(1) The billionaire is too weak to lead the United States of America
Trump’s show-stealing offensiveness and derision of his opponents may still be enough to win him the Republican nomination (against weak opposition) but his lack of substance would be exposed in a run-off against Hillary Clinton. Hillary is the much tougher and more resilient character. Even if Trump’s angry white male posturing worked during a Presidential race (and it wouldn’t), his bullying approach to getting things done is un-suited to government which requires patience, a diligent eye for detail, the ability to build consensus and nurture tedious processes. These skills are hard won, they are unglamorous and don’t generate headlines in New Hampshire.
Trump the outsider argues that he can break the Washington log jam through sheer force of his billion dollar personality. But he is too boorish to achieve the iridescence of Jack Kennedy, Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama, too in thrall to his own prejudices. America’s politics is stuck because of prejudice – it’s not going to be fixed by someone just because he considers himself more prejudiced than everyone else. Change in America will take time and people with the goodwill and patience to persuade the country’s competing interest groups that they must share their idea of America with one another. The sort of man who paints his own name in gold letters along the side of his corporate jet is part of the problem, not the solution.
(2) Testerone bad, Oestrogen good
Watching Trump’s hollering red face is to be reminded that anger is a bad look in politics. Trump will realise this, but too late. Like many people successful in business, Trump over-simplifies politics. American democracy – democracies everywhere – have become too nuanced, too diverse, too untidy for someone as self-obsessed and unbending as Trump.
Hillary is far from perfect but she is a symbol of progress, and her election would empower women everywhere. As the world becomes more crowded and connected, our political systems need to change, and feminise. OK, Trump is an unusually headstrong, ill disciplined example of the male of the species but having a big ego, possessing a strong sense of entitlement and being willing to intimidate ones opponents are rarely female characteristics. When women do show these sorts of behaviours, it’s normally because they deem it necessary to succeed in patriarchal systems.
Shiza Shahid is co-founder of the Malala Fund. This year, aged all of 26, she is stepping down as its Chief Executive to focus on new opportunities. When I met Shiza last week she reminded me that there are 60 million girls around the world who are missing out on school. She’s been spending time with NASA, working on new technologies which could have an exponential impact on improving outcomes for girls around the world. By empowering girls and young women, leaders like Malala and Shiza are helping to bring more forgiveness and gentleness into our societies, and into our politics. Of course love and kindness are not exclusively female virtues, but they are easier to find among public women than public men. Hillary Clinton has been including calls for more love and kindness in her stump speeches. Nicholas Sarkozy and David Cameron once called for social well-being to be used as measures of government performance, but neither followed through. A Happiness Index is easily dismissed as a fluffy stunt, especially if its proposed by a politician.
And global capital is unsentimental stuff, attracted by good RoI and impressive GDP growth growth – who’s got time to hang around waiting to see if the Germans are more contented than the Irish. And who cares anyway? Cynicism and disdain are the least dangerous posture to take for anyone operating in our public spaces, on and offline. Too often, men and women working in opinionated, dynamic environments like financial markets or journalism fail to think as themselves (vulnerable, empathetic human beings) and instead adopt the lofty, care worn perspective of the large and world weary enterprises they work for. Thinking this way stops you getting fired. It also creates a feedback loop that creates dangerously little room for anyone to question how the current system operates.
(3) Hillary knows too much
Hillary might be tougher and better qualified than Trump, and in possession of a formidable campaigning and fundraising machine, but she has the disadvantage of incumbency. This makes her look tired, and has her pulling around baggage that the American people have been peering into for too long, which must be humiliating. Her adult life has been one of extraordinary service to the United States while Trump has spent his best years making himself money and squeezing others out of the way. But Hillary’s experience means that she understands the Washington status quo, maybe too well. She’s a bit like Rey in Star Wars VII, who knows enough tricks to keep the Milennium Falcon flying, but only just. Like Rey, Hillary could make do and mend, but would she have the energy or the momentum to do more than tinker? America needs more than tinkering.
Mature, open democracies like the US and UK are unsurprisingly obsessed with technology innovation. The principal attraction – beyond humanity’s incurable impulse to invent and improve (read Matt Ridley’s brilliant The Evolution of Everything) – appears to be creating more wealth and more jobs. So David Cameron dreams of creating a British Google or Apple. And Silicon Valley’s ability to attract the world’s greatest talent as it converts digital and scientific breakthroughs into billion dollar unicorns has helped keep alive the idea of American exceptionalism.
Politicians and governments should worry more about improving the democratic process. We underestimate the value of functioning democracy at our peril. Democracies are the most richest, most resilient and happiest societies on earth, but they are all gently deteriorating. Despite the Labour Party’s spike in new members attracted by Jeremy Corbyn’s tug to the left, membership of political parties in Britain is in steady decline. Voter turnout at UK General Elections averaged 76.5% between 1945 and 1997, and 63% between 2001 and 2015. This year just 37% of the electorate voted for David Cameron*. Most British MPs are talented public servants who work tremendously hard and are paid a low salary relative to their social value – but they get no thanks from the British electorate.
Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Maybe the sign of a really mature democracy is a disinterested electorate, so trusting in the system that it is happy to leave government to a narrow elite. Maybe politics is so difficult that it helps if you have spent all your career working the system, or grown up inside it (eg: Kennedy, Kinnock, Hurd, Bush, Clinton, Benn …). But one of democracy’s strengths is its ability to adapt, that it forces our leaders to gain a fresh mandate every few years. The flip side is that democratic politicians have little incentive to do more than, like Rey, tinker with the Millenium Falcon, especially if the system just put you into government.
Ideally a British reform programme would come from the grass roots, folding in ideas about the future of the United Kingdom, the trend towards devolving powers to British cities, debates about immigration and public spending priorities and what precisely is it that voters want from their governments. Is this a realistic prospect? Technology change makes it more possible, creating new ways in which individuals might engage with politicians, monitor their government’s performance and articulate their views. Politicians like Tony Blair argue that voters want leaders to get on with things, and leave the tedious and complex business of government to the elected professionals. He has a point, but the unhappy trajectory of Blair’s premiership is also a good example of how a highly centralised system of government and a large working majority can over-empower British Prime Ministers, cut them off from public opinion and leave them feeling dangerously entitled. We should always believe systems are improvable because they are, especially since Moore’s Law began to apply to so many areas of our lives. to This book by UKIP’s Douglas Carswell is worth a read. We need more Douglas Craswells in our politics – independent and restless minded optimists obsessed with political process as well as political outcomes.
I wrote back in the summer of 2015 about Britain’s lack of direction, and how this is a bad thing for a small’ish island with no resources to speak which has to live off its wits and its people and play the global systm as best as it can. Here’s an excerpt:
“A narrative of discovery and settlement (acts of courage and resourcefulness which also shoved aside the indigenous population) defines America, and her gaze remains forwards, towards the next horizon. In contrast, the United Kingdom still looks backwards, over centuries, along a line of monarchs, a civil war, a civil revolution, English domination, an act of union, industrialization, democratisation, international expansion and plunder and withdrawal and guilt and today a gnawing uncertainty. Our story is organic, multi-layered, extraordinary. Migration is not at its centre, instead we perceive our victories as home-grown, the plucky island people pitted against a continent. Over recent decades we have grown wealthier and easier, but nonetheless felt our authority and confidence seep away. What, we wonder, is the British mission? Which way?
For many, today’s immigration levels feel too high for a crowded island, and add to this feeling of anxiety and lack of control. Yet it is our decency, the fairytales and poems, our nurses and British genius, the old and good institutions as well as the hard-hearted, fragile booming money song which draw the ambitious and determined from Africa, Asia and Europe. These migrants believe in the promise of the UK – our potential to thrive, to adapt and even to lead. They see this more clearly than many of the British do; we are too busy turning in eddies of disappointment. We eddy and we grow dizzy and there is no time, nor the stillness, to script a British storyline for the 21st century.”
British anxiety is peculiar given that the country has been on the right side of history since America’s War of Independence (by the way, that’s not the same as always being in the right). Britain’s open, service-orientated economy, its geography and the universality of the English language mean that it is well placed to exploit globalisation. We have expertise and capabilities which make us a valuable partner to allies around the world. Our liberal, democratic values, and those of our allies, are threatened. Britain’s democracy is imperfect but robust and improvable. Britain’s population will overtake Germany’s within decades and it looks likely we will become Europe’s biggest economy. There is much to do. We are already a lucky country. Yet we grumble and fret and feel sorry for ourselves.
Since the first half of the twentieth century, Britain’s civil service hasn’t just lost its self confidence, its strategic capability has also faded. Read Jonathan Shaw’s excellent Britain in a Perilous World to understand that Whitehall now has little understanding of how to produce or implement grand strategy. Thus a strategic sensibility has been removed from public life and debate. This must have had a trickle down affect on the rest of the country. If a government does not think strategically, then the national DNA is depeleted. Developing a sensible strategy for your business / school / family becomes a less obvious advantage.
Britain’s centralised bureaucracy, Westminster’s theatre with its shouty, “he’s behind you!” adversarial politics and the loud and sometimes bullying media voices makes our politics really hard to follow. For most voters, watching political debate feels like standing in the wings of a theatre, listening to a cast of actors they canot really see make a great deal of noise. This experience has slowly denied generations of British voters access to their country’s politics and starved them of information. Lacking context, voters find it hard to participate confidently, and trust their judgement. The (unfair) collapse in trust for Britain’s politicians has further distanced British government from the British people. Britain’s place in the world, her relative strengths and weaknesses and her long term objectives – the basic elements of grand strategy – are now barely discussed during general elections (2015 was a good example). Most voters could only guess at Britain’s strategic priorities. So could most politicians.
(6) … voting to leave the EU would be a good start
When Britons go to the polls later this year to vote in a referendum on EU membership, they should vote to leave.
Outside the Eurozone, Britain is already on the margins of the European Union, and is likely to become more marginalised by a fresh programme of integration aimed at making the single currency sustainable. Britain should formalise this arrangement by negotiating a different relationship with the EU, and get out of the way of the 19 Eurozone members who need to integrate further. Only time will tell if the Euro really does have a long term future. Its frailty is largely the result of the reckless speed with which Europe’s elite has rushed its members through an extraordinary and unprecedented political experiment. There appears to be a consensus, at least among the governments of the Eurozone, to keep up the experiment and we shouldn’t hinder them. But it’s one hell of an experiment and one that has so far ill-served tens of millions of young people, mainly in southern Europe.
Historians will one day ask where the need for such speed came from, and ask how achieving ‘ever closer union’ became a matter of almost religious significance, so that to question it was deemed heretical and a sign of low intelligence or malign intent in the questioner. For decades the European Commission has claimed a uniquely moral dimension to its mission, transforming old enemies into inter-dependent partners. The Commission and European Central Bank’s vindictive treatment of Greece during the summer of 2015 exposed the conditional nature of European solidarity – you can count on your friends as long as you are solvent. Never mind that Germany and France broke the Euro’s rules long before Greece, or that it took only a very simple understanding of economics and human behaviour to predict the impact that Germany’s interest rate would have on one of Europe’s poorest countries. Greece has been punished for utilising the membership benefits a club it was allowed to join much too soon.
In today’s uncertain geopolitical landscape, Brussels’ top down institutions appear myopic and clumsy. Pre-occupied with moving its disparate parts forwards and together the EU will remain a neutered force on the world stage, incapable of responding effectively or with generosity to existential threats. Instead the EU will move with energy and purpose only when its core interests are at stake. Present Brussels with a crisis beyond its borders and Europe comes over all moribund. Think Yugoslavia, Rwanda, 9/11, the Syrian refugee crisis … Does the EU really represent the summit of human achievement? I don’t think so. It will have to adapt if Europe is to be come a powerful actor on the world stage. Britain should be Europe’s agent provocateur, a path finder towards a different kind of internationalism.
Dominic Cummings, Campaign Director of Vote Leave, the group which will lead the ‘Leave’ campaign at the referendum has argued that Britain’s strategy for the 21st century should be to establish itself as the world’s education hub. This seems smart, and would leverage Britain’s globalism, language, our cultural reach and world class university infrastructure. Britain’s relatively small size, and the limits of our hard power wouldn’t be an obstacle. Committing to make Britain the international leader in education & research would bring a lot of very smart, diverse and ambitious people to our shores. This would have tremendous benefit, it would also be politically sensitive. But the vision of an optimistic, high powered and internationalist Britain flourishing outside the EU could win the referendum for Dominic and his colleagues.
Do they have enough time? I’m not sure they do. David Cameron and George Osborne will hold the referendum as early as June and hope that voters will play it safe, and opt for what they know. World leaders and multinational firms will urge them to vote to Remain, claiming that the global system needs Britain inside the EU. No it doesn’t – the global system will get along just fine with us outside the EU, and would be more likely to change for the better if we helped to disrupt it. World leaders and multinationals want to maintain an arrangement they understand and know how to influence. Like Hillary, they are incumbents trying to work a broken system.
In today’s uncertain, changing geopolitical landscape, Brussels’ top down institutions appear myopic and clunky. Monetary Union has been hard enough. Just you wait for Economic and Political Union. Pre-occupied with moving its disparate parts forwards and together the EU will remain a neutered force on the world stage, incapable of responding effectively or with generosity to existential threats.
Those that argue that ceasing to be a ‘full’ member of the EU would make Britain and Europe less safe are talking tosh – it’s NATO that guarantees Europe’s security, along with the size and capability of Europe’s military capability. The EU has so far failed to generate any meaningful hard-power, preferring to concentrate its efforts on achieving ever closer union and happy to leave security to the Americans. This situation is not sustainable – with Russia posing a real challenge to Europe’s borders, and the Americans increasingly orientating towards the Pacific, Europe needs to become a much more impactful hard power player. Outside the EU, Britain’s politicians would need to hustle a new role for the country, for example by convening a meaningful security role for Europe’s armies, navies and air forces, generating new alliances that connect Europe with the rest of the globe and pushing for a stronger role for the UN. Having Britain outside the EU is therefore in the interests of the West. And standing on its own two feet, Britain would become more resilient and self-sufficient, and – crucially – politicians would be bound more closely to voters, obliged to engage them more effectively, and keep them better informed.
Daesh is repugnant and frightening, and defeating it must be a priority but the threat it poses is limited. Its territory in the Middle East is shrinking. Its appeal is restricted to young men on the extreme margins of society. Off-shoots in new countries will use acts of terrorism amplified by social media to globalise Daesh’s challenge to the mainstream but each act of barbarism exposes its strangeness, the absence of promise. Daesh is for no one but itself, it is about organised violence, killing and racketeering. It attracts criminal and unemployed men because they wish to escape their own failure, not because it offers them any hope.
In contrast, Putin’s Russia represents a significant threat to liberal democracies like the US, UK and Germany. Unlike Daesh, Russia is a state. It is a major piece of the global jig saw with an intricate pattern of complex, politically sensitive borders in the west and a long, porous border with China in the east. Although Russia’s territory is vast its influence is much reduced since 1989. The country’s sore about this, especially old school Soviet patriots like Putin, who hates the fact that former colonies like the Ukraine and Estonia are now among Moscow’s critics. By transgressing international border agreements Putin can destabilise these countries and distract domestic attention away from Russia’s sinking economy. These dangerous games risk provoking a conflict with NATO. Putin’s willingness to play politics with Russia’s gas supplies to Europe is a threat to the world’s fragile international system. His support for Assad’s regime in Syrian may yet lead to Russia and the US fighting a proxy war in the Middle East. Meanwhile the quality of life of ordinary Russians degrades year-on-year and corruption has choked up the country’s old bureaucracy. Russia’s democracy is now a sham. Putin is a modern day Tsar, controlling everything from the Kremlin – he personally appoints the Russian Federation’s regional governors, a key criteria is how much tribute they will pay. Putin’s court shares his KGB and / or St Petersburg background. His intimates are all enormously rich, there is no one to hold them to account, and they are gradually bleeding Russia dry. Some regard Putin’s grip on power and control of the public space as stable. Others see it as unsustainable. Certainly, Russia’s exhausted, cynical middle class hope Putin’s regime will one day end. But Putin’s replacement might not be an improvement – Stalin cand after the Romanovs. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, but there is no threat in sight – Russia’s most credible opposition leader, Boris Nemstov, was assassinated on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, just outside the walls of the Kremlin, in February 2015.