Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

Maureen Dowd argues in the New York Times that the Clintons' renewed rivalry and the increasingly visceral attacks on Barack Obama's health-care plan prove that the president can't transcend old divisions.

The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished.

In the Times, Roy Hattersley recalls the day he signed the order that was to keep troops in Northern Ireland for 35 years.

It was almost 20 years later that I first met Gerry Adams ... We got on famously until he expressed his regret at the animosity that he was shown by Northern Ireland Protestants. Even when I asked him how he expected them to react to photographs of him carrying the coffin of an IRA bomber who (in a mixture of evil and incompetence) had killed two children, he calmly replied that it was his duty to pay respects to a "dead volunteer". Only after I said that too many Irishmen were obsessed by death did I fear that he was going to have me shot.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal exposes the Conservatives who want to privatise the NHS.

This sort of wing-nuttery has become mainstream within the Conservative party here. Why doesn't Cameron say anything about it? Why don't the media hold him to account for his own people's views.

The Guardian's Seumas Milne argues that the failure of the US government to suspend military and economic aid to the Honduran coup leaders proves that Latin American radicals can't rely on Obama for support.

It's clear that the Obama administration could pull the plug on the coup regime tomorrow by suspending military aid and imposing sanctions. But so far, despite public condemnations, the president has yet to withdraw the US ambassador, let alone block the coup leaders' visas or freeze their accounts, as Zelaya has requested.

Adrian Hamilton argues in the Independent that the failure of sanctions to deliver political change in Sudan, North Korea and Zimbabwe demonstrates why the west shouldn't impose new constraints on Burma.

You would be hard put to find any evidence that they've done anything to change policy in those countries. If anything you could argue that they've actually retrenched repressive regimes by enabling them to tighten control of import revenues and present themselves to their people as victims of international aggression.

 

 

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Europe's elections show why liberals should avoid fatalism

France, Germany and the Netherlands suggest there is nothing inevitable about the right's advance.

Humans are unavoidably pattern-seeking creatures. We give meaning to disparate events where little or none may exist. So it is with Brexit and Donald Trump. The proximity of these results led to declarations of liberalism's demise. After decades of progress, the tide was said to have unavoidably turned.

Every election is now treated as another round in the great duel between libralism and populism. In the Netherlands, the perennial nativist Geert Wilders was gifted outsize attention in the belief that he could surf the Brexit-Trump wave to victory. Yet far from triumphing, the Freedom Party finished a distant second, increasing its seats total to 20 (four fewer than in 2010). Wilders' defeat was always more likely than not (and he would have been unable to form a government) but global events gifted him an aura of invincibility.

In France, for several years, Marine Le Pen has been likely to make the final round of the next presidential election. But it was only after Brexit and Trump's election that she was widely seen as a potential victor. As in 2002, the front républicain is likely to defeat the Front National. The winner, however, will not be a conservative but a liberal. According to the post-Trump narrative, Emmanuel Macron's rise should have been impossible. But his surge (albeit one that has left him tied with Le Pen in the first round) suggests liberalism is in better health than suggested.

In Germany, where the far-right Alternative für Deutschland was said to be remorselessly advancing, politics is returning to traditional two-party combat. The election of Martin Schulz has transformed the SPD's fortunes to the point where it could form the next government. As some Labour MPs resign themselves to perpeutal opposition, they could be forgiven for noting what a difference a new leader can make.

2016 will be forever remembered as the year of Brexit and Trump. Yet both events could conceivably have happened in liberalism's supposed heyday. The UK has long been the EU's most reluctant member and, having not joined the euro or the Schengen Zone, already had one foot outside the door. In the US, the conditions for the election of a Trump-like figure have been in place for decades. For all this, Leave only narrowly won and Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than her opponent. Liberalism is neither as weak as it is now thought, nor as strong as it was once thought.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.