September 9, 2019
Although I was raised in the UK I have been very slow to appreciate how the political stability of the place rested on culture and habit. Observing the country from across the Atlantic for the last twenty years I now see that much of what passes for structure is no more than a result of conformance to expected behavior. No constitution? No problem – we will behave as if there is one. The Queen has power to do whatever she wants? Of course she does but she will continue to play her role as ceremony just like the wearing of a crown. Brexit, however, has begun to expose the vulnerability of relying on people following tradition.
British politicians seem to have locked themselves in the Brexit panic room and thrown away the exit clues. The maneuvers of the newly minted Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, have been eye opening. First, he restricted the time Parliament will be in session over the next couple of months so that pesky MPs do not get in the way of his commitment to achieve Brexit by October 31st. Then when some of his party did not play along they were “purged.” Fortunately, this does not mean exile in Siberia, but these MPs cannot run for the party in the next election. Speaking of which, Mr. Johnson wants to call a “snap” election in the hope of bolstering his electoral support. However, this idea feels a suicide pact given his own party could suffer major losses, and power, if the people were asked what they thought of their government. Waiting in the wings is Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labor Party, who is an unreconstructed socialist intent on returning Britain to the glory days of nationalized industries.
European Union officials must be watching with glee given they have suffered so much derision from those in favor of Brexit. The demeaning display of disfunction and distress in Britain is not a great advertisement for politicians in other EU countries advocating breaking ties with Brussels. Brexit may paradoxically strengthen the bonds between the EU countries. The UK meanwhile will be left in self-selected isolation, free to find its own way in the choppy waters of international relations and trade.
There are positives for travelers holding assets in dollars. This is a wonderfully inexpensive time for getting up close and personal to the current British angst. You get twice as much sterling for your buck as was the case during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power. Staying in that charming (despite the plumbing) pied-à-terre in central London has become a bit more affordable.
Maybe there is a lesson here for us Americans. Our own jarring political turbulence must take place within the framework of our Constitution, and the separation of powers. We should be very grateful that the tendencies and instincts of the current crop of American politicians are held in check by more than reference to what Abraham Lincoln might have done.