Whenever simple solutions are proposed to address complex questions, alarm bells should start ringing. In the last year, the likes of Trump in the U.S. and Nigel Farage in the UK have successfully wooed electorates with populist messages that are big on rhetoric, but scant on detail.
In 2016 Trump blandly promised to undo everything the previous two-term president had achieved, while Farage simply wanted to close the door on UK immigration with the battle-cry, I Want My Country Back. Trump on the other hand chanted, “America First, Make America Great Again, Drain The Swamp, Lock Her Up, and Repeal Obamacare.”
While the jury is still out deciding how much (if any) illegal influence Russia had on the 2016 Presidential Election, Trump was able to ride a widespread yearning for change after 8 years of Obama. Almost as if she wasn’t listening, Hillary Clinton promised more of the same. Trump’s one-liners printed on promotional headgear, tee-shirts, hats and placards became de rigueur for Trump supporters who couldn’t wait for their prized-fox to be dropped into the Washington hen house! The apparel also provided subtle, but effective TV exposure for the one-liners. The Clinton camp totally under-estimated Trump’s media skills and experience. Alarm bells should have rung when they discovered Trump had copyrighted the “Make America Great Again” slogan, but instead focused on the message that Trump was unsuited to the role of president.
Voted Briton of the Year in The Times Newspaper in 2014, Nigel Farage is the current sitting MEP member for South East England and former leader of the UKIP party. The ubiquitous Farage is closely aligned to Steve Bannon, owner of online Breitbart News and White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration (although recently removed from the National Security Council). Farage has also spoken at Trump Election Rallies and has even visited Julian Assange holed-up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy. Recently, Trump speculated that Farage would be a good British ambassador to Washington. Farage is a current contributor to Fox News, the right-wing Murdoch owned American TV channel. Trump and Farage are kindred spirits, outspoken personalities who revel in upsetting the applecart. Farage is notorious for his articulate, but scathing speeches in the European Parliament.
In an age of analytic and strategic sophistication, most decisions these days rely on information carefully interpreted by experts. Alas, when it came to the most important issue facing the United Kingdom in half a century, the UK bound itself to a simplistic yes/no referendum. Sadly, with complex issues such as EU membership, voters do not inherently possess the capacity or knowledge to decide about the issue at stake, and instead lean towards ill-informed decisions based on half-truths or unrelated factors such as the state of the economy. With referendums and complex issues such as constitutional change or international treaties, voters are likely to have little knowledge. Another weakness is superficial appeal of the subject, e.g. a referendum to bring down taxes will always succeed, just as a referendum to increase taxes will inevitably fail, regardless of the country’s needs.
Nonetheless, when it comes to single issues, plebiscites work well. Matters such as Sunday trading and gay marriage require the consent of the masses to work. Alas, when it comes to complex stuff like the EU, parliament is better equipped to address the complexities by way of white papers, committees and hearings or in the case of the EU, possibly a royal commission.
When confronted by a referendum, the man in the street becomes fair-game for the smart one liner. The Farage rhetoric has simply reinforced centuries-old xenophobia. Cringing references to the bulldog spirit evoke memories of the old idiom, “Wogs begin in Calais” a hugely popular insult frequently used prior to EU membership. But come-what may, songs such as, There’ll always be an England and Rule Britannia continue to rally British nostalgia. It’s almost like singing songs about Santa, long after belief has evaporated.
Back in 1970, a couple of days before the UK General Election, the incumbent Labour Government was well ahead in the polls. Then in a flash of inspiration everything changed. At an election address, Tory leader Ted Heath held aloft a shopping basket and promised to, ”fix prices at a stroke.” This one bland remark got Heath elected which commenced a decade of political turmoil littered with industrial disputes. By the 1979 General Election, following what was described as the winter of discontent, rubbish piled high in the streets and the dead were not being buried. Then Margaret Thatcher swept into power promising to “get the country back to work” and deal to the unions that in her view had “held the country to ransom.”
In deference to Thatcher, it may have taken a decade, but by the time the Iron Lady was unseated by John Major, she had achieved her goal of emasculating UK trade unions. They country could no longer be plunged into darkness with rolling power cuts and 3 day working weeks.
During his presidential election campaign, President Trump promised to repeal and replace Obamacare if elected. When his replacement Bill failed, Trump bemoaned the complexity of healthcare reform saying he hadn’t realised how complex the challenge was. Given the fact he continues to ignore much of the advice given to him, Trump blunders along in an information vacuum.
Nonetheless, UK Prime Minister Theresa May couldn’t wait to visit Trump within 10 days of him taking office. So determined was she to pull off a trade deal she reminded Trump no less than 19 times about the “special relationship” between the 2 countries in her address. To make matters worse she even offered Trump a State visit.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, the Brexit lobby waited impatiently for Article 50 to be invoked. Calling for Hard Brexit with immediate withdrawal, many Brexit supporters took to the streets. Several months after the referendum, the true impact of exiting Europe was and continues to be evaluated. On reflection, one wonders just how much or how little voters knew about the consequences of exiting Europe. For example, did they realise that the Northern Ireland border would have to be sealed-up despite the fact that in recent times open borders have worked well?
Who would have imagined that calls for Scottish Independence and Irish reunification would re-emerge? It was never made widely known that exiting Europe would mean re-writing an entire British regulatory system? One can speculate whether the Brexit vote was an expression of long-held xenophobic fears or sincere belief that Brexit would be beneficial to the United Kingdom. During the referendum, the second most popular search on Google was, “What is the EU?” Nobody took much notice of the foreboding believing Brexit would flop and David Cameron would prevail.
The EU has recently fired a curved ball at UK trade negotiations. On 31 March 2017, European Council President Donald Tusk published his draft guidelines for the forthcoming negotiations with the EU, which said Spain would be given a veto over any deal that would affect the status of Gibraltar.
In a jingoistic outburst, Lord Howard, former UK Conservative Party Leader told Sky News: “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current Prime Minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”
And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on 03 April: “I think the position of the Government is very, very clear. Which is that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged and it’s not going to change, and cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.”
The UK now faces sovereignty challenges in Scotland and Gibraltar along with renewed calls for reunification of Ireland. It seems highly unlikely that events of such magnitude, compounding an already beleaguered situation were ever anticipated.
In terms of trade, it has been stated that 46% of UK trade is with the EU. Much has been said about new trading partnerships emerging from an unshackled Britain, but apart from Trump’s reassurance to Theresa May that “You’ll be fine,” precious little has appeared on the horizon. Time will tell if Brexit was a sound move, but indications suggest a disunited kingdom has a rocky road ahead.
The European Commission has recently refused to allow a Frankfurt-London Stock Exchange merger. Given that such a cornerstone of British commerce was prepared to cede autonomy to remain in Europe is indicative that UK trade and industry is not necessarily ad idem with Joe Public’s perception of Europe. A day before Article 50 was invoked, British TV acknowledged views of the great unwashed by screening a clip of former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, declaring that support for Brexit showed solidarity with the working man. Hence, no need for further prevarication!
Both the United States and the United Kingdom are sophisticated economies that the world has traditionally admired and respected. Sadly, both nations have been seduced by one-liner politicians with catastrophic implications. Trump will go down as the least popular president in history, while British leader Theresa May valiantly pushes along an agenda she doesn’t believe in, if her comment in April 2016 is anything to go by.
“It is tempting to look at developing countries’ economies, with their high growth rates, and see them as an alternative to trade with Europe. But just look at the reality of our trading relationship with China – with its dumping policies, protective tariffs and industrial-scale industrial espionage. And look at the figures. We export more to Ireland than we do to China, almost twice as much to Belgium as we do to India, and nearly three times as much to Sweden as we do to Brazil. It is not realistic to think we could just replace European trade with these new markets.” (1)
Mrs May now justifies enacting the exiting procedure on the basis that, “The people have spoken,” while Nigel Farage delights in the success of ‘Getting his country back.’
In Europe, a number of well organised EU solidarity rallies are currently taking place in Germany and elsewhere to combat a rising tide of nationalism. This is the ultimate irony given that the EU was in part, founded to prevent events that led to the Second World War.
Julie Carter is a 70 years old, single retiree living in Ohope
I’ve had a diverse career spending time in both publishing and the law.
Towards the end of my career I became a bottom-feeder and worked in real estate. Alas, advancing years limited opportunity.
Have always been left of centre politically and am proud of the fact I went on strike for the 40 hour week in the mid-sixties. Am saddened to think that many hard-fought benefits are being eroded away.
Am interested in politics, human rights, conservation and animal welfare. Recently fostered animals belonging to Edgecumbe evacuees.
These days I don’t enjoy the best of health, so occupy myself with I.T. challenges. Have just enrolled with Harvard University to learn about sound recording. In the near future I intend creating a satirical livestream channel on YouTube.