There is a Biblical saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Looking around the world of politics today, it is striking how true this is. Post the Brexit vote, and with the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA, we can readily see how divided internally nations are on key issues.
Of course, there are massive differences between politics in the USA and those of the UK. To begin with, we have very different electoral systems. We also have organic constitutional arrangements with our unwritten system, whilst America’s written constitution, despite its sensible separation of powers, sometimes seems set in an archaic past. Nevertheless, both Brexit and Trump have, in their respective settings, catalysed politics (for the worse, I would say). One thing which both phenomena reveal is a deep distrust held by many people, for “politics as usual”.
Across Europe, we see a similar reaction of aversion to what many consider “establishment rule”. Italy, France, the Netherlands – many of our European neighbours are facing the same demand for change from what has hitherto been seen as standard. There is a real danger that liberal democracy itself – the bedrock of Western stability since World War 2 – is at risk, as the reaction includes a lurch to the far right in so many countries.
My generation took the defeat of the extreme right as irreversible. We found it inconceivable that it could resurrect itself in the way in which it has. Its symptoms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia – all interlaced with violence – are on the rise everywhere. Crudities once alien to civilised debate and discourse, are alarmingly now acceptable in the public domain.
Here in the UK, the Tory government is in total disarray as it tries to square the circle on Brexit, Europe being a toxic issue which has bedevilled it for fifty years. Meanwhile, the official Opposition – Labour – displays its current irrelevance by its protracted period of navel-gazing. Hobbled by the usual metropolitan mantras, and choked by the nostrums of the capital’s chatterati, Labour seriously risks losing its English industrial heartlands in the same way as it forfeited its dominance in Scotland.
Perhaps it is why Andy Burnham has challenged the blinkered view of Diane Abbott on immigration policy. Unlike her, Andy will be facing a provincial electorate in four and a half months, and that electorate might well be in the mood to give the political classes another good kicking. After all, Labour is the political establishment in Greater Manchester, as it is in the Liverpool City Region.
There are those who have been over confident in Labour success in the metro-mayoral elections due next May. They should wake up to reality. Those elections will be the next major test of Labour’s credibility in this brave, new world. If the party remains at war with itself, either nationally or locally, it will simply diminish its standing at the ballot box. Success requires unity – of policy, purpose, and personnel.