Brexit talks begin; Trump not welcome in London, but Canberra keen; China’s online crackdown on arts news. By Hamish McDonald.

Britain joins US in socialist revival

Britain’s opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, surveys the newspapers in Islington, London, last weekend.
Britain’s opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, surveys the newspapers in Islington, London, last weekend.

Hope takes many forms in politics. Over the past 10 days it shaped a revival of Britain’s Labour Party under a leader most commentators and much of his own backbench had earlier written off as hopelessly out of touch. In France, a newcomer continued to sweep aside the established parties.

In the Anglosphere, it’s the era of the dishevelled old geezers. Bernie Sanders, 75, and Jeremy Corbyn, 68, cast aside spin-doctoring and Crosby Textor-style electoral engineering to emerge as unabashed socialists and proved to be the Pied Pipers of the young. 

The lesson here is a generational revolution in the making. The young are not going to be diddled much longer by an ideological consensus that deprives them of permanent jobs and reasonably priced homes in big cities, loads them with debt for an education their parents got free, runs down the health system and other public services, and now moves to deprive them of access to Europe. Joining them were older voters who could see through the privatisation gravy train. Corbyn’s campaign cry “For the many, not the few” is going to resonate.

It was not the case in France, however, where the new far-left movement “France Unbowed” of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 65, looks likely to win only a few seats in the National Assembly, behind the conventional Socialists even. La République En Marche!, the entirely new centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron, 39, looked set to gain 390 of the 577 seats, dispensing with the need for support by either conservative Republicans or the left, while Marine Le Pen’s National Front could have fewer than a dozen seats. A runoff vote confirms the final position on Sunday.

As attractive as the energetic and liberal Macron may be, his agenda is an attack on the rights and privileges built into the French workplace, especially those in government employment. He faces howls of protest, and needs to persuade the young he’s ultimately on their side. Youth unemployment in France has averaged 20 per cent for the past 34 years. 

This era’s young are peaceful voters so far. It was a fixated 66-year-old Sanders supporter who introduced the latest note of violence to American politics, shooting up Republican congressmen and staff practising baseball midweek, severely wounding lower house majority whip Steve Scalise. A lot of anger, and guns, out there in the US.


Brexit clock ticking 

Neither Sanders nor Corbyn won their elections, however. But serious talk now has Sanders making a run in 2020 at the age of 79, with Joe Biden, who would be nearly 78, another contender. Corbyn’s big gain of Labour seats keeps him in the leadership, with perhaps another shot at government soon in fresh elections.

Theresa May is the walking dead, having turned a small but workable majority into a minority for the Tories, and now depends on the Ulster unionists, notorious for wowserish social views and obstructive practices in the Stormont parliament. Her “strong and stable” slogan proved meaningless. Even two Daesh-inspired terrorist atrocities didn’t help, as they are supposed to do for conservative governments.

 Negotiations are supposed to start on Monday with the European Union on the terms of Brexit, with the clock ticking down to March 2019 for it to take effect. May has demonstrated no policy. She is now at the mercy of Tory backbenchers insisting on a “hard” Brexit, unless she appeals for crossbench support for a “soft” exit. It’s questionable whether such a thing exists, however: the price of staying in the European single market is open borders, contributing to the EU budget, and accepting the European court’s jurisdiction, as the Norwegians and Swiss have found.


O May, can you see … Trump?

As London faces a summer of political instability heading possibly into an autumn forced election, the last thing Theresa May would seem to need is a visit by Donald Trump. 

She’d invited him on her Washington visit in January, and British media had reported officials were working on a date in October. Trump was said to be relishing the prospect of riding down the Mall in the gilded state coach to meet Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace.

This week, The Guardian reported Trump had told May in a recent phone call he did not want to come if there were going to be large-scale protests. That has been denied by both May’s office and the White House, but the prospect certainly is that Trump would be met by massive displays of disrespect. 

Trump’s tweets after the London Bridge terrorist attack got him further offside. He misunderstood London mayor Sadiq Khan’s call for the public not to be alarmed by the greater security presence in the city, and then when corrected accused Khan of making a “pathetic excuse”.

Khan, often mentioned as a possible leader for Labour in the way his predecessor Boris Johnson has become for the Tories, called for Trump’s visit to be called off. “I don’t think we should roll out the red carpet to the president of the USA in the circumstances where his policies go against everything we stand for,” he said. “When you have a special relationship it is no different from when you have got a close mate. You stand with them in times of adversity but you call them out when they are wrong. There are many things about which Donald Trump is wrong.”

Canada has also followed Germany in concluding America’s allies have to fill the gap created by Trump’s retreat from positive world leadership into his America First fortress. Its foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, told the Ottawa parliament after Trump’s announcement of withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord that Canada must “set our own clear and sovereign course.”

In Canberra, the Turnbull government displays eagerness for a Trump visit. A likely date is before or after November’s APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam, which the White House has promised Trump will attend.


China net results

It’s taken China’s Cyberspace Administration to make a stand against clickbait. Ten days ago it ordered internet platforms to “actively promote socialist core values” and stop spreading “vulgar and kitsch sentiments”. About 80 websites dedicated to film and other entertainment news have since been shut down.

This contrasts with the laissez-faire stance to the netizens who trolled University of Maryland student Yang Shuping for the graduation day speech she gave on May 21. “Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted,” she said. “Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.” For this she got hundreds of thousands of abusive postings as a traitor to China, and all her personal details and contacts put online.

Chinese browsers are in effect being told to shape up ahead of the Communist Party’s five-yearly congress about October or November, expected to reanoint Xi Jinping for another five-year term as party chief and state president or perhaps even a lifetime in the manner of Mao Zedong. So no more stories about actors shacking up in Hong Kong or jilting each other, or even serious film reviews.

The Xi regime has been pretty much a killjoy in its application of socialist core values. April Fools’ Day pranks and spoofs were banned, and a Chinese animated comedy was withdrawn from a French film festival. Subject to fiats against any political, economic and social news that could faintly seem negative, online journalists at least thought they had a free hand with entertainment and sports. 

These are the efforts of the party’s propaganda and United Front departments that, according to Four Corners and Fairfax, have a frightening soft power operation going to undermine our democracy. It only scares, but doesn’t persuade, China’s own people, and prevents China’s students from getting the best out of their education abroad. •

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 17, 2017 as "Socialist revival in the Anglosphere".

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