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John Ross: British election fiasco reflects Western political disarray

2017-06-15

By John Ross    Source: China.org.cn    Published: 2017-6-14

 

Theresa May`s loss of the Conservative Party parliamentary majority in the British general election is not only a result in an important European country with impact on the global situation, but has important lessons for international politics.


In particular:


• It confirms that the political chaos in Anglo-Saxon countries such as the U.S. and U.K., is continuing;


• It complicates the political fight over the U.K.`s negotiations with the EU regarding "Brexit," even raising the possibility that the country will remain within the EU`s Single Market;


• It confirms the rise in the West of leftist currents represented in the U.K. by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn;


• It confirms that economic trends are more powerful in shaping popular opinion than the mass media.


Weakening position of Theresa May


Theresa May called the election because she wanted to increase her majority in parliament and so strengthen her position in negotiations with the EU following the U.K. Brexit referendum. She expected this based on a wrong analysis that the new left-wing policies of the Labour Party under Corbyn would be unpopular. In fact, Labour actually increased its vote by 10 percent and won seats from the Conservatives.


The Conservatives (Tories) lost their Parliamentary majority and now have to rely on votes of the extreme right wing and religiously based North of Ireland protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which holds extreme anti-abortion views and is supported by Protestant terrorist organizations such as the Red Hand Commando. Even with this support a new government can only achieve a wafer-thin majority.


EU leaders see clearly that May suffered a sharp electoral setback and therefore the EU`s bargaining position against her over Brexit has been further strengthened.


This weakening of May`s position was openly admitted in the pro-Tory media the day after the election. The Times front page headline was "May`s poll nightmare," the Sun "Theresa Dismay," the Daily Mail "Theresa on the ropes as her big gamble backfires," and Daily Star "Mayhem as Tory gamble fails."


Anglo-Saxon chaos


This new political crisis following the U.K. general election is only the latest of a series of political crises which have hit and destabilized the leading "Anglo-Saxon" countries, exacerbated by low economic growth.


Thus, the U.K. voted for the economically irrational policy of Brexit in a referendum last year causing the then prime minister to resign and be replaced by May.


Donald Trump defeated the Republican Party establishment to become that Party`s candidate for president – before defeating most of the American mass media and established U.S. political forces to win the presidency. This has unleashed crises and clashes that continue, such as accusations of Russian interference in the election, the sacking of the FBI director, Congressional investigations of the Presidential election campaign, campaigns by key mass media such as the New York Times and CNN to remove Trump from office etc.


Meanwhile, anti-EU forces have suffered a severe setback , such as Macron`s defeat of Le Pen in the French presidential election, and the almost certain victory of Angela Merkel in the coming German elections. Open public clashes between Merkel and Trump following the G7 summit confirm that Germany has no intention of giving in to American pressure.


The EU has taken significant geopolitical steps to strengthen its position in this clash – with Germany hosting visits by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Modi in the same week, and Macron inviting Russia`s Vladamir Putin to visit France (a step taken in consultation with Merkel). Theresa May`s sharp electoral setback is also a victory for Germany.


Political instability in the U.S. is going to continue with the numerous Congressional investigations of Trump and media campaigns against him. In Britain, political instability will similarly continue due to the extremely small majority in Parliament that May now has after the election.


Negotiations with the EU


The immediate effect of the weakening of May`s position comes in negotiations with the EU. As there is some lack of knowledge over the EU`s structure, and therefore the key issues in these negotiations, it is necessary to clarify that the EU has two structures. The first is political membership giving a country the right to vote on policies and binding them to EU decisions. This automatically gives a country membership of the economic structure, the European Single Market.


A country can be a member of the European Single Market, and thus bound by its decisions, but not be a political member of the EU and thus vote-less. Switzerland and Norway have this status.


Thus, when the British media, for example, talks of a "hard Brexit," they mean withdrawal both from the political structure of the EU and withdrawal from the European Single Market. In that case, a country can independently decide its own economic policies. "Soft Brexit" means withdrawal from the political structure, but continued membership of the Single European Market, effectively being bound by all or most of the EU`s decisions on the economy.


May supported a "hard Brexit," but many large British companies want to retain full membership or at least a "soft Brexit." In terms of the political parties the Conservatives support "hard Brexit," but the Liberal Democrats and Labour support different forms of either EU membership or "soft Brexit." The EU either wants Britain to be a full member of the EU or to adopt "soft Brexit."


So the result of the British election has strengthened leaders such as Merkel and Macron in their negotiations with May


Leftist popularity


Another factor in recent events is the significant rise of "leftist" political forces. In 2016 Bernie Sanders became the first publicly-avowed socialist candidat for the U.S. presidency to receive major popular support for almost a century. The entire Democrat Party establishment had to be mobilized to ensure he was defeated by their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton. Subsequent polls show Sanders would have been a more popular Democratic candidate against Trump than Clinton.


In the 2017 French presidential election leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon received 19.6 percent of the vote in the first round, failing by only 1.7 percent to overtake Le Pen and enter the second-round run-off.


In 2015 Corbyn, a long-term leftist within the Labour Party, particularly known for opposition to the Iraq war and U.S. military intervention in Syria, won the leadership of the Labour Party, and easily defended it against a right-wing challenge in 2016. The election figures have further boosted his power.


These currents of the type of Sanders/Melenchon/Corbyn are of significance as they reflect opposition to U.S. military build-ups and confrontations.


Economic factors more powerful than media


Both the recent British election and last year`s U.S. presidential election strongly confirm the analysis that the economy is a more important factor in popular opinion than the mass media. In the U.S. presidential election, the overwhelming majority of the mass media opposed Trump, but he won the election.


In Britain, a large majority of the mass media supported May and carried on an extremely strong campaign against Corbyn, but despite this it was Corbyn`s Labour which made the biggest gains in the election.


To summarize, the result of an election in Britain, which remains the world`s 5th largest economy, a key U.S. ally, and a major European country, would be significant and worth following in any circumstances. However, there are also these aspects that confirm a general trend in Western countries:


• That the serious political instability now affecting the Anglo-Saxon countries will continue.


• That the clashes between the central EU axis of Germany/France with the U.S. are now significant and will also continue.


• The rise in the popularity of leftist currents in the advanced Western countries is continuing.


The author is Senior Fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.


Key Words: UK   election   EU   John Ross  

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