Big Tent Ideas

PINKERTON: Here’s What A Key Looming Election Means For The Future Of Global Populism

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James P. Pinkerton Former Fox News Contributor
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Electoral shifts in the United Kingdom often parallel electoral shifts in the United States — the overlap of language and culture is that strong.

Thus Margaret Thatcher’s ascension to the British prime ministership in 1979 was followed, the next year, by Ronald Reagan’s ascension to the American presidency. Similarly, in the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s victory as a “New Democrat” roughly coincided with Tony Blair’s victory for “New Labour.” (RELATED: BASILE: The GOP Has A Messaging Problem. Will It Change Course Before It’s Too Late?)

And Donald Trump’s populist victory in 2016 occurred the same year as Britain’s populist Brexit vote; indeed, Trump proclaimed his enthusiasm for the British outcome, traveling to the U.K. and calling himself “Mr. Brexit.” Three years later, Britain’s Boris Johnson — another figure with notably non-establishment hair — was elected to Number 10 Downing Street.

We can add one more parallel: Trump was defeated after a single term, while Johnson was pushed out in the middle of his first term. It seems it’s easier to get elected as a populist than it is to govern as a populist.

As an aside, of all the populists who have sought and gained power in recent years, the only one who has really made a success of it is is Viktor Orbán, currently serving his fifth term as prime minister of Hungary.

So now it’s interesting that the U.K. Conservative Party seems poised to go in a different direction from Johnson and populism. Neither of the two contenders in the Sept. 5 election — which, under Britain’s parliamentary system, will also anoint the next prime minister — can be called “populist.”

The two, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have both held senior government positions; they are insiders, not outsiders. Indeed, both are graduates of elite Oxford, the university that, over the last three centuries, has graduated no less than 28 future prime ministers. (And yes, the departing Johnson is one of those 28, which reminds us that the distinction between posh and populist can be porous).

Of the two candidates, betting odds show Truss to be the strong favorite. But whoever wins will lead a country bracing for catastrophic heating costs this winter. Much of this problem stems from the disruptions stemming from the Russian attack on Ukraine — and Britons have mostly rallied to Ukraine.

Still, the Conservatives have been in power for more than a decade; it’s always the incumbents who get blamed for what goes wrong — and so the Conservatives are down.

In addition, the next prime minister will have to find a path between two great powers: The United States to the west and the European Union to the east. The U.K. has formally “Brexited,” and yet its proximity to Europe, and its reliance on it as a trading partner, guarantees that the E.U. will always be a tractor beam, pulling the U.K. toward “Un-Brexit.”

In the meantime, the U.S. exerts its own pull on the U.K. Mindful of the trans-Atlantic alliance during two world wars and the Cold War, the great Winston Churchill mused about a future worldwide fusion of the English-speaking peoples: an Anglosphere.

Now today, in Cold War Two, we see big rival power blocs emerging: Europe (soon to include Ukraine) is one, Russia + China + Iran is another. So what will become of all-by-itself U.K.? Yes, the U.K. is in NATO, which is vital once again in the wake of the renewed Russian threat.

Indeed, since English is the international language, London has an opportunity to be a midway station between Brussels and Washington, D.C. That’s a great role for a mid-sized country, but admittedly, it’s not very populist.

James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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