In Washington and Paris and London . . .

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Anti-Brexit activists with hand-puppets of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Photo AP


The British electorate has sorely disappointed Theresa May. Not that it has made Jeremy Corbyn particularly happy, for the Labour leader is in no position to become prime minister. But, yes, he has done marvellously well given the clear lack of support he has earlier had from many within his own party for his leadership. Again, not many in Britain appeared to be keen on a leader who clearly espoused socialist ideas, which ideas are again the base on which the Labour Party has traditionally worked on. Until the arrival of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that is. These two men did away with the more leftwing provisions of the party — read Clause Four here — and indeed seemed to be rather close to Thatcherite programs than to ideas as those upheld earlier by the likes of Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson, John Smith and Neil Kinnock.


In his own way, Corbyn has successfully managed to take his party back to those who had been alienated by the Blairite politics that till the recent election held sway among Labour supporters. But he still fell short of the numbers that could magically take him to 10 Downing Street. Even so, for Corbyn and his supporters, the election has been a triumph in that it left the Tories in disarray, forcing Prime Minister May to seek the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in cobbling a new government. The ten seats of the DUP, added to the Conservatives’ 318, will leave Mrs. May with a tenuous hold on power, with just two seats more than the 326 required to form a government.


The results of the election in Britain reflect, in more ways than one, the changed political circumstances in the West these days. One has only to reflect on conditions as they have been developing in the United States since the election of Donald Trump to the White House. No one — not the media, not the pundits, not the soothsayers — could imagine in the build-up to the November 2016 election that the very cerebral and very well-prepared Hillary Clinton would end up being the loser. But she did. And yet Trump’s victory is not the end of the story.


In these few months since his inauguration in January this year, President Trump has been doing everything possible to undermine himself and his administration. His Russia dealings together with questions of his finance, meaning tax, related activities have not exactly raised his presidential profile. Indeed, at every step of the way Trump has only reinforced the public notion that he is eminently unqualified to hold the office of President of the United States. So what happens now? If Professor Allan J. Lichtman is to be taken seriously — and there is hardly any reason not to — President Trump will be impeached and removed from office sooner rather than later.


That of course remains to be seen. For now, it is the improbable results of recent elections in the West that have people around the world worried. But, of course, there are also grounds for relief, as can be seen through the election of Emmanuel Macron to the presidency of France. Macron is surely a refreshing change for not just the French but also for those who have always felt uncomfortable with politics divorced from the traditional. But look again. Even Macron’s election was a powerful sign of how the French have rejected tradition, through pushing France’s socialists and its centre right off the electoral stage. They have clearly opted for change after all these years of Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. And they have found that agent of change in Macron. The difference between Macron and Trump is clear: the Frenchman offers stability, in sharp contrast to the raucous hilarity the American has been presiding over in Washington.


Of course, it is not the first time that elections have been a surprise in the West. Back in 2000, the manner in which George W. Bush was catapulted to the American presidency, thanks to the US Supreme Court’s move to stop the counting of votes in Florida, is a chapter in their history that will not make Americans proud. After all these years, it is rather plausible to suggest that Al Gore did win the election and perhaps the Florida vote count, had it gone to its logical conclusion, might have confirmed this fact. The Supreme Court came in the way.


Surprises have been part of recent French presidential elections. The truth of it comes through the rise of the father-daughter team of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen in recent times. The ultra-nationalists that they are, the Le Pens ought not to have come this far in politics. But they did, which only shows the changes that have been coming into voters’ perceptions of politics in France. And besides France, there are places like Austria and the Netherlands where the far right has been making patent gains in public support for their programmes.


So what happens now? For starters, there is the German election in September that will be watched intensely. No surprises are promised — because Angela Merkel has been a symbol of strong, stable leadership in Berlin. But that again cannot be room for complacence, as the chancellor knows only too well. The unpredictable has happened in America, France and Britain. Merkel will be looking behind her shoulder.


And what happens in Britain? Brexit will be a hard act to follow, for one thing. And for another, there is the question of how long the Conservative-DUP arrangement will last in London. Prime Minister May obviously cannot preside over a wobbly coalition for long, which in effect means a fresh election that promises her — or a new leader the Tories might opt for — a majority in the House of Commons.


To what extent a new election becomes a possibility, though, depends on the mood of Britain’s voters. In the past two years, they have gone to the polling stations thrice, twice to elect parliament, once to vote on the EU referendum. That is quite a bagful.

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