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2017 – a year to fear

November 11, 2016

I had a nightmare earlier this year in which I foresaw the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Donald Trump being elected President of the United States. A I woke from that nightmare, like most people, I laughed it off as an implausible triple whammy.

Wind forward a few months. Brexit is with us, Johnson is Foreign Secretary and Trump is President. That’s 2.5 out of three on the nightmare scale. Now I am no longer dreaming but looking into the next year and seeing huge potential for worse to come.

Many millions of words have already been written trying to understand Brexit and Trump and many millions will follow before we fully understand the reasons for those unexpected events and their consequences. One thing we do know is that there is a rising tide of nationalism across the western world, with rejection of globalisation and established political orders at its heart. Many commentators describe this phenomenon as populism but that seems far too comfortable a word to describe something that has inescapably sinister undertones.

Whatever labels we apply to this phenomenon it is a grim reality and is gathering force. Casting an eye across the horizon of the next 12 months should be enough to give any progressive liberal nightmares. Destiny seems a grand word to apply to what is going but I believe the destiny of the world is now in the balance to a degree that it hasn’t been since the darkest days of the Cold War in the early 1960s.

2017 – Diary of Destiny

  • 4 December – Italian Constitutional Referendum
  • 20 January – Inauguration of President Trump
  • 15 March – Dutch Parliamentary Elections
  • March – UK triggers Article 50
  • 23 April & 7 May – French Presidential Elections
  • Between 27 August and 22 October – German Federal Elections

Each of those events has the potential to generate huge political turmoil.

Italian Constitutional Referendum

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi failed to get an ambitious package of constitutional reforms aimed at ending the chronic instability of Italian governments – of which their have been 63 in 70 years since the birth of the Republic – through Parliament. He has been forced to hold a referendum and has said he will resign if they are not passed. At the moment the reforms look unlikely to succeed. Another general election could see the internet-based Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo making significant gains.

Inauguration of President Trump

By the time Donald Trump gets to make his Inauguration speech we will know what his government looks like and should have a much clearer idea of his early priorities. Will he moderate many of his most outrageous policies? It almost doesn’t matter if he does as he has already changed the mood of American politics and society for the worse.

Dutch Parliamentary Elections

The Dutch elections will almost certainly see a change of government as support for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Labour Party (PvDA) has collapsed from 40% at the last election in 2012 to around 10%. The main beneficiary has been the right-wing, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders which has led in the opinion polls for most of 2016. In government or as the main opposition party in a hung Parliament the PVV could force through a referendum on Dutch membership of the EU which it opposes.

UK triggers Article 50

Prime Minister Theresa May has said this will happen in March 2017 regardless of the decision of the Supreme Court and any subsequent need for a vote in Parliament. In the run-up to that we should get some clarity on the government’s negotiating stance and whether issues around access to the single market passporting for financial institutions and restrictions on free movement of people are likely to form any sort of red line in the negotiations.

French Presidential Elections

At the moment the only certainty is that the Front National candidate Marine Le Pen will poll very strongly, almost certainly making it through to the second ballot as her opponents are still in some disarray. The FN is a fiercely nationalist party which has opposed the European Union since the party was launched in 1993. A Le Pen presidency could mark the end of the EU and totally change the terms of the Brexit debate. This has to be the most disturbing element of the 2017 nightmare.

German Federal Elections

There has been a steady growth in support for Alternative für Deutschland, a rightwing party opposed to the Euro and further European integration but not currently advocating that Germany leave the EU. It has been picking up seats across Germany in state elections and is currently on course to win its first seats in the Bundestag, easily crossing the 5% threshold. This could destabilise Angela Merkel’s grand coalition.

Six key moments of uncertainty over the next year. Brext and Trump were both easily dismissed as threats earlier this year. No-one can afford to make the same mistakes again. We must start speaking out against the evil of intolerant nationalism and thwart its march at every turn. Being melee-mouthed and accommodating has no place anymore. That was tried in the 1930s and look where that ended.

I’m not saying we are heading for a war but we are certainly entering a very dark phase in the history of western democracy.







From → Politics

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