I can’t remember a time when I was more absorbed in the politics of the English-speaking world than I am now. Inevitable, perhaps, since I am of a negative frame of mind at the best of times, and these certainly are far from the best of times.
It seems that our political leadership has been taken over by incompetents, by a cruel accident of history. The election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency appears to have been nothing more nor less than a bizarre accident. According to some people who should know, he never expected to win the presidency. He was merely contesting it as a way to get more publicity for his Trump brand. Whatever qualities he may have exhibited as a businessman repeatedly making and then losing money given to him by inheritance from his father, or in his other role as a star of silly reality TV shows, it is perfectly clear they were not the qualities needed to be President, and so-called leader of the free world.
The rest of the English-speaking world is comprised of 53 members of the so-called Commonwealth of Nations, varying in size from the 1.4 billion people of India, to the mere 10,000 of Nauru, joined together loosely by their former status as British colonies, and by their use of English as either a de facto (in essence primary language) or de jure (that is, used in law and government, though not necessarily the primary) language, and for the purposes of this article I have adopted the rather questionable assumption that the governance of Britain, the home nation of the Commonwealth, qualifies that country to be numbered as one of the leaders of the English-speaking world.
All the news out of the United States suggests that their president is losing his marbles, at an exponential rate: that is, day after day, he is becoming more detached from what is normally seen as reality, and making irrational judgments, many of which he cancels at his next pronouncement, and in the process he appears to be destabilizing the economy of the entire Western world. His behaviour would be funny, if it were not so serious. Indeed, he appears to have become a laughing-stock in his own country, arising from his insistence that the recent hurricane would make landfall in Alabama. When weather authorities said, no, it would not hit Alabama, he produced a weather map showing its course, but on the map he had pencilled in a loop over to Alabama. Apparently it is illegal to interfere with a weather map, which itself would have been a serious result from that particular gaffe, but the effects have been more severe in that a horde of jokes in which respondents have pencilled in absurd consequences to a mass of photos of the president, making him appear ridiculous, would seem to have undermined fatally his authority. As he presses always for more power, for untrammelled power it seems, the scales appear to be falling from the eyes of a large number of his previous voters, indicating that he is worsening the possibility for his re-election. Of course, that election is still far away, so almost anything could happen before we get there.
Over the ocean in London, a similarly bizarre series of events have followed the accession of Boris Johnson to the Prime Ministership. An avowed opponent of the European Union connection, he managed to swing the infamous referendum vote of 2016, since when his Tory party, first under the leadership of Theresa May and now under his improbable leadership, has been pursuing an ever more perilous and ludicrous (so it seems to me and many others) course of action.
Johnson is a scion of the upper class, educated at Eton along with so many former Prime Ministers and Conservative party leaders, but a man lacking the gravitas customarily associated with political leadership. His campaign for the referendum was characterized by a huge lie emblazoned on the side of his bus for the occasion,
Here is the beginning of an article in The Guardian on September 17, 2017:
“There are lies, damned lies and Boris Johnson’s weasel sums.
“By no honest calculation can Britain’s net payment to the European Union be estimated as £350m a week. Nigel Farage admits it. So does the Daily Mail.
“Even Johnson admits it. In his ‘glorious Brexit’ essay in the Daily Telegraph last Friday the foreign secretary said that we would ‘take back control’ of roughly £350m a week when we leave the EU.
“A reasonable person might assume that Johnson meant that the country would have that amount of extra money to spend post-Brexit. What a ‘fine thing’, Johnson wrote, ‘if a lot of that money went to the NHS’.
“….. Johnson now says he is shocked, SHOCKED that his words should be understood in this crassly simplistic way. To suggest that he was claiming that £350m might be ‘available for extra public spending’ is a ‘wilful distortion’ etc. In other words, the foreign secretary’s defence amounts to an admission that the slogan on his famous Brexit campaign bus – ‘We send the EU £350m a week: let’s fund our NHS instead’ – was bogus all along”.
Johnson was Foreign Secretary at the time that was written. It appears from most comments on his performance that he was a complete failure in that office. He had previously worked as a reporter in Brussels for The Times (which fired him for making up stories) and The Daily Telegraph, and for comment on his more recent performance I turn to an article this week in The Washington Post:
“Before he was a lawmaker, London mayor or foreign secretary, Johnson made his name as one of Britain's top columnists. And he has continued as a hack through much of his political career. A possible last column ran just a week ago.
“It was as a hack, writing for the middlebrow ‘Tory Telegraph,’ that Johnson learned to combine his high and his low. He is an upper-class Oxford-educated classicist who sprinkles his rapid-fire remarks with Latin aphorisms.
“But he has also cultivated a persona as a populist everyman in frayed trousers who bikes to the office. He is a version of his favourite meal: links of proper British sausage quaffed with $100-a-bottle Tignanello. It was as a hack, too, that Johnson stoked the cheeky, slanted, self-pitying euroscepticism that would set the stage for Brexit - and ultimately send him in the direction of 10 Downing Street.”
One might wonder how such a man became Prime Minister. His elevation came from a vote among 91,000 members of the Conservative party, a number equivalent to the size of a normal constituency, and as he took office, he began to act as if he had the authority usually granted to a politician who carries the weight of an election victory behind him. While insisting he would make a deal with the European Union for a changed arrangement as to Britain’s leaving the union, he ignored the many declarations by the relevant authorities in Europe that they had heard not a single suggestion of any such possible change on the way.
Within six weeks during which his leadership had been largely derided, even by many members of his own party, Johnson staged an epic coup by announcing a five week prorogation of Parliament, taking effect from this evening. MPs were outraged at this attempt to shut off debate during weeks that they have usually described as “among the most critical British politics have seen since 1945,” and they have tried to shut off the dreaded so-called “no deal exit” by a hurried bill, which passed the usual hurdles in the House of Commons, and also in the House of Lords, where a feeble attempt at a filibuster collapsed quickly, so that the Bill will become an Act when hte Royal assent is bestowed some time today.
Johnson has meantime proposed a measure that is literally staggering, even to a cynical observer like me: under a requirement imposed by Parliament to write a letter to the EU proposing an extension of time for the assumption of Brexit that letter would be accompanied by an effort by the Prime Minister and his office to approach the EU with a request that his request be denied by them. The Guardian has consulted as former Chief Justice who says that such a course would be frankly illegal, and would place Johnson in contempt of court.
That is the position as I write at 9 am Montreal time, which is 1 pm British time. Johnson has spent the morning in Dublin trying to negotiate something dealing with the Northern Irish border that could satisfy all sides; but after talking for an hour and a half the two sides put out a statement acknowledging gaps between them that have not been overcome. According to the political correspondent of the BBC, Johnson’s approach for an amendment to the so-called backstop to deal with the open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic was totally shot down by Leo Varadker, the Irish Prime Minister. So Johnson appears to have backed himself into a corner from which there seems to be no escape.
The only routes he could follow in face of the determination of the House of Commons to make sure Johnson does not fulfil his ambition to have Britain simply fall out of the EU without a deal, a course acknowledged by both sides (except Johnson) as presaging massive economic disruption to both sides, but more to Britain than to the EU, are as follows:
· Ignore the Bill completely when it becomes law
· Send a second letter asking the EU to refuse his demand for an extension of time
· Find some way to call an election
· Call for a non-confidence vote in his own government
· Or ask another EU country to block the demanded time extension
The opposition has rejected his attempt to call an election, because they want to be absolutely sure that, even if he should win an election, he would not be free to lead his nation to flop out of the EU without a deal.
Stand off…. So stay tuned, as they say.