The parallels between UK and USA politics are not exact.
Following on from different political evolution, we have different; statutes ,institutions, procedures, systems and expectations . But it is fair to say, largely because they themselves have said this, that the Conservative Party in the UK and the Republicans in the USA share many standpoints, with nods towards libertarianism and the free market being key points of agreement .
In the last 4 years we have seen dominance in the Conservative Party move further towards their Republican bedfellows with a purging of the left and centre to allow “ true believers” to take their place at the table in Cabinet a movement away from a “ Broad Church “ to a a rather more specific Brexit lead sect . We have also seen the move to prominence of those on the far fringe of politics , behind the scenes drivers , those who don’t wish the trappings of power but who want to exercise it through influence but without responsibility.
Something that recent Presidential Politics has seen has also been replicated within UK right wing leadership. A redefinition of what the word “ Truth “ means .
A dictionary definition suggests that truth is a state that reflects “ facts or reality .” But the old fashioned notion that there are facts and non facts, has no home in MAGA reality ( Make America Great Again.) Substitute “Brexit” for MAGA and you have a parallel here that you can work with . Facts then become what you want them to be; Bringing jobs to the USA rust belt when there is no demand for their products matches £350m for hospitals. Mexicans/ Turks all over our borders. The rhetoric here around simple-easiest-ever oven-ready deals closely match Presidential rhetoric. So pick your facts and that in turn defines a “Truth” that we can ask people to believe in, to vote for . The more vague, the more eye catching the better, ideally something that cannot be measured by things definitive .
This is where those who are not of the far right , struggle. We have been brought up to believe that Truths are binary . i.e; something is either borne out by facts or reality or it isn’t . But that only works if you can agree on the facts and reality . If an economist provides the facts but you don’t believe in economics then where does that leave you? If the facts are uncomfortable then you can define your own facts and reality and suddenly the Truth becomes a non binary attribute. “If you don’t like this truth then I can find you another .”
Because we have a very gentle democracy we don’t call this lying. Those proposing a factually dubious “Truth” can defend themselves easily from that accusation . “Experts don’t serve the people,” “ they have a vested interest in what they are saying”, “ an elite just saying that to keep us down.” So why believe that “Truth” when we have others easier to digest that are far more comfortable and reflect far better how we feel?
This all finds us at a rather significant moment . People say that what happens in the USA often happens a little later in the UK . Yesterday people rejected democracy and attacked the Capitol . Could it happen here ?
Friends in the USA tell me that this was a tiny minority of people and it doesn’t reflect who the Americans are. I get that and by and large I believe them but equally “facts” give a disturbing picture . A You Gov poll run the same night showed that 63% of voters strongly disagreed with the actions taken by protesters . So far so good. But one in five including 45% of Republicans actually agreed with the actions the protestors took . The figure goes up to 56% of those people who believed the lie that the election was rigged.
Viewed from here in the UK the sheer stupidity of that standpoint is mind blowing ! An election took place, right? Their own people verified it ? How can it be rigged ? These people must be irretrievably thick ?
Some might suggest there are parallels with Brexit. I don’t, by the way. At least not in this sense . Some very bright people offered carefully built and argued rationales for Brexit. Other brilliant and convincing people suggested that this reflects their belief system, we need to show faith .Like any other faith it may be passionately held but without a need for factual justification . It is their job to proselytize and they did it well. I disagree with these folk but I don’t question their intellectual capabilities or for that matter their motivation as patriots that brings them to their point of view . (Except those who saw it as a route to personal profit .)
I also believe that the vast majority of the 52% of people who voted for Brexit did not in any way hold deep philosophical positions. The fault is with the “Remain “ faction that we did not see this coming, didn’t make a strong enough argument . We allowed this through our own complacency – perhaps we couldn’t see it coming because this is a very new approach and it was very appealing.
But Brexit, for the UK is done. What will be will be, and that is what really worries me . When people commit themselves to believe a political notion, they have expectations that it will deliver for them . If you reject traditional politics you expect the alternative to come up with the goods.
Brexit is a project which at best, if at all, will see benefit in the long term future . It is backed up with macro economic levers such as the “ Northern Powerhouse” and HS2 which if you believe in them make total sense to a libertarian free market approach to economic growth.
This is where there is a serious disconnect that is as true here as it is for the USA. Both Trumpism and current right wing politics in the UK offer immediate gratification that cannot be borne out in what we understand as “fact.” If you are a rust belt worker in the USA or unemployed in Hartlepool, gratification in one or two generations, maybe , does not put food on the table or restore dignity – now .
You can already see the concern about this coming from the “ New Blue” line of Conservative MPs in the North East of England .
We are a remarkably tolerant society. But at what point is that toleration tested to destruction?
Both in the USA and in the UK ,backed by incendiary and divisive language ( more there than here ) there has been a serious disconnect between what has been promised and what can; possibly, reasonably, be delivered . We have warning signs. A government that can say something in the morning and then the direct opposite in the afternoon and can deny responsibility without a hint of embarrassment is the thin end of a really rather nasty wedge . What next?
US and UK politics are not the same, neither are our Societies but what causes us to be passionate , the daily hopes and aspirations for our families, are remarkably similar. Brexit and Trumpism we are told are the outcome of failed “traditional” politics where people feel disenfranchised from the decisions that make up their everyday lives. So what recourse do people have when these systems also fail to deliver?
The urge, it seems at any cost, to satisfy the political needs of what has been seen until relatively recently as a marginalised right wing, makes for very ugly politics. The lack of willingness to take responsibility matched with that direction of travel is concerning .
I do not believe that Brexit will deliver the benefits that people voted for. You may disagree, 52% of the population did. Far less, apparently still do. What I do believe is that you cannot ratchet up people’s expectations by offering a new paradigm and not deliver, consistently and expect there to be no repercussions .
Normally steam is released from that pressure cooker by a general election . That is 4 years away . In the interim there needs to be better leadership and a far more responsible use of rhetoric in Parliament than we have recently seen. This week in the USA we have seen the destructive power of words. We need to learn from that .
The title asks a question. So how do I answer it?
I don’t see us as close to the American disaster of yesterday but I do see that we have feet on the pathway to it .
You cannot take democracy lightly, it needs work and you don’t achieve that by concentrating all of your efforts on placating partisan causes.
Reform in Westminster, statesman like leadership a true commitment to devolution might get us there . But do I believe that any of those are achievable?
Presently I can see only one way for Scotland to guarantee a different direction and that is Independence .