Isn’t it wonderful being wrong about everything? A year ago we liberals were wittering and twittering over our skinny lattes, end-of-days style. We’d have made Cassandra blush.
We were horrified by the rise of Trump, Farage, Le Pen and other populists in Europe and beyond. Later we watched in despair as Theresa May set sail for the edge of the flat earth she and other hard Brexiteers seemed to believe in. Austria, the Netherlands, France, Germany: where would the next catastrophic populist swing take place?
We’re not out of the woods yet, but what a difference a year makes. Putin’s projects – to fragment Europe, tame the US and fan the flames of populism – are unravelling before our eyes.
Theresa May is a dead woman walking, according to George Osborne in a glorious statement of Hard Schadenfreude.
Trump is finally under investigation for… firing the man who had not placed him under investigation.
Le Pen is yesterday’s woman in a reborn France.
Merkel goes from strength to strength in Germany. Austria and the Netherlands stepped back from the brink of electing far-right politicians.
And then there’s Corbyn, bless him. Unelectable, hard-left Corbyn, maligned as an IRA sympathiser, terrorist apologist and lost cause, has confounded us all. Jon Snow’s glorious “Good evening, I know nothing” sums up the bewildered liberal glee about being wrong about, well, everything.
In the most dogged performance since the truck in Duel, Corbyn just refused to give up. And now, hard Brexit has been halted by… a hard Brexiteer. All of us committed Remainers hope the whole Brexit project, with its flawed democratic mandate and suicidal outcomes, will now unravel. But at worst we can now hope for a soft Brexit which doesn’t kill the economy in the name of controlling immigration.
Not that we should be complacent: the forces that drove that populism are not dead, only asleep. Putin’s not going anywhere fast, Farage is likely to maintain untrammelled access to the nation’s airwaves as long as it suits him, and the daily realities of angry, struggling voters won’t change overnight.
The young have risen from their electoral slumber, but the work isn’t done. Populism will continue to lurk and await its next dynamic leader. England needs to get over itself and move on from its post-Empire arrogance. Some of its citizens are still fighting World War II in their heads.
Liberals also need to put their own house in order. We’ve now witnessed the sad spectacle of arguably the most decent, honest politician of the lot, Tim Farron, resigning because he found his faith incompatible with his Lib Dem leadership. He promised us a second referendum and legal cannabis, the second of which might have been useful depending on the outcome of the first. He gave the nation its best election laugh (apart from the result) with his “make yourself a brew, watch Bake-Off” line. He told us inhaling was the whole point. Now he’s been hounded out by people who would see themselves as liberals but have totally missed the point.
Leaders in the US, UK and across Europe would do well to learn from the extraordinary courage and grace of Emmanuel Macron. Even after his impossible, thumping victory, he reached out to those who had voted far-right, acknowledging that the issues which had led them to Marine Le Pen’s fold needed to be addressed.
Rather than condemning, as many of us did (mea culpa), assuming populism was on an upward curve, as many of us did (mea culpa), and grossly exaggerating our reports of the death of liberal democracy (mea culpa), I guess the Macron template of radical, cross-party thought, grace in victory and sheer audacity is one we’d do well to learn from.