Where did the summer go? It seems barely weeks since the general election, and suddenly St Leger’s Day is coming up fast on the outside straight, and the Brexit negotiators are slowly returning to the table from a long lunch, and Donald Trump is preparing for an autumn term where he still hasn’t achieved a single policy goal, and….
Whitehall Farce, Russian Opera
Whoa, hang on a minute, there’s no mistake here. It really was only a few weeks ago that the Prime Minister gambled her political fortune on the Westminster roulette table and got busted. It’s been no time at all since David Davis and Michael Gove discovered their reverse gears and started making less stridently euro-dismissive noises in the face of a polite but unyielding stonewall from Brussels. And all the while, Chancellor Philip Hammond has been polishing his trusty spreadsheet in readiness for his best-ever chance of becoming the PM who Europe would most like to be dealing with. The imperious Mrs May, it seems, has more enemies than Caesar.
The theatrics across the Atlantic, however, are becoming less amusingly farcical. Yes, the pace of the intros and outros on Capitol Hill would have shamed even the late Brian Rix – ironically, the man who first gave the name to the Whitehall Farce – but Trump’s failure to distance himself from some very sinister political forces has darkened the mood. Even the steel companies, disgusted, have now deserted his advisory board – hey, wasn’t he once their champion?
Meanwhile, France’s President Macron lost ten percentage points of his popularity in a single July week (after proposing a series of entirely sane spending cuts), and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was biting her lip and keeping every limb and digit carefully crossed ahead of her nail-biting federal election on 24th September.
Never Mind the Cat-Calls
It’s the pace of what President Trump would call a modern political leadership scene and what Mrs May would ruefully call running before you can walk. And it’s exhausting, and exhilarating at the same time.
And I’d dare to say that something else has changed. And for the better, too. A string of UK economic disappointments has sobered us up and stopped all the cat-calling from the stalls. A downgrade from the IMF coincided with unwelcome news that the service sector is weak, that construction is slipping and that only a credit-fuelled retail boom is keeping the UK economy growing.
Across the Pond, you’d have to be both blind and deaf not to have noticed that Trump’s momentum has stalled, and that last year’s headstrong insistence on being judged by his record is turning into a curse. (Healthcare nil, Mexican wall nil, tax reforms nil, China currency manipulation nil, Russia relationship currently clocking up minus points. The list goes on.) The continuing exodus of personnel from his administration keeps the news channels busy. The recent departure of Steve Bannon looks likely to make things very interesting indeed as he goes off to wage “war” on those on the right who oppose his agenda.
No, what interests me is that I’m getting a sense that real facts and real numbers are surfacing at last. And that can’t be a bad thing. Am I concerned that equity markets have stalled? Only insofar as they reflect a new, more cautious reality which is probably not as awful as its detractors think. Britain, and America, and France too have been brought up short by statistical realities which have replaced last year’s twinkling fairy lights with the reliable beams of lighthouses. And I’m all in favour of that.