United – Great Britain: governing by lying

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Trump, BoJo, common point: a very fragile electoral legitimacy

The two oldest democracies on the planet, the United Kingdom and the United States, both go through a political crisis of extreme gravity. This is embodied in the personality of extravagant leaderswho threaten to drag their nations into risky adventureswithout the institutions supposed to draw precise limits to their power really seem able to stop them. It is all the more surprising that neither the American president nor the British Prime Minister have sufficient legitimacy to impel the political turning points of consequence, however, in progress.

Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 because he won in more states than Hilary Clinton. In particular, the least populated states of the United States. Thus he had for him 306 great voters, against 232 for his rival. But we must not forget that nationwide, Trump has received votes from only 63 million voters (46.1%) against 66 million for Clinton (48.2%). Given the high level of abstention from the rule in the United States, it only garnered the support of 27% of voters.

It means that 73% American voters have never voted for that president. His popularity rating has never been positive during his tenure. Currently, it has a significant deficit: 43% of respondents are in favor, but 53% disapprove of its action.

It's even worse in the case of Boris Johnson. He did not take the head of the government following an electoral victory, but on the contrary a terrible defeat of his party. In the May 2019 elections, the Conservative Party recorded the worst humiliation of its history, with its candidates garnering less than 9% of the votes cast. If "BoJo" is today on Downing Street, it is on the basis of an election held within the only conservative party (less than 100,000 members nationwide). Its popularity rating is low: 31% favorable opinions, 47% unfavorable.

These unlikely leaders, however, threaten to launch their nations in very risky adventures

Gold, Trump has launched a trade war against China, which not only destabilizes the free trade system put in place by its predecessors and threatens to provoke a global recession, but could degenerate the crisis in open war by his rantings. By denouncing the agreement with Iran, he is indirectly responsible for a sharp rise in tensions in the Middle East.

Johnson appears, for its part, decided to lead to a break with no agreement with the European Union – even to temporarily silence the British Parliament. Disregarding the unprecedented risks that such a result would provoke, not only for the economy of Great Britain, but for its very existence : who can imagine that the borders erased by Tony Blair under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement can be re-created between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (British)? Is England ready to sacrifice her secular union with Scotland?

"First-past-the post", an electoral system responsible for the radicalization of parties

Economist Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, asks: How could such a situation have occurred in such old democracies, characterized by the maturity of their institutions?

For him, the origin of the problem is first-past-the-post voting. Because of the British system, "first-past-the-post "In each constituency, the first-place candidate wins the seat, regardless of his score. The purpose of this system was to avoid the scattering of the electorate into a multiplicity of parties – which proportional voting usually favors. And it is a fact that their respective electoral systems have led, in both countries, to the formation of a bipartisan political system. Conservatives versus Labor. Democrats and Republicans. This bipartisanship had the reputation of pushing the two rival parties towards the center, towards moderation – the only way to obtain the support of the centrist or indecisive voters, whose support is decisive to triumph.

In the hands of the most radical activists

However, something has recently broken down, as Chris Patten, former governor of Hong Kong, former minister, former European commissioner and current chancellor of Oxford University deplores. Parties have fallen in the hands of their most radical activists, by losing the great mass of moderates. 90,000 activists – of a worrying average age – brought "BoJo" to power, while only a few more young enthusiasts Jeremy Corbyn, "old old-fashioned socialist, the leader of Labor.

In the past, writes Chris Patten, the British political system was a parliamentary democracy, based on a pluralistic partisan system and an open society. It had refused the imperative mandate, "a system favored by despots and demagogues ". The inspiration came from Edmund Burke than Jean-Jacques Rousseau. "We have always preferred prudence, compromise, evolutions rather than ruptures or recourse to the fluctuating passions of the public."We have been able to avoid political extremism, take into account realities, and the government has always been responsible to Parliament – even in wartime.

"Sadly, today things look different"

Conservative activists have entrusted power to a "schemer ", whose "the lies made the career ". He built a government composed exclusively of Brexiters of its kind: "anti-European nationalists ". But his true right hand and the inspiration of his strategy, Dominic Cummings, is a dangerous man. Former Prime Minister David Cameron calls it "career psychopath ". "He is a demolisher without elective mandate ", writes Chris Patten.

This aberrant team prepares a vicious election campaign on the populist theme "the people against politicians ". Turning its back on the British parliamentary tradition. This government deliberately to the British people about the consequences of a No Deal, as the same lied to him on the Brexit when they assured that a departure from the European Union would only have beneficial consequences and that Brussels would willingly accept the British conditions to a new agreement with the EU on the access to the Single Market.

A shadow on democracy itself …

This double slippage of the two oldest democracies of the modern world does not only provoke the desolation of their friends around the world. He throws a shadow on democracy itself. And at a time when it lost much of its appeal to people thirty years ago, it is a heavy responsibility to history.

On Friday Brice Couturier's chronicle is not broadcast on the air but is offered for reading.



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