Three possibly seismic events on both sides of the Atlantic
Last night in Wales, a by-election was held for a constituency which had been vacated by a Conservative when he was caught up in a financial scandal. (And shades of what we have here, this former MP was selected again by the local Tories to be their candidate.)
This was a seat which the Tories won by 8,000 votes in the previous general election. It should have been a comfortable win. All the polling indicated that the Conservatives would hold on to the seat.
Instead, something wonderful happened.
The Liberal Democrats made a pact with two other parties—the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru and the Greens. Those two parties, which like the Lib Dems are fighting to scupper Brexit, agreed not to field candidates so as to not split the anti-Brexit vote.
The result was an astounding defeat for the Tories. Jane Dodds, the Liberal Democrat leader of Wales, won the seat by a majority of 1,500 votes. Her victory cut Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Commons majority to just one.
This is a stunning rebuke to Johnson, and is a canary in the coalmine. Johnson is still stating that he will pull the UK out of the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a deal. This would be the greatest single geopolitical and economic own-goal in British history were he to leave with no deal in place. Pound sterling would crash, the economy would tank, and the UK would lose stature in the world. One would wonder why the UK even has a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
Remember that a fair number of Tories would side with the opposition to block a no-deal Brexit. Johnson already had no room for maneuver. Now he’s hobbled, dependent on the fickle Democratic Unionist Party and its extortionate demands to maintain his government. This could bring down the government and trigger early elections.
Normally, the chief opposition party would benefit from such a scenario. But last night’s election was as much a rebuke to Corbynist Labour as it was to the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn should be riding high with the shambles the Conservatives are in. Instead, if a general election would be held, there’s every possibility that the Lib Dems would score a victory. Anti-Brexiteers don’t trust Corbyn’s waffling on the issue. (Corbyn is a Eurosceptic of long standing, only recently, and grudgingly, taking an anti-Brexit line.) The Liberal Democrats are the only major party to take a firm stand on doing away with the entire Brexit project. Furthermore, they and other anti-Brexit parties indicated that the deal they struck in Wales would be one they would replicate across the UK, so as to strengthen the anti-Brexit faction in Parliament should there be a general election.
Meanwhile, over here in the US, Republican congressmembers are retiring at a rate approximating the turnover at a telemarketing shop. Bill Hurd of Texas, the lone black Republican in the House, announced his intention not to run for re-election next year. This brings to six the number of Republicans calling it a day for 2020.
Hurd’s retirement is a body blow the GOP could ill afford. And it came out of nowhere. There was no indication that he was going to announce his retirement. It caught the NRCC completely flatfooted.
The spate of retirement announcements, like the Lib Dem victory, is another canary in the coalmine. These members know something that perhaps we don’t. They can read the tealeaves. Remember that a raft of Republicans likewise retired before the 2018 midterms. Such retirements are an indication that they know they’ll be in for a bloodbath, and don’t want to go through the onerous work of electioneering just to be defeated soundly. While the media is focusing on DEMS IN DISARRAY™, the real story is in why these politicians are fleeing for the lifeboats. You don’t leave a cozy sinecure for no reason.
Finally, in Mother Russia, there were massive anti-Putin protests over the past weekend. In the heart of the fake news empire, Russian citizens are finally fed up with Vladimir Putin’s grand revanchist dreams for a new Imperial Russia.
Putin’s police responded with typical brutality. But the protesters knew that would be the reaction, and turned out in massive numbers anyway. Russians, who have been lied to and oppressed for centuries, are finally saying “enough”. They want to be part of a normal country, of a country which isn’t in conflict with everyone else. They are tired of Putin’s false promises of renewed greatness. They want to work, to raise families, to travel. They don’t want to live under a new czar.
These three events point to a turn in the Putinist tide. Putin and his various allies around the world have been working for a decade to upend the post-war liberal world order. And up until now he has been quite successful, turning a small investment into giant dividends. But this only works when people are unaware of what’s happening. Informed electorates are his greatest threat. What we’re seeing in the US, the UK, and even in Russia, is that his tricks are starting to lose their efficacy. Liberal Democrats in the UK are now a viable alternative to both the Tories and Labour. The GOP, for all its bravado, is losing power by the day. And Russia’s people are fed up.
It’s early days, but the momentum is turning. As a friend of mine told me last night, we’re in the time between the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. We’re winning stopping actions. Now it’s time to deal Putin and his acolytes a crushing defeat.
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