Observations of an Expat: A Tale of Two Elections

June 21, 2017 Europe , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS , UK

Reuters photo

By

Tom Arms

 

It was the best of elections. It was the worst of elections.

Britain and France have been rivals across a narrow channel for nearly a thousand years.

They can’t even agree on the name of the waterway that separates them. The British call it the English Channel and on French maps it is Manche (Sleeve).

The rivalry has often been bloodily vicious for most of the thousand years William the Conqueror, Agincourt, The Black Prince, the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, the Seven Year’s War, India, and the War of Spanish Succession.

The rise of Germany forced them to bury many of their differences, but simmering beneath the Entente Cordiale was a constant battle for cultural, linguistic, scientific, imperial and political supremacy with the British the clear winners—until now.

The back to back elections on the opposite sides of the Channel (or Sleeve) have exposed serious weaknesses in British politics, leadership and society. At the same time, the French system has thrown up Emmanuel Macron — an, articulate, intelligent and charismatic young leader who has quickly grabbed the limelight on the world stage and secured a record-breaking parliamentary majority.

In contrast British Prime Minister Theresa May has gone into an election expecting an increased majority, her strong and stable leadership emerging weak, wobbly and dependent on the good will of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party for her survival. Little over a dozen years ago the far-right DUP led by firebrand Ian Paisley was shunned in the British corridors of power. Now it is keeping one of the great British political parties in office.

This unholy alliance comes at a time when differences between the DUP and the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party have led to the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland. The British government is meant to act as honest broker to reconcile the two parties, but how can it be an honest broker if it is in a de facto coalition with one of the parties?

This and border problems involving Brexit have revived the possibility of renewed violence in Northern Ireland.

The British election also opened the door to two party extreme left and right politics which pundits thought ended in 1997 with New Labour and the election of Tony Blair. No, Mrs May’s swing to the right with hard Brexit, a return to selective education, and cuts in pensions, the NHS, police, social services and education, created the perfect opening for a comeback by Labour’s nascent far left led by Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour rebel turned Leader produced a manifesto calling for exorbitant taxes; the nationalisation of mail, rail and energy, $600 billion in borrowing and increased spending on everything the Conservatives wanted to cut. And because Corbyn was not Mrs May they voted for him.

To be more precise, roughly 40 percent of the population voted AGAINST the belt-tightening polices of the Conservative Party and 42.4 percent voted AGAINST the free-spending socialist policies of the Labour Party. The common sense middle was squeezed into political irrelevance.

Mrs May called the election over Brexit but it ended up the elephant in the room as Corbyn successfully flipped the debate to his social agenda. However, this week the elephant becomes all too visible as formal negotiations start between Britain and the European Commission.

The commission has hoped that Mrs May would achieve her target of a strong and stable government. That way she could persuade the band of hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party to make concessions. But there is now a very real danger that Mrs May will be jettisoned by her own party, or a new election will be called. Either way the EU faces the possibility of a new negotiating partner with a completely different negotiating position. What a mess.

The French have historically had mixed feelings about British membership of the European club. De Gaulle viewed them as an American Trojan horse and repeatedly vetoed their membership. To a certain extent he was right. During their 43 year membership of the EU the British have consistently acted as a brake on French moves towards greater European political union and defence cooperation. With the British on the way out of the door the EU is racing towards closer integration with Macron leading the charge.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes the new blood. For the past five years she has struggled to hold the European experiment together in the face of Brexit, the Russian threat, and the refugee crisis. She has had no help from her traditional French allies as Socialist President Francois Hollande has more than had his hands full dealing with a self-inflicted political and economic crisis.

Of course, this could all change. Mrs May’s fragile position could actually increase her sway over party rebels. The last thing any conservative MP wants is anything that could lead to another election while the Labour Party is clearly in the ascendant.

As for Macron, he may find himself a victim of his own success. His newly-created En Marche party is more of a coalition of interests than a political party. And its record-breaking success in the parliamentary elections allows plenty of scope for special interest members to oppose some of the president’s social plans.

Politics is indeed a strange business. But the rivalry goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Arms is the editor of LookAheadnews.comSign up now for the weekly diary of world news events.

LookAhead Radio World Report for week commencing 19 June 2017:

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email: tom.arms@lookaheadnews.com.

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