Gear-change time

The move­ment of his­tory is not a lin­ear one but one that de­vel­ops in fits and starts.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -


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.

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