Thursday, 26 January 2017

Corbyn, Trump and Churchill

Perhaps a counter-intuitive observation, but Trump's nearest bedfellow in the UK, apart from the obvious Farage, is Jeremy Corbyn. 

Like Trump, Corbyn is a populist "anti-politician", although his populism only extends to his own membership and a handful of left radicals in the population outside it. Despite being on the left rather than the right, Corbyn agrees with Trump policies on non-interventionism, economic isolationism, anti-"elitism" and has the same attitude to twisting the truth for the greater good of the cause, always blaming the media for bias when caught out. It is a perfect Molotov-Ribbentrop meeting of far left with far right.

But we should also mark the desolate triumph of Trump. It is difficult to find any kind of precedent in America's history of a person so unsuited to office, from his antics as a documented sex pest, to his ignorance of history and geopolitics, his inability to avoid conflicts of personal and political interest and his simple habit of casual lying. Or his seeming lack of value - perhaps unique among presidents of the last century or so - for democracy itself.

Trump has, reportedly, reinstated a bust of Churchill in his office, citing him as an "inspiration". It also seems clear that Churchill would have despised Trump, not only as a great man might reasonably despise a little one unexpectedly catapulted to high office; but because Trump seems intent on undermining the two great post-war pillars that Churchill's work helped create: NATO and the EU.

Churchill was, of course, as well as a statesman, an accomplished historian. It is his sense of history which is so desperately lacking in the politicians of today. Those few who do will recognise the whiff of the 1930s - his wilderness years - in today's political climate; a period when populations were also desperate for a change.

Trump is not Hitler; not yet, anyway. But the news today, that not only is his Secretary of State hopelessly compromised but the entire team of senior civil servants under him have refused to take part in this charade of a useful place for America in the world, augurs terribly for the free world over the next few years, in the face of a resurgent and aggressive Russia appeased by its leader.

This is not a bunch of whining liberals complaining about George W Bush, a man who, for all his flaws, had a sense of decency and duty. This is people of all political stripes aghast at the victory of a man who appears to have no principles at all.

These are, to be frank, dark times. We can only hope that, somewhere, there is a Churchill observing from the sidelines, who can at some point step forward and bring some sense back to the post-war order.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The by-election boom is a flashing red light for Labour

Coming hot on the heels of that of Jamie Reed, the resignation of Tristram Hunt may not be a huge surprise to many. A decent and politically-sensible member of the House, if not the obvious next leader he was sometimes billed as. In the end, it is perhaps inevitably those who least see politics as their true vocation, who soonest see more attractive things on the horizon.

But there’s an important take-away here. It’s simply not normal to have three MPs resign their seats in a month. Unless they are pushed, seriously ill or are going for another political job*, it’s really, really unusual for them to “just resign”.

The fact that three by-elections have been caused in the last month through MPs “just resigning” – two Labour, one Tory – is not just unusual, it’s unprecedented in recent political history.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Trump will change world geopolitics for the worse

It seems like a statement of the blindingly obvious but, during the current calm of the Obama fin-de-siècle, and before the storm which the Trump inauguration is likely to kick off, it seems like America has almost forgotten itself. The impact of the outsider’s November victory has temporarily become 2016’s giant elephant in the room. But the impacts may well resonate for years.

Those who think Trump is a Good Thing remain delighted, revelling in their apparent vindication, although perhaps slightly nervous at a victory they did not expect. On the other hand, the majority of voting Americans – who did not want Trump, and whose number included many registered Republicans – almost seem to have become numb to what is about to happen. They should not.

As New Republic’s senior editor Jeet Heer put it,

In many ways, this numbness, this complacency is something that Democrats have brought upon themselves. Not, to be clear, because they fielded the wrong candidate: it has now become a particularly dumb conventional wisdom on the left that the Dems should blame themselves, as if somehow the primary process could be manipulated by the DNC to get the candidate they wanted, and they chose Clinton.

No, they should take their share of the blame because before every Republican president has ever taken office, they have always said that the sky would fall in, and it never has. Objectively, Reagan and the two Bushes were not always great presidents, but they were not terrible presidents, either. All had some foreign policy successes, for example. So now, Chicken Licken has now become the boy who cried wolf, and no-one believes that some really rather bad stuff might now happen, for real.

In short: in a couple of weeks’ time, we are we are likely to start seeing some strange things. This whole Trump phenomenon isn’t going to go away and, what’s more, it is likely to have big global impacts.

Anyone who doesn’t believe this has only to check out Trump’s schoolboy statements on foreign policy to date, or even his cack-handed congratulatory calls with those world leaders in countries where he has business assets, without ever addressing his clear conflicts of interest.

But the major risk to the world is clear: if Obama encouraged an ever-more aggressive Russia through his inaction over Ukraine and Syria, Trump is likely to be substantially worse. His entourage has close links to the Russian regime – particularly Rex Tillerson, his choice for Secretary of State – and he clearly enjoyed the benefit of Russian hacking during the presidential campaign. A Trump who has already publicly downplayed America’s role in NATO is clearly going to be extremely reluctant to intervene in the event that, for example, Putin decides to “do a Crimea” in one of the Baltic states.

But whoa, there. This is a big deal. The principal of “all for one, one for all” is at the centre of NATO, the organisation which, despite its limitations, has kept the peace in Europe for seventy years. Once that principle is shown no longer to hold, the NATO structure really becomes meaningless and the whole complex ecosystem of post-war treaties breaks down. Putin is then free to retake any of the former Soviet states as he pleases.

And then there is China. Already the world’s largest economy after adjusting for purchasing power, Trump has already irritated its leadership over Taiwan and then again, this week, over his “erratic tweets” about North Korea. Bottom line: China is already talking down to Trump like he were a little boy with a box of nuclear matches.

Not to forget Trump’s neighbours closer to home. If he really decides to build the now-famous “wall” to keep out Mexicans, he will not only do untold damage to his local relations with the whole of the Americas but the US economy (and probably all his own businesses as well).

Finally, with NATO’s very existence in question, the US’s European allies can look forward to being more alone geopolitically than they have been since the 1930s. And in terms of being a global statesman who might in the end see his country’s interests in a secure and prosperous Europe, even his supporters would hardly put him on a par with FDR. And ironically for Trump’s new best friend, Nigel Farage, his new trade negotiator sees Brexit as a chance to screw Britain, not help it.

Should we as Labourites and internationalists be concerned? More than that. We should be ashamed. We have a leadership which, via a strange Molotov-Ribbentrop manoeuvre, actually supports the current Trump position on isolationism, on Russia, on NATO and on Brexit.

No, it is not time for people to stop worrying about Trump and think that things will settle down, that normal checks and balances will take effect; in fact, the signs are so far that Trump is determined to break free of those normal checks and balances, such as controls over conflicts of interest.

We should not, in short, assume that this is all so much over-reaction by whining liberals: history tells us that horrifically bad results can sometimes come out of democratic votes, results that can take years or even decades to reverse.

It is not necessary to be a political genius of any colour to see that the combination of Trump’s sheer ignorance and naked self-interest, in the context of geopolitics, make the coming years a very dangerous time for the world indeed. We in Labour should take care not to help him.

This post first published at Labour Uncut
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