“I can tell you what the world needs right now in one word: stability!” This was how a senior British official enlightened us at dinner the other evening.
The observation was all the more acute because right now, caught in the maelstrom of a referendum on their membership of the European Union, the British are heading for anything but stability. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Brits have a bumpy road ahead. If they vote to get out, Prime Minister David Cameron might find it hard to hang on to his post, giving the signal for a zoological power struggle within his Conservative Party. If they vote to stay in, the party might tear itself apart as a result of its inability to accommodate so many supersized egos with a tiny majority in the House of Commons.
What is interesting in all this is that the referendum was one of those things that the great Talleyrand identified as “unnecessary moves that, in politics, are worse than making mistakes.” The great man’s first commandment to politicians was not to do what they didn’t need to do.
Talleyrand was not concerned with emitting clever sayings to be remembered by. He was reflecting the essence of modern western democracies long before they had matured into what they are today. In such democracies the task of the government is to do few things, slowly, always taking care not to intervene where it need not.
Anyway, one thing is certain: stability isn’t what we are going to get in the UK in the foreseeable future which means until the next general election, theoretically set for 2020. Stability also seems unlikely in the United States, at least until the presidential election in November. Even then, if Donald Trump emerges as the victor, Washington might not settle down to a new cruising speed for at least another year.
I don’t share the Jeremiads issued by those who equate a Trump victory with the advent of Jericho’s trumpet. However, the Maverick is sure to give us all a bumpy ride for a while.
The current political landscape in Europe isn’t promising for stability either. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel who was dubbed “the most powerful woman in the world” only a year ago, is on a slippery slope amid growing fears that she might be forced out in next years’ general election.
In France only incurable optimists still think President Francois Hollande has a chance of being present in the second round of next May’s presidential election, let alone winning a second term.
Prospects for stability are no better in other smaller European states. The Austrians have narrowly avoided having a president from the anti-EU right. But the man they got represents another brand of radicalism in the name of ecological concerns. The cushy duo of Social Democrats and Christian democrats that ruled the country since its emergence from World War II has been shattered, opening an expanding vacuum.
Spain is still unable to form a government with fringe parties throwing as many monkey wrenches in the machine as they can. In Greece the Cyriza clique is courageously trying to prevent the boat from sinking. In former Communist bloc nations in central and Eastern Europe, radical parties of right and left are either in power or hold their sword of Damocles above the heads of weak governments.
In the old Nordic countries, once regarded by the soft-left as images of paradise on earth, mass immigration, rising xenophobia, dwindling native demography and backlash from both left and right have produced an explosive cocktail that can hardly be regarded as conducive to stability.
Belgium is paying for its decades of stupid sectarian feud between the Flemish and Walloon communities while discovering to its horror the presence in its midst of a Muslim immigrant community that won’t simply assimilate.
Looking for stability you won’t find it even in Russia either, though Vladimir Putin’s continued popularity bolstered by an iron fist and a hand of gold remains impressive. With oil prices stuck at a low level producing cash flow problems, Russian middle classes are beginning to worry about their future while the Kremlin, having spent vast sums on adventures in Georgia, Ukraine and, more recently, Syria is faced with a plethora of bills pouring in.
What about China? Surely, you might say, we can expect stability there. That may be partly true. The Communist Party continues to have immense powers, at least enough to crush any dissent while the People’s Republic still enjoys an annual economic growth rate that Europeans would die for. And, yet, the whole place is full of tension in the form of industrial strikes, bankrupts, party in-fighting and stepped up rhythm and tempo of rural to urban immigration. Not an Epinal image of stability, in any case.
Staying with the so-called BRICS, once slated to lead the world, Russia and China are not the only members of the club to be in trouble. Brazil has already taken the plunge into the unknown by impeaching President Dilma Roussef, provoking her Workers’ Party and its charismatic leader “Lula” to promise to prepare “a crushing revenge.” Another member of BRICS, India, appears to enjoy a measure of brittle stability for the moment, largely thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who still enjoys a period of grace.
As for South Africa, the presidency of Jacob Zeuma, the most controversial figure in that country’s post-Apartheid politics is all but over amid amazing stories of corruption and misconduct.
Elsewhere in Africa, no fewer than 11 civil wars continue at various degrees of intensity, and the results of some of these are seen in the shape of endless waves of refugees reaching the Mediterranean shore in Libya.
What about the old Commonwealth countries. Well, Australia and New Zealand seem to enjoy a measure of stability on the margins of a volcanic world while Canada, under a new Prime Minister, is still trying to find a way of doing things differently even if there is no need to do so.
A few stable spots on the world map form an archipelago of exceptions: Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and, last but not least, Japan. They are all exceptions to the rule in their respective regions.
As for the Greater Middle East, the emergence of at least six failed states with two more heading in that direction gives no promise of stability. The few nations that remain stable should guard that treasure as carefully as they can. However, they would be wrong to mistake stagnation for stability. A decade ago the most fashionable word in the global political lexicon was “change”. Today is it “stability”. The world realized that change is not always necessarily good. Do we have to wait another ten years to reach the same conclusion about stability?