Austria Wakes Up and Rejects Far-Right Takeover

The Citizen

The June referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union, and Donald Trump’s victory in the November 2016 American presidential election, were massive right-wing political earthquakes.

Those who predicted aftershocks, this time in Austria’s presidential election and Italy’s constitutional referendum, thought that they were on safe ground in assuming that the right would triumph there, too.

Instead, the far right in Austria suffered a shock defeat. Independent candidate and former leader of the Green Party, Alexander Van der Bellen, beat the Freedom Party candidate, Norbert Hofer, by a margin of 53.3% – 46.7%. In May, Bellen had won by a tiny margin of 31000 votes, but the result was annulled by Austria’s highest Constitutional Court. Then, the judges found that although there was no fraud, thousands of absentee votes had been counted too early, influencing the main vote. And the court ordered that the election be held again.

In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had called a constitutional referendum to curtail the powers of devolved regional governments and reduce the size of the Senate, arguing that these measures would reduce bureaucracy. Renzi suffered a heavy defeat and resigned as he had said before the vote. The outcome, however, did not cause the shock to the Italian system that many had predicted.

Britain’s right-wing press had made much about a new crisis for the euro and the stock markets if Renzi lost the referendum. In the event, Italy and the EU took Renzi’s departure in their stride. The truth is that governments in post-war Italy come and go frequently. Prime Minister Renzi’s was the latest. Italy’s economic and industrial decline has been going on since the end of World War II, with no real growth over the last twenty years. What was new and unexpected this time? It was business as usual for Italy.

The United Kingdom sees developments in mainland Europe very differently from Europeans themselves. So deep is the hostility against the European Union and its leading members, Germany and France, that diehard opponents on Britain’s political left and right will go to any extent to try to prove that the EU project is collapsing.

There are two different realities in mainland Europe. The far right, fervidly opposed to the idea of the European Union, has been on the rise for a number of years. But now support for the EU is also rising in many member-states, particularly in the wake of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom.

That the far right poses a serious challenge for established parties throughout Europe is not in doubt. Nonetheless, Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the anti-Europe rhetoric and the prevailing uncertainty, all appear to have generated a new consciousness across the continent. The European Union may have its faults. But many of those who have been working for its disintegration in the name of nationalism and sovereignty are far from serious politicians who have credible alternatives to offer.

Austria’s newly-elected president, Van de Bellen, fought on the slogan: “Those who love their country do not divide it.” The result of the re-run is evidence that the new post-Brexit reality, and the forethought of what might happen to Austria in the event of a far-right victory, evidently changed the hearts and minds of many voters.

Other worries also concentrated the minds of Austrians in the event Norbert Hofer won the presidency. The post is largely ceremonial, but what if Hofer exercised his constitutional right to appoint a prime minister, and that person was from the fringe? Austria has been a liberal democracy since the devastation in two world wars in the last century. The prospect of upheaval threatening the country’s stability and prosperity was not something Austrians wanted to contemplate again.

Continuing arrival in Europe of great many refugees escaping Middle East wars, in which the West has played its own part, have helped create favourable conditions for the far right. But to many Austrians, a far-right takeover is a frightening prospect for their country which, along with Germany, still grapples with its history of fascism and World War II.

That history reminds us of the rise and fall of a great empire and the destruction wrought by extremist politics. So the Austrian people drew back from that prospect and elected Van der Bellen, a mild-mannered academic, who expressed faith in the country’s liberal parliamentary democracy.

Will the tide now turn against right-wing extremist groups in other countries? France, Germany and the Netherlands are among European Union states due to have elections in 2017. In France, the current Socialist President Francois Hollande, facing a humiliating defeat, has announced that he would not stand for re-election next year. The contest to succeed Hollande will almost certainly be between Francois Fillon, ex-prime minister, who recently won the Republican presidential primary, and Marine Le Penn, leader of the far-right French National Front. Opinion polls suggest that Fillon will easily overcome the challenge from Marine Le Penn.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking a fourth term. Despite criticisms of her decision to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees, Merkel remains popular among Germans. And her role is central to the success of the European Union and Germany’s leadership role.

The year 2016 has certainly produced big surprises, and it would be reckless to make predictions about the coming year. The best which can be said at this point is that even though support for the political right is causing alarm among established parties, far right nationalism has probably reached a peak from where it is unlikely to climb up much further.

[END]

The Trump Upheaval

The Citizen

It is important to remember that although Donald Trump was the Republican nominee in the 2016 United States presidential election, in reality he is an independent billionaire who likes to act alone. He demands absolute loyalty from those who depend on him.

Throughout his business career, Trump befriended politicians on both sides, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is emotional and picks personal fights easily. In this year’s election, he took on the Republican Party’s machinery and defeated it in the primary campaign to snatch the nomination before winning the presidency against Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.

Trump’s victory was made possible by a white middle-class backlash in rural America and a ceaseless right-wing campaign of vilification against President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and immigrants of Muslim and non-European heritage. The acronym MMM (Mexican, Muslim, Misogyny) described the core of his campaign. Many leading Republicans dissociated themselves from Trump. But his tactics clearly worked, thus confirming deep-seated prejudices in parts of America.

Much is being made of the fact that the United States will have a Republican-controlled Senate, House of Representatives and the White House for the first time in more than 30 years. To what extent will there be unanimity between the executive and legislative branches after the initial period is by no means certain. Congress takes its constitutional responsibility in the system of checks-and-balances very seriously.

President Trump will face challenges from Capitol Hill and other quarters after he and the Republican-controlled Congress have reversed many of President Obama’s executive orders and begun moves to overturn legislative acts of the Obama presidency.

Senator Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s challenger in the Democratic primary campaign and a politician of substantial grassroots following, has already warned. Sanders said: “To the degree that Mr Trump pursues policies that improve the lives of working families, we will work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has threatened to see Trump in court if he tries to implement his policies which the organisation has called not simply un-American and wrong-headed, but unlawful and unconstitutional.

These include Trump’s proposals to forcibly deport about 11 million undocumented immigrants; ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States and heavy surveillance of those in the country; punish women who seek abortion; re-authorise torture, including waterboarding; and change libel laws and restrict freedom of expression.

These, the ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, violate several amendments to the US Constitution. For instance, the First Amendment (free exercise of religion and freedom of speech), Fourth (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures), Fifth (protection against self-incrimination), Eighth (imposition of excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th (equal protection under the law).

Challenges to Trump will also come from ordinary citizens. Within hours of the election result becoming clear, anti-Trump demonstrations had erupted in towns and cities across America.

In the light of his pledges, President-elect Trump is going to have a big agenda. Reversing all of President Obama’s executive orders can be done immediately, but dealing with the consequences will require a lot more. If Trump attempts to start mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, many of them living in America in shockingly poor conditions, there will be court battles for years. Questions will arise about their children born in the United States, with citizenship rights. And there will be long court battles over access to abortion for women.

President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act gave insurance cover to an estimated 20 million American citizens and residents for the first time. Trump has pledged to repeal the law, but that pledge is vague. A hostile Congress, determined to erase the Obama legacy, has already made more than 50 unsuccessful attempts to repeal the law. The coming Trump administration may well succeed. But what will replace the Affordable Healthcare Plan? Failure to find an alternative would cause a social crisis affecting the poorest and most vulnerable sections of American society.

Trump’s promise to rebuild America’s infrastructure will cost an estimated one trillion dollars. The country’s national debt is nearly 20 trillion and Congress has many times blocked President Obama’s spending proposals, raising fiscal objections. How will President Trump manage to borrow more, cut taxes for relatively affluent people, and keep Congress happy, all at the same time? Trump says he is impatient to move quickly. Congress takes its own time.

Changes on the international scene will be dramatic, blunt and palpable. Trump is a climate change denier. He has promised to sweep away the Paris climate accord which came into effect only a few days ago; and Obama’s emission reduction policy, painstakingly put together during his presidency. Trump’s description of global warming as “bullshit” and a “Chinese-invented hoax” explains it all. Leading climate researchers say it may become impossible to stabilize planetary warming below dangerous levels.

Donald Trump’s recent comments on NATO, and his admiration for Vladimir Putin, have sent shock-waves throughout the Western alliance. Article 5 of the NATO treaty says that an attack on any member-state will be treated as an attack on the whole alliance, and will trigger an automatic collective response.

Trump has said that he would defend NATO member-states from invasion only if he deemed that they had “fulfilled their obligations to us”. In another remark, he went further, suggesting that NATO was obsolete, and he would not mind if the alliance broke up.

Trump wants to invest in building the US armed forces in his drive to make America great again. He would leave allies to fend for themselves. He has suggested that it would be fine if Japan and South Korea developed nuclear weapons to deter China and North Korea respectively. Such a policy would be a recipe for uncontrolled nuclear proliferation. Trump has also said that he and Vladimir Putin are stable mates; that “highly respected” Putin has done great things for his country; and he would get along fine with the Russian leader.

Beneath all the diplomatic niceties, worries in Britain and the rest of Europe are mounting, because Europe’s and Trump’s visions are at odds in crucial areas. Trump admires Putin and Russia, Europe fears them; he regards NATO as obsolete, Europe sees the organization as indispensable for defence; Trump is a climate change denier, Europe sees global warming as a threat; he is a protectionist who wants to “bring back jobs” from abroad, but Europe believes in international trade; Trump would impose heavy tariffs on Chinese imports and confront China, Europe wants free trade. The list of disagreements is long.

Successive British governments have laid emphasis, too much at times, on a “special relationship” with the United States. President-elect Donald Trump has just put that relationship in a more realistic context that ought to trigger a serious revaluation in London and in other European capitals. Only when had Trump spoken to 10 foreign leaders (those of Mexico, Ireland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, India, Australia, Japan and South Korea) did he find time to take a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom.

Those who thought that Ronald Reagan’s and George W Bush’s presidencies were periods of great upheaval would be wise to brace themselves against much more in the coming Trump presidency.

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The Final Presidential Debate, 2016

The third and final debate (October 19) is over amid more women coming out with revelations of Donald Trump’s sexual transgressions. The final countdown to the 2016 presidential election on November 8 has begun. The campaign this time is generating an unusual amount of salacious gossip on television, radio, print and social media. Hostility between the two sides is intense. It means passions among the partisans, and entertainment for the more detached observers.

US presidential elections have global significance. Therefore, substance over form matters. The entertainment value of scandalous accounts of Donald Trump’s groping of women over many years, his opaque business affairs, exploitation of workers and childish tantrums aside, the 2016 presidential campaign can be summed up in one sentence. This election is about character, integrity and competence of the two main candidates much more than any election in the last 40 years, for Clinton and Trump are both highly controversial figures.

Each has staunch supporters who think their candidate can do no wrong, and a phenomenon that will change America and the world. Then, there are detractors, convinced that a victory for the other candidate will bring disaster. On balance, Trump’s political liabilities appear to be greater because of the nature of his comments about women, minority groups, foreigners in general, just about anybody. The critical question is whether he can he win after offending so many groups.

Trump and his supporters have also raised old accusations about former President Bill Clinton’s private life; unsubstantiated claims of corruption; “botched political judgments” by the couple. These attacks may have reinforced her opponents’ views. Whether they will attract significant numbers of undecided voters to support Trump is doubtful.

So it is down to how voters see each candidate’s character (mental and moral qualities), integrity (adherence to their moral and ethical code) and competence (knowledge and ability) when they finally make up their minds.

[END]

The Second Presidential Debate, 2016

After the first debate that many saw as a victory for the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the second last night (October 9, 2016) was bound to be different. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, had made clear almost immediately that he had been nice to Hillary by his own standards, and that he would be much more aggressive next time. The leak of a tape of lewd remarks about women before last night’s second debate brought further pressure on Trump, and led to a number of Republicans withdrawing support from Trump. This undoubtedly made him angry, and he wanted revenge.

It began when, at a press conference, the Trump campaign presented women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault in the past, and invited them to the debate as guests. Donald Trump thus used his ultimate weapon to derail Hillary Clinton. With one insincere word of apology, Trump dismissed his remarks as “locker room talk” before asserting that her husband’s sins were far more serious. He was quickly on to ISIS, Hillary’s own “crimes”, and her deletion of e-mails. Trump said that if he won the presidency, he would appoint a special prosecutor, and she would go to jail. He does not know, or does not care, that the Justice Department and attorney general are independent. And presidents do not order them to throw opponents in jail in the United States.

These were very uncomfortable moments for Hillary Clinton, but she endured them with her usual poise. How many women and undecided voters would have been influenced by Trump’s tactics is by no means certain. My view is not many. Did Trump prepare this time? Yes. Was he successful in unsettling Hillary Clinton? Of course. Was it a more even debate? Perhaps. But with what effect is the critical question.

On other topics – the economy, Syria, Iraq and ISIS and Muslim migrants – there was hardly anything new in either candidate’s arguments. On foreign policy, security, economy and health care, Trump remains a dismal failure in giving any details of his plans while Hillary Clinton succeeds, whether people agree with her or not. On Libya and Syria, her hawkish views as secretary of state in the first Obama term leave questions which are awkward and unanswered.

Despite a bad week leading up to last night’s debate, Donald Trump is still standing. If some of his committed supporters feel that he therefore won, let it be so. On the other hand, if events of the past week, his boorish, unrepentant behaviour have failed to attract any more votes, then Donald Trump is the loser. RealClearPolitics is worth a look.

We now have the third and final debate in ten days’ time in Los Vegas, Nevada.

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The First Presidential Debate, 2016

The first of three United States presidential debates (September 26, 2016) between the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, was noteworthy in several respects. Frank exchanges are to be expected on these occasions, but this debate had the unique stamp of Donald Trump. He was aggressive and impetuous – qualities which have long been Trump’s hallmark. Facts do not matter for him, and this was seen again last night. Hillary Clinton came well prepared. She denied some of her opponent’s claims, and pointed her audience to FactCheck.Org to verify other assertions.

Donald Trump’s best moments came and went in the first 40 minutes. His most effective attack concerned globalization and the loss of American jobs to Mexico, China and other low-wage economies. During his eight years as president in the 1990s, the expansion of America’s markets was high on Bill Clinton’s agenda. Trump began, then repeatedly accused her for wrecking the US economy, but had few facts or statistics to press home the point. President Barack Obama, in whose administration Hillary was secretary of state for four years, took significant steps to protect the US auto and banking sectors from collapse. No acknowledgement of that.

Trump counter-attacked every time his own record came under scrutiny. Why had he not released his tax returns so far? Trump replied that he would release them when Hillary Clinton published her thirty-three thousand deleted e-mails. And he tried to explain the retreat from his accusations about where President Obama was born to the acceptance that Obama was American by birth asserting that he had forced the president to produce his birth certificate. Trump took credit for it.

All politicians use spin. The first debate showed that Hillary Clinton was well prepared, had mastery over facts and her answers were nuanced. Trump was blunt and pandering to prejudices. Against available facts, he spoke of “gangs of illegal immigrants with guns” roaming America’s inner-cities. So he promised that as president he would make sure that “law and order” were maintained. Towards the end, the debate switched to security. Trump was exhausted by then, his answers becoming increasingly incoherent.

Most commentators, including conservative analysts, were of the view that Hillary Clinton won the first debate. Will it change voting intentions? For fervent Trump backers, “No” is the answer. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton’s support is likely to become more firm. As for uncommitted, including those reluctant to support Clinton, there are two more debates to help them make up their minds.

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The Fall of David Cameron

History News Network

Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who dominated British politics in the 1960s, once said that a week is a long time in politics. The meaning of his famous remark is that political fortunes can change dramatically in a short time. Just one year after winning the May 2015 general election against the odds, Prime Minister David Cameron has suffered a spectacular fall. He is out of power and out of politics, having stood down as an MP with immediate effect on September 12, less than three months after he resigned as prime minister.

Cameron had been leader of the Conservative Party for ten years, and prime minister for six, all but one in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. When he appeared to be at the pinnacle of his career, having won a majority in the May 2015 general election, his luck ran out. Now, he is yesterday’s man. Much of Cameron’s legacy is being dismantled by his successor Theresa May. His record in office is under critical examination. His admirers are dwindling.

Two days after Cameron’s resignation as an MP, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published a highly critical report. It held him “ultimately responsible” for the collapse of the Libyan state, and the rise of ISIS after the Anglo-French military campaign with American help in 2011.

Remember, then Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy were leading champions of military action in Libya, citing the principle of “responsibility to protect” – a principle endorsed by the UN Security Council as a means of last resort to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity. Amid determined public calls for a western-led campaign against the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a reluctant President Obama gave in. The result was a NATO campaign which led to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi. Obama regrets the bungled Libyan intervention now.

The parliamentary committee’s report said the government of Prime Minister Cameron neither had accurate intelligence nor a coherent strategy for Libya after Gaddafi’s removal. The result, according to the report, was political and economic collapse, tribal warfare, widespread human rights abuses and the rise of ISIS in North Africa, fuelled by weapons which the Libyan army abandoned.

The initial objective of the Libyan campaign was limited to protect the besieged civilian population in Benghazi, protesting against Gaddafi’s rule when the Arab Spring swept across the region. After that objective was secured within a short time, the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report concluded, the United Kingdom “drifted into a policy of regime change by military means.” It became “exclusively focused on military intervention.” The decision was taken in France; the United Kingdom simply followed.

Insofar as Britain’s recent military interventions abroad are concerned, there are parallels between David Cameron and Tony Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Blair was heavily criticised in the Chilcot Inquiry, published in July 2016, for acquiescing with President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. The parliamentary inquiry into Libya found that David Cameron went along with the decision-making in France, with calamitous results.

Tony Blair, with George W. Bush, must bear the ultimate responsibility for the collapse of the Iraqi state, the emergence of al-Qaida in Iraq and more recently ISIS. Likewise, the parliamentary inquiry, in its final analysis, held David Cameron responsible for the disintegration of Libya. The policy created conditions for the birth of ISIS in North Africa, and for massive waves of refugees arriving in Europe. UK actions in Libya were described as “ill-conceived” by the inquiry chairman Crispin Blunt, a member of Cameron’s own Conservative Party. Cameron himself refused to testify. He said he was too busy to appear.

But the reason for Cameron’s fall from power was not Libya. He was a tactical, rather than visionary, leader, not able to stand up to dissenters in his party. He failed to secure a majority in the 2010 general election, and had to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party. In 2015, he won by a small majority in parliament on a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

His pledge was meant to placate the anti-EU faction in his Conservative party, and to counter the UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farage, a vehemently anti-EU and anti-immigration politician. Cameron’s lurch to the right on issues such as immigration, and his attempts to secure concessions from the EU, were tactics to maintain control, win the referendum, and stay in the European Union. He was over-confidence that he was a winner, and would prevail in the referendum. It proved costly.

Cameron’s predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, had resisted calls for a referendum. In the 1980s, Thatcher’s frequent public arguments with the rest of the European Union over British contributions, and her assertions of national sovereignty, concealed divisions in the Conservative Party. Her successor John Major (1990-1997) often clashed with party rebels over EU membership, but would not contemplate another referendum. Major insisted that the membership issue was resolved in the 1973 vote. Cameron lost the gamble, because what was meant to be an electoral exercise about the EU became a vote on a wide range of policies under his prime ministership.

Now that Cameron has left the political scene, it is for Prime Minister Theresa May to manage the aftermath. But the recent history of the United Kingdom demonstrates that when a prime minister has dominated national politics for years, the tenure of their successor is difficult and short. James Callaghan (1976–1979) survived in office for three years before his defeat by Margaret Thatcher. John Major had a difficult time in office before his defeat in 1997 by Tony Blair’s Labour Party. And after Blair’s resignation, Prime Minister Gordon Brown managed to remain in office for three years before he was defeated in 2010.

The next general election in the United Kingdom is due in 2020. Whether Prime Minister Theresa May’s government can last until then is an open question.

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Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote

CounterPunch

The recent referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was a people’s revolt which unleashed a series of unintended consequences. The result was unexpected, and its aftershocks ended more than a handful of political careers. Prime Minister David Cameron, who had vigorously campaigned to remain in the EU, resigned the following day. The euphoria which the Leave campaign’s ‘victory’ generated did not last. Several leading figures of the winning side withdrew from the front line.

Nigel Farage, a vehement anti-EU and anti-immigration politician, stood down as leader of the right-wing populist UK Independence Party. Farage claimed that he had done his bit, and was going to spend time with his family. Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, whose last-minute decision to join and become co-leader of the Leave campaign, announced that he would not enter the race to succeed David Cameron as the Conservative Party leader and prime minister. George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister), who was seen as a future prime minister, also decided not to enter the leadership contest.

Amid the shock of Brexit, the party’s ‘big beasts’ Michael Gove and Liam Fox were eliminated from the leadership race in the first two rounds. The Home Secretary Theresa May, a quiet Remainer, found herself in a commanding position among Conservative members of parliament. Chris Grayling, another Leaver, made a tactical retreat without even entering the race. Andrea Leadsom, a junior minister, took a distant second place. Her lack of judgment and experience were soon obvious. Leadsom retired hurt after growing criticisms from party members and the press.

Leadsom’s withdrawal left Theresa May as the last candidate standing in the field. Thus she became the leader of the party and prime minister.

Two striking features emerged from May’s appointment of a new cabinet on taking office. The overwhelming majority of her ministers were in the Remain camp, as she herself was, before the vote. Nevertheless, she did bring some prominent figures of the Leave camp into her cabinet. She has given them departments with the responsibility to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union, and to find new trade deals to plug the big hole which leaving the EU will create.

The appointment of Boris Johnson, an outspoken politician who has a reputation for making undiplomatic remarks, as Britain’s foreign secretary has caused astonishment, ridicule and anger in Europe and the United States. Johnson has few friends, but many foes. The new Brexit Secretary, David Davis, was minister of state for Europe twenty years ago. Liam Fox has been given the department of international trade, and Andrea Leadsom environment, food and rural affairs – a department which has to deal with massive EU subsidies for farmers.

These four politicians were the main faces of the Leave campaign in the governing Conservative Party before the referendum. Now they are entrusted with the heavy responsibility of making Britain’s exit happen. For them, the time for sloganeering is over. Now they must deliver. The presence of some of the most vocal Leavers in a cabinet which has a safe majority of Remainers looks like a Machiavellian device to keep opponents in and, at the same time, contain them. If they fail, people will hold them responsible.

The United Kingdom leaving the EU would be a walk into the dark, for there is no precedence of a member-state walking out of the association. Once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered, the process would be extremely complex, tense and risky. The prime minister has announced that she will chair three new cabinet committees which will focus on the European Union and international trade, economy and industrial strategy, and social reform. The Brexiteers who found a place in the cabinet achieved high office, but with their wings clipped. Theresa May, to whom they should be grateful, will always be watching their every move.

This outcome shows that winners are often losers in the chaotic aftermath of a popular mutiny, for that is what the referendum was. Rebellion continues to simmer under the surface in the governing Conservative Party, which has a working majority of just 16 in parliament. There are about 20 hard-line MPs who will stop at nothing short of complete exit from the EU, and Theresa May has either sacked or not promoted around 25 Tory MPs, who are unhappy. The prime minister may be safe in the cabinet she has chosen now, but the prospects of revolt in the near future are high.

The origins of the people’s revolt in the EU referendum are worth exploring. A close examination of how different groups voted is revealing (see Politico). While 70 percent 18 to 24-year-old voters wanted the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union, there was a steady decline in support for the EU among older age groups. Among those aged 65 years or more, 61 percent voted to Leave. Britain’s aging population has been on the rise for years. Older people with lingering memories of World War II look negatively at the EU, in which Germany is the most powerful member-state.

Support for remaining in the EU among voters with a university degree was 71 percent. It declined with lower education to the extent that almost two-thirds of voters with a high school diploma chose to Leave. Across the political spectrum, the more right-wing voters were, the stronger their opposition to Britain’s membership of the EU and free movement of people. So Labour and Liberal-Democrat voters backed the idea to remain in large numbers while backing for leaving among Conservative and UK Independence Party supporters was very high. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. England and Wales went against. The referendum has divided families, with young and ambitious graduates wanting to travel on one side. Their parents and grandparents on the other.

Most worrying is the divide between rich and poor in England and Wales. Communities devastated by the demise of the coal and steel industries since the 1980s have still not recovered. Young, able and ambitious have moved to other parts of the country, indeed to other European countries. Left behind are the old, the less educated and the poorly skilled whose wages are easily undercut by new arrivals from other EU countries. Years of hardship, isolation and hopelessness have made them bitter and resentful. A great many of them saw in the referendum their only opportunity to punish the rich and the powerful, who had failed them. To vote Leave was their only weapon.

The United Kingdom has not seen such deep polarization in living memory. The pound has crashed. Confidence in the economy has suffered a sharp decline. Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she will not trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and start the exit process this year. For the country faces major challenges – to negotiate the exit from the EU; at the same time to maintain as much access to the European single market as possible; to negotiate dozens of new trade deals with countries around the world. These are monumental challenges. It is doubtful whether the United Kingdom has the ability to meet them without having to pay the price.

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