Looking ahead to a massive political year

by Jonathan Todd

The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk, according to Hegel. He meant, of course, that we won’t know until 2024 who got the worst of 2016: the UK with Brexit or the USA with Trump.

Next year will be a big one on both sides of the pond as Sunak v Starmer and Biden v Trump shape up to produce fireworks, says the blurb on the 1000 Trades website. On 5 September, David Aaronovitch will lead a journey through the political landscape as we approach the foothills of this immense political year.

A Labour general election victory will begin to heal the wounds opened in the UK’s relationship with the EU by Brexit. And much more besides: tackling the deep weaknesses of low skills, productivity, and investment that have bedevilled the UK economy for much longer than we have been outside the EU; repairing a public realm battered by 14 years of Conservative government; and seizing the opportunities of the major waves of change, such as Net Zero and Artificial Intelligence, that are reshaping the global economy.

A Conservative win will do the opposite. No reset in our relations with the EU. No change of national direction. No end to our self-harm.

There’s a lot riding on our next general election. But even more on the next US presidential election. The global consequences of the presidential election dwarf our general election.

The return of Trump to the White House would end American democracy. This political system is much more than a vote every four years. It is a tapestry of rules and norms, checks and balances, which privilege truth and accountability. Which would be shattered by a vengeful President Trump.

This would encourage similar destruction across the world: a win for Putin in Ukraine (because Trump would stop American support for Ukraine and seek to force terms favourable to Putin on Ukraine); a fillip for Putinists closer to home (from Orban and Le Pen to Farage and Lebedev); and an approach to climate change as knuckleheaded as Putin’s (Trump is as allergic to facts in the context of climate change as he is in that of the 2020 presidential election).

A Biden win will do the opposite. No gutting of American institutions. No encouragement for autocrats. No backsliding on Bidenomics and its massive investment in green technologies.

There are scenarios where Trump and/or Biden do not contest the presidential election. Trump’s legal jeopardy grows and may become more of a drag on his political performance – especially if he suffers early defeats in the race to be the Republican candidate, beginning with the Iowa caucus in January.

Biden may belatedly decide that the significant achievements of his 4 years as president will allow his career to end in success. Which would rapidly sour to failure if it is followed by a Republican White House. His thinking is that standing for re-election is the best protection against this.

If Biden wins, he will keep rebuilding America through four more years in the White House with a crucial difference from his first four years: Trump will definitively be in the past. Perhaps even in jail. Trumpism – American nationalism – will look for another vehicle, but the resurrection of the Trump White House will be an extinguished hope.

In this context, Biden will continue to bring good jobs and thriving industries to the American heartlands. This will eradicate the dismal economic conditions that encouraged Trump’s political success, turning the page on his victory in 2016.

We must hope that the UK also next year moves on from 2016. It would strengthen democracy and accelerate progression to Net Zero to have governments committed to Bidenomics in London and DC.

The opposite – a world of Trump and Sunak victories – is an awful prospect. The intermediate outcome of Biden and Sunak is preferable to that of Trump and Starmer – because a disaster for the UK is less of a tragedy than for the whole world.

The ghosts of 2016 might be slain next year. Or haunt us afresh. If you can’t wait till then for the owl of Minerva, get along to 1000 Trades on 5 September to hear David Aaronovitch dissect what awaits.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut and co-founder of 1000 Trades. Tickets for 5 September can be purchased here.

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