I hope you will pardon me for saying so, but it seems to me that the politics of our Western (which is to say, capitalist) world, which have always been held out to us as the most reasonable, the most tolerant, the most humane, the least violent and the most successful ever practised, have in the last few years become not merely bizarre, but frankly berserk.
Anyone who doubts this should look for a moment at the governance of the United States of America, which Americans never tire of calling the wealthiest, most powerful and most advanced republic that has ever existed, but whose government has staggered along for most of the last thirty years under the leadership of, first, a dim-witted former Hollywood actor, who seemed to have fallen into dementia in his last few years in office (two terms); followed by an undistinguished father-and-son act, the son especially being a man with no achievements either intellectually or professionally, whose only previous experience running anything had been a failed baseball team (three terms); and finally it lies in the hands of a narcissistic, impulsive, petulant and inexperienced, business tycoon who managed to survive his repeated bankruptcies, and became well-known primarily for playing a role in a television reality show (one term so far.)
If you are not convinced by this catalogue of disastrous leaders, examine the situation in the United Kingdom, where a scion of the privileged classes, anointed in office as it seems such people always are, decides to hold a referendum on the question of whether Britain should or should not cancel its 40-year membership of the European Union, a vote he held with the intention of putting in their place the radical right-wing members of his Conservative party along with their campaign to leave the Union. This bold exercise in party management entirely blew up in his face, when discontented voters, whose needs had been long neglected by a string of Conservative governments, voted to leave, not at all the result he wanted.
The Prime Minister in question, David Cameron, cheerfully threw in his towel, resigned from politics, and left it to someone, anyone, who cared to take on the job, to stick-handle, as they say in hockey, through the ensuing mess.
So arrives in office unexpectedly an undistinguished minister called Theresa May, who could hardly believe her good fortune at being catapulted into the top job, since she had been a notable failure in her previous job as Home Secretary. She was actually in favour of Britain staying in Europe, but she wasn’t about to let a small thing like that stand in her way, so she set about with a will, announcing that from now on she was treating the result of the referendum vote as a sacred trust because it represented the voice of the people, however damned silly she may previously have thought it.
She’s a bit of a ditherer, is Mrs. May, and she spent a long time trying vainly to emulate the governing style of the man she so very much admired, her failed predecessor David Cameron, the nineteenth graduate of Eton College to have been British Prime Minister, and who, in a peerless demonstration of the art of inclusion, had surrounded himself in his Cabinet office with fellows he had known at school. He was perforce required through the exigencies of politics to include in his Cabinet as deputy PM a graduate of the less elevated private school (known as public schools, in Britain) Westminster, and to name a bounder from St.Paul’s private school as Chancellor of the Exchequer. But these appointments being more or less forced on him, he took care to surround the beggars with sounder chaps from the old school, his own chief of staff, his Chancellor’s chief economic adviser, the Cabinet Office minister, and the Chief Whip, all coming from his dear old school (as, indeed at the same time did the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Mayor of London and the political editors entrusted with reporting on the world of politics for the BBC, as well as the major Conservative newspapers, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun).
Eventually the lady got around to negotiating with the EU the terms of Britain’s exit, but by the time she had her deal ready to put before her nation, the ministers she had given the job of negotiation to had quit --- one after the other, count them, one, two three --- saying her deal would be no good for Britain. This did not for a moment deter the determined Prime Minister, who, after a debate in Parliament in which it became clear that she could not muster the votes needed to approve her deal, decided to cancel the promised vote in December, and delay it until the second week of January. Meantime, she said, she would try to get clarifications and understandings from the Europeans that would make her deal acceptable to the House of Commons.
After the holidays, when Parliament resumed, it appeared she had received no clarifications sufficient to quell the objections of her parliamentarians. It is quite clear that if all members of her own party could be depended upon to vote for her deal, all would be well, but when the required 48 Tory MPs declared by writing letters to the necessary authority within the party requesting a challenge to her leadership, she won that vote, although no fewer than 100 MPs, almost a third of the total number, voted against her continuing leadership. In normal circumstances, this would have led to a resignation, but Mrs. May is not the resigning type. She has ploughed on against all discouragements, and as I write, within two days of the vital vote, it appears to be certain that she will lose. Of course, one can never be entirely certain about these things. The elderly French-Canadian man who reads the newspapers alongside me in the coffee shop downstairs, still has complete faith that she will fulfil the finest of British traditions, namely, that she will, somehow, muddle through. But that opinion --- also expressed on TV over the weekend by a reporter from the New York Times in discussion on the BBC, --- is held by a diminishing minority. Meantime, in two procedural votes, Mrs. May has been defeated: and again, these defeats have not persuaded her to quit. In one of these votes, MPs decided that in the event of her deal being beaten she would have only three days in which to produce a Plan B (no such plan has ever been mooted to this point). The very holding of that vote aroused a controversy against the speaker, John Bercow for even allowing the vote. I heard his response: “I am not here to represent the wishes of the Executive. I am here to represent the wishes of the House of Commons,” an amazing declaration of independence that might almost restore one’s faith in democracy.
This morning, within two days of the vote, apparently, Mrs. May has declared that the defeat of her deal would be catastrophic for Britain.. Addressing the electors by way of a Sunday Express article, she declared: “When you turned out to vote in the referendum, you did so because you wanted your voice to be heard. Some of you put your trust in the political process for the first time in decades. We cannot – and must not – let you down. Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy. So my message to parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.”
So there she stands, a leader who can’t persuade her followers to follow her, declaring her undying faith in the glory of democracy.
You can’t deny it, with Britain and the United States in the throes of joint crises that have virtually brought their governments to a halt, things are not looking good on the capitalist side of the equation. Donald Trump, a leader whose progress through politics might be compared to that of the traditional bull in a china shop, has ---- like a kid denied his favorite toy --- held a large part of the United States government closed down now for almost three weeks because the Congress won’t pay to build his promised wall along the Mexican border, and people in high places must surely be wondering if the time has not come to move him aside, if possible.
The answer to these two dilemmas will come in the next few weeks, one hopes.
Meantime, all I can say is, to fall back on my current mantra, “Wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai,toujours gai.”