Painful Truth: Are we the last adult nation?

There are two countries that can arguably claim to be the birthplace of English-speaking democracy.

In one corner, of course, we’ve got the United States of America, scrappy rebel country, originator of rights like free speech, proud standard bearer of the ideal of separation of powers, separation of church and state, and having as many guns as you like.

The other is Great Britain, which evolved its democracy in fits and starts, from Saxon customs to the Magna Carta, to the Glorious Revolution. Their constitution is scattered over numerous documents and is in some ways more a set of customs than a codified set of principles.

So it’s rather alarming to watch, from Canada, as both countries go absolutely insane.

Trump has been spoken of quite enough, but Britain’s Brexit vote and the political aftershocks have been bizarre on a whole other level.

Just listing the immediate political consequences of Brexit is difficult.

First, British PM David Cameron stepped down.

His heir-apparent, upper class twit/muppet impersonator Boris Johnson, was primed to take over – but he was outmanuevered by his former friend Michael Gove.

Gove then failed to secure the leadership, and was sidelined.

Theresa May finally became the new PM, and made Boris Johnson foreign secretary. Considering he’s known for insulting world leaders, including Barack Obama and the president of Turkey (last week!) this will no doubt be a triumph  of diplomacy.

Then there was Labour. With the Conservative Party in total disarray and badly divided between Leave and Remain factions, surely Labour would take advantage of this?

But no, after much internal turmoil, Labour recently elected a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn is an old-school leftie, in a party whose MPs are now mostly firmly centrist Tony Blair acolytes. So just when it would make sense to come together and give the Tories a good shellacking, the Blairites tried to oust Corben. And so far, they’ve failed, but have caused a lot of chaos and uncertainty.

Topping all of that, Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, the nationalistic party that pushed for Brexit the hardest, resigned, saying his job was done too.

Three parties, three leaderships in question, all in the space of a couple of weeks. And most remarkably, the people involved are political professionals, with many years of public service behind them.

Yet they’re not acting like it. They’re acting more like angry cliques of high schoolers, trying to kick out people they don’t like or get enough votes to become prom queen.

Chaos seems to be catching. Australia had an election on July 2. But they couldn’t determine who had officially won until July 10, when Labour finally conceded defeat in a vote that was so close, and so fractured by small numbers of independents and new parties, that it was almost impossible to say if anyone would have a majority.

The right-wing Liberal-National Coalition finally did come out ahead – just ahead – but it was also a race that saw a couple of nasty xenophobes hold on to their seats, while small parties that held both of the major groups in contempt increased in popularity. Shades of Brexit, Trump, and Sanders yet again.

Which brings us to Canada (and also possibly New Zealand).

We seem to have spent the past few years sitting out this rising tide of weirdness.

Our federal election last year may have been a striking victory for the Liberals over the Conservatives, but that isn’t unusual. Stephen Harper’s Tories had been in power almost 10 years. They may have worn out their welcome, but there were few people in Canada who saw Harper as a dangerous lunatic. He might push policies you liked or didn’t like, but he didn’t seem like the kind of politician who would start ranting and raving about… well, anything.

The same goes for Justin Trudeau. For all the jibes the Tories tried to throw at his youth and inexperience, when he and Harper and Thomas Mulcair of the NDP shared a debate stage, the main impression one got was that a group of adults were talking about politics.

From the 1990s until just a few years ago, the dominant trend in western politics was a growing consensus among major parties. You could see parties of the left abandoning their calls for government intervention, and parties of the right slowly shedding some of their social conservatism.

It made for some dull elections, as parties often seemed to be sparring over style, more than substance.

It also alienated a heck of a lot of voters. If things were going well for you, then it didn’t matter who you voted for. And if things were going badly, it didn’t matter who you voted for either. Or if you voted.

Trump and Bernie Sanders, Corbyn and Brexit, the tiny one- and two-person parties in Australia, all come from anger at that lack of attention.

Somehow, we avoided that in Canada. We had an election that actually did have some obvious differences between the parties, but which didn’t devolve into some kind of elites vs. “real people” anger.

The question is, will we be able to keep it going? Can we have adult politics, with serious and different parties proposing their policies?

Or will the next federal election see angry populists of the right and left squaring off here in Canada, too?

 

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