where the haves had a little less and the have nots had a little hope. Well, so much for that glimpse of a more equitable, more caring society. Jeremy Corbyn, the man whose unexpected election as leader of the Labour Party raised such hopes, remains in situ, still surviving relentless attacks from both within his own party and from most sections of the media for daring to embrace Socialism, still closer than most of his political rivals to the right answers to many of society’s problems. Yet in early 2017 political discourse, both in the UK, the USA and seemingly much of Europe, is in a very different place, and not at all in a good way.
Because without doubt, the UK’s vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as next President of the United States of America, has resulted in a sudden, violent lurch to the political right, where ugly forms of nationalism, economic protectionism and cultural insularity are now the dominant themes shaping western politics.
In Britain we have a government dominated by politicians of the hard right, lead by an unashamedly opportunistic Prime Minister who, putting her own future political prospects front and centre, took almost no publicly identifiable part in the EU referendum debate, but who now speaks only in childish riddles about its consequences, whilst trying to rule like a medieval monarch, denying parliament any meaningful input on the matter.
But despite the regular slew of confused and conflicting messages from May’s ministers regarding the UK’s EU exit strategy it has been clear since her speech to the Conservative Party conference last October that Theresa May is prepared to sacrifice access to both the single market and the Customs Union in order to substantially curtail immigration.
But woe betide her if she attempts any other approach. For May is a hostage to an emboldened political right and it’s media cheerleaders lead by the Daily Mail, the Sun and Daily Express, to those headbangin’ Brexiteers on the Conservative benches such as Liam Fox, Philip Davies, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Messers Gove, Redwood and IDS and to Nigel Farage and whoever leads UKIP these days.
For increasingly we are living in Nigel Farage’s vision of the UK, one where a politician who has failed seven times to be elected to parliament, and who resembles the kind of man you’d have expected to meet in a golf club in the 1970s, is shaping our relationship with the world. One where experts are trashed for their expertise, where judges, civil servants, economic and financial gurus are derided for telling it like they believe it to be, for speaking truth to power. It is like watching a car crash in slow motion, on an Ultra HD 4KTV, except that it’s a car crash in which we are all in the passenger seat.
In the USA, forget the simple car crash analogy, things are more reminiscent of one of those thick fog motorway pile ups, where 150 vehicles career into each other at 60mph, oblivious to the dangers ahead. Nothing that has happened since Vladimir Putin won the US Presidential election last November can make a sane person feel anything but deep foreboding about what Donald Trump’s time in office will be like. Even before Wednesday’s allegations that Russia has the documents, the videos and the audio to blackmail him, Trump had given ample evidence of his unsuitability to be President. Following them one might best be advised to view the ensuing carnage with hands placed over the eyes, peering at developments through the gaps in the fingers!
Yet Trump’s offensively simplistic version of populism – and his impenetrably incoherent approach to debate and argument, punctuated as it is with vitriol, abuse and lies – is championed by Farage, who not only now serves as the Commander-in-Chief-elect’s principal apologist to UK audiences, but is increasingly exporting his own brand of ‘too good to be true’ market stall politics to the vulnerably gullible of other EU countries.
For in 2017 Britain’s EU departure is merely the starting point for those who engineered it to indulge in a nationalistic assault on outward, international, liberal social values. Domestically the clearest current sign of this is the Daily Mail campaign to force the government to abandon its commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid, a call given traction by many Conservative MPs and likely to find sympathy with Overseas Aid Minster Preeti Patel. As the Daily Mail and its editor Paul Dacre know once such a commitment is dropped the overseas aid budget is likely to shrink decidedly fast as money is transferred to help fund shortfalls in such areas as the NHS and social care.
Meanwhile, Farage and some of his fellow travellers, both inside and outside of UKIP, as well as amongst the most aggressively anti-EU British media, have offered succour to France’s far right Front National and the Dutch politician Geert Wilders. This disparate alliance is increasingly open in its desire to see the collapse of the EU and one imagines, the diverse, tolerant and multi-cultural societies that are its hallmark and proudest achievement. It is a development which Donald Trump and his most ideologically deranged supporters would be only too pleased to help ferment, which the Kremlin would exploit and which those seeking to export the extreme, monotheistic Wahhabist version of Islam would try to wreak havoc with, knowing that every terror attack drives popular opinion to the right and gives permission for the further erosion of freedoms and liberties.
Globalisation and neo-liberalism have raised legitimate questions and created understandable grievances to which Brexit and Trump are the wrong answers. Both responses will leave a trail of disappointment and disillusionment in their wake. But it could be about to get far worse than that!