As the world reacts to the election of Donald Trump as President-elect of the United States, we think there are clear and profound lessons for those who are watching British politics. Trump’s victory has not happened in isolation. It has been many years in the making and builds on the EU referendum result in the UK, Trudeau’s shock win in Canada, and the rise of anti-establishment parties of left and right across much of the democratic world.
What does that tell us about British politics today?
A New Politics
- We are firmly in the era of post-fact politics. The truth is a much more flexible concept than it has ever been before. Our fear of the other has been reinforced by perceptions of bias, trickery and so-called out of touch elites controlling business, the media and politics. The post-fact-ness of the politics is now highlighted by the fact that Newt Gingrich, possibly the next Secretary of State, is describing “the Mexican wall” as a “metaphor”. Did the voters think it was a metaphor?
- The Leader is everything. Charisma and populism can take you a long way in an age when electorates are no longer tethered by class loyalties or historic ideologies. Trudeau, Trump, Boris and even Farage show the power of charisma when up against a Miliband or a Hillary Clinton.
- Trump (70), May (60) and Corbyn (66) show that we’ve been discarding our politicians way too young in recent decades. Alistair Darling and David Blunkett are both younger than Trump. And Tony Blair is a full seven years younger than the President-Elect. Even John Major is only three years older!
America sneezes, will Britain catch a cold?
- Theresa May’s party conference positioning of the Tories seems spot on. Interventionist on the economy, right-wing populist on everything else. The same recipe that delivered Brexit has delivered for Trump. Many liberals don’t like it, but it is a winning formula at the moment. But in the age of charisma, does Theresa have the charm to carry it off?
- The geopolitics of the world have been tossed in the air and Boris Johnson’s foreign policy job just got very, very complex. For a century Britain’s foreign policy has been anchored in the Atlantic alliance. We’re leaving Europe and the US could be leaving us. Where next? There is only so much strategic relationships with Australia and Canada can achieve.
- The era of free trade may well be coming to an end. So where does that leave Britain, a country wedded to free trade for longer than any other, but about to find itself as the only major country in the world with no incumbent trade deals in place. On the other hand, we’re probably no longer back of the queue for a trade deal with the US.
Where next for the left?
- The right is adapting to the anti-establishment age much better than the left. With the Democrats defeated in the US, Labour a distant second in the UK and Hollande facing a hefty defeat in France the left needs to find a response that matches the mood of the age. Syriza managed it in very particular circumstances in Greece, and Podemos have done well in Spain. But on the whole the challenge for the left seems much the greater.
- Despite this, you can still see that Corbyn and Trump are the opposite end of the same phenomenon. After Trump’s victory could a more charismatic and competent version of Corbyn win here? The anti-establishment mood is profound, powerful and global. Corbyn carries too much baggage and is neither driven nor competent enough. But someone else (perhaps Clive Lewis?) could ride that populist wave much more successfully on this side of the pond.
- More narrowly on the left, where now for the moderates? Trump, Corbyn and May all show that moderation may have had its day. Triangulation and temperance seems to have fallen foul to the forces of populism and blame. Re-heating Blairism or channelling Miliband no longer looks credible – so where where next for Britain’s moderates who look beige and fundamentally lost in this new world.
Things could get worse before they get better
- We should pay as much attention to the French and German elections next year as we did America’s one this. Marine Le Pen of France’s far right Front Nationale was already second favourite. What price now that Europe’s Trump can win? And should Germany’s CDU should think hard before they take Merkel, the 12-year incumbent into a general election in the current climate? Negotiating Brexit with these people might be very interesting indeed.
2016 continues to prove to be a stinking turd for those on the left, and a shiny goblet of ambrosia for those on the conservative right, with right-wing populist and nationalist parties out-performing the polls in pretty much every election we can think of the world over. With celebrity deaths ten-a-penny (another one this morning), earth-shattering political revolutions a near monthly occurrence what could happen in the 49 days we have left of this anno elit – the year of surprises?