The movement of history is not a linear one but one that develops in fits and starts.
You can go for a long period and nothing happens and then everything happens all at once. Then there is a gear change and everything changes.
I suspect this is one of these gear-change moments.
The best signal was the Brexit decision by the UK electorate. Who would have expected an entire nation to choose – by a well-defined majority – to enter a period of risk and uncertainty rather than the security of staying in the EU as its political leaders and its business leaders were telling it?
Since 23 June, the day of the referendum, the sky has not fallen in, the economy has not tumbled into a catastrophe as the Remain camp had foretold.
It’s true, that he pound has fallen but then the Stock Market has shot up. The UK economy has had its best quarter for a long time.
When Article 50 is invoked, and the discussions begin in earnest, there will be hard choices ahead – hard Brexit or soft Brexit? – but the British public is showing no sign of turning back. Last week’s decision by the High Court, now being appealed by the government, puts the onus of the decision on Parliament, as it should be. Now it is well-known that Parliament has a majority of ‘Remain’ rather than ‘Leave’ supporters but I have yet to see a Parliament trying to revert what the population has decided in a referendum.
Commentators make a lot of noise about those areas of the United Kingdom which voted to remain (Scotland, Northern Ireland, London) but otherwise the margin of the ‘Leave’ victory leaves us with no doubt whatsoever that this is what the people of the UK want.
Without pre-empting the forecasts, I think this coming week may be yet another gear-changing moment – in the US presidential elections. On the one hand we have candidate Hillary Clinton, who has been at the top for years and years, who has amassed countless sums to run the campaign, who beat her opponents in the primaries but who as yet has not established a clear lead in the campaign. She has said all the ‘right things’ on race, on migration, on Russia, and yet she is the ‘elite’, the insider, the regime.
And on the other hand we have Donald Trump, a selfmade millionaire, a man without a programme, a man prone to speak first and apologise later, a man who – time and time again – looked to have kissed his candidature goodbye, but who – time and time again – came back, stronger than ever. People do not seem to love him for his outrageous remarks but despite his outrageous remarks.
Will he make it to the White House on Wednesday? The latest polls doubt it, but then the polls kept saying Remain had won in the UK referendum until approximately 2 am, when the tide turned. If the British people disregarded the fear-laden warnings not to dare to leave the Union, what’s to stop the American voters from disregarding the many warnings that Trump means trouble?
The British public decided to jettison membership of the Union at a time when the economy was doing well, rather than keep to the economic programme that had done so well. The American economy is not doing so well (although it is better than most European ones) and there is a lot of anger, which Trump has artfully harnessed by saying “America must get great again”.
Whatever happens in America this week, the gear-change moment will not end. Its next appearance, we may say, will be in Italy in the December referendum and may result in sending Renzi home. After that comes the French presidential election in April and this indeed could end up being a gear-change time. And then, in September, comes the German election and the immigrant issue could well turn the election in Europe’s most successful economy into a gear-change one.
Will all elections result in a defeat of the incumbents? Hardly. In each and every event there are, will be, many different strands that an able leader will be able to use to subvert the forecasts. History, writ large or writ small, is never a foregone conclusion.
Many might be asking if Malta’s elections in 2018 will see a gear-change moment. I do not think so. The gear-change moment for Malta was in 2013. In any event – at least as I see it – the alternative government tends to run after each new prophet that comes rather than look at its real supporters and with them plan for when it is entrusted with government. But then I could be wrong.