Tom Arms’ World Review

America’s Republican Party is at a political crossroads. Does it ditch or back Donald Trump? Kevin McCarthy, Leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, knows which direction he prefers. He recently flew to Florida to visit Mar a Lago to kow tow to ex-president Donald Trump. The fact is that most of the Republican members of the lower house represent rural constituencies whose voters continue to declare their loyalty to The Donald. These Congressmen and women are up for re-election in one year and nine months. On top of that, Trump has let slip the rumour that he is considering setting up a third political party to be called The Patriot Party. This would, of course, split the Republican vote. Some polls claim that as much of the third of Republicans would move to a Trump party. But Republicans also have their anti-Trumpists. Most of them are in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Minority Leader, was a Trump acolyte for four years. But after Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and the Capitol Hill riots, the worm turned and declared: “I never want to speak to the man ever again.” Senators, unlike the lower house representatives, are elected for six years and their state-wide constituencies include large left-leaning urban constituencies. Republican senators, therefore, are more likely to join the ditch Trump campaign. But even in the Senate the anti-Trump movement is not so strong among Republicans that they can find the 17 Republican members needed to convict the ex-president in his forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a stark warning this week about the future of the unity of the United Kingdom. In fact, he said that the UK was in acute danger of fracturing and becoming a “failed state.” The main current causes are the political stresses and strains caused by Brexit and the pandemic. Scotland is leading the threatened break-up. The Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In its 2014 independence referendum one of the main reasons the independence route was rejected was fear that the Scots would lose membership of the European Union. In May there were will be elections for the Scottish Parliament and polls indicate a landslide victory for the Scottish National Party. Its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised a demand for a fresh referendum if the pollsters are correct. Northern Ireland also voted against Brexit and the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU has put Northern Ireland firmly into the economic orbit of the EU and Eire. There is thus a growing feeling among the Northern Irish that reunification of the island is now inevitable and moving ever closer. The Johnson government’s handling of the pandemic has worsened matters. There has been little effort by Westminster to consult or coordinate public health actions in the regions. In fact, in most instances the national governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken the initiative which Westminster has belatedly followed. Gordon Brown wants a commission to review how the UK is governed and a campaign that that emphasises the advantage of union such as the NHS and a common defence. Is it too little too late?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the worst trouble he has faced since first coming to power at the end of December 1999. Long years of communist rule (preceded by an even longer heavy-handed Tsarist government) have made Russian citizenry wary of publicly voicing their discontent. But the last week has seen tens of thousands of anti-Putin demonstrators take to the streets. The cause is the plight of opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. Blogging lawyer Navalny has been a thorn in Putin’s side since he started his anti-corruption campaign in 2008. The regime has several times tried to silence him with dubious jail sentences for embezzlement and fraud. Then In August, Navalny drank from a hotel water bottle laced with novichok. He fell into a coma. Friends arranged for him to be flown to a German hospital and it was not until this week that he was well enough to travel again. But instead of remaining safely in Germany, he returned to Russia and released a YouTube video about a multi-billion dollar Black Sea mansion which Navalny said was built for President Putin. The video has so far been viewed 100 million times. The moment Navalny’s plane touched down he was arrested. Not because of the video, but because while he was comatose in a German hospital suffering the effects of a Russian-produced nerve agent, Navalny failed to report to his probation officer. That’s when the demonstrations started. And with the demos came the crackdown. At the last count 3,500 people had been arrested by Putin’s police.

America’s new Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has declared that relations with China will be the Biden Administration’s top priority. Not surprisingly, therefore, that diplomatic markers are being rapidly staked. Within days of Biden’s inauguration, Beijing was laid down a red line by dispatching 20 fighter jets to fly over Taiwan—the second such incursion in a year. Washington responded by scrambling its own squadron from a nearby aircraft carrier. The British have already sent a carrier-group to cruise the South China and are said to be considering joining a Trump-inspired anti-Chinese alliance in Asia involving India, the US, Australia and Japan. In the meantime, the EU is taking a more cautious independent wait and see stand. Chancellor Angela Merkel elaborated on European views at the World Economic Forum when she stressed the need to avoid a new Cold War. At the same time, she added that the West should continue to stress human rights issue and the need for Chinese transparency. For his part, Chinese President Xi JinPing, welcomed Angela Merkel’s speech and said that the US and China should work to be competitors rather than rivals.

From this Sunday Hong Kong Chinese will be able to apply online for British Overseas Passports that give them and their dependents the right of residency in the UK. After five years they can apply for citizenship. The move is the British government’s answer to the deteriorating human rights situation in China. Westminster may be limited in what it could do to improve conditions for the Uighurs in Xinjiang or freedom of speech, but it still has some power in its former colony. The move by London has, not surprisingly, infuriated Beijing who fear a major brain drain from the entrepreneurial hothouse of Hong Kong. It immediately announced that China will no longer recognise the “so-called” British National Overseas (BNO) Passport and threatened further action. What those actions could be are unclear, but some suspect that the Chinese authorities may start to require Hong Kong citizens to show their passport when departing at international airports, thus preventing BNO holders from leaving.

Finally, Adolf Hitler has made a comeback. He is starting small: administrator for the Ompundja district of Namibia. But rest easy. The 54-year-old African in the former German colony has assured the world’s media that he is not a Nazi and has no plans for world domination. He was also an anti-apartheid campaigner in his youth. The Namibian Hitler’s full name, by the way, is Adolf Hitler Uunoma. His father just liked the sound of the German Nazi leader’s name.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” was published on 15 October.

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14 Comments

  • Joseph Bourke 31st Jan '21 - 2:09pm

    Good review of world events, Tom.
    I was living in California when Ross Perot made his bid for the US Presidency. I was campaigning for Jerry Brown (the former California governor) during the democratic primary in his bid to secure the Democratic nomination while Bill Clinton was underfire from personal scandals and Bush senior was was beset with an economic recession and a broken promise not to raise taxes. During that Summer, polls put Perot in the lead over both Clinton and Bush but he unexpectedly dropped from the race. He later returned to the campaign trail, but never regained the initial momentum.
    Jerry Brown has campaigned for a flat tax, combining income tax and Fica (social security) and Perot focused on on elimination of the country’s budget deficit and national debt. Fiscal conservatism and tax cuts always seems to go down well in elections but is soon forgotten whichever party comes to power.
    It seems unlikely the former President Trump will be impeached in the senate and I think you are right that a new third party will eat into the Republican vote just as Perot did.
    I think a United Ireland is a historic inevitability as economic interests tie the people in the North ever closer to the Republic and the EU. An independent Scotland is harder to call with good arguments on both sides of the debate.
    The rest of the world’s relations with Russia and China will no doubt dominate the 21st Century. I expect it will be Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim ” Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far” that will prevail in these circumstances. This means it is essential to possess serious military capability; to act justly toward other nations; never to bluff; to strike only when prepared to strike hard; and the willingness to allow an adversary to save face in defeat.
    Your last paragraph could have been the theme of a Johnny Cash song.

  • Paul Barker 31st Jan '21 - 2:10pm

    Theres a lot to chew over here.
    In The US The Republicans seem to have mostly decided to go with Trump & the crazies & it looks like 80% of their Voters will stick with them, enough to keep their heartlands but relegating them to permanent minority status on the National level. The Mid-Terms in just under 2 Years should tell us more.

  • John Marriott 31st Jan '21 - 3:53pm

    My brother and sister in law went to live in Namibia when they retired. Mr Hitler should go down well over there, especially as he’s black and most of their predominantly white friends appear to be the descendants of ex Nazis or Boers.

    As for the USA, Biden has under two years to keep his show on the road before the next round of congressional elections. That’s a pretty tough ask.

  • Little Jackie Paper 31st Jan '21 - 8:38pm

    No mention of France where Marine Le Pen currently is polling just under 50%.

    A Le Pen presidency is no longer totally theoretical.

  • Glad you enjoyed the world review. Editors permitting, it will be a regular weekly feature in addition to Observations of an Expat. Two boring pieces for the price of one!

  • The military in Burma has taken its cue from Trump staged a coup to overturn an election

  • It’s not just the Republicans that are at a crossroads – the Democrats are in trouble too. Those brought to the party via Sanders or just anti-Trumpism want something more radical than Biden is probably able (and possibly willing) to deliver. How the Democrats, both in Congress and outside, respond to likely disappointment with the Biden administration develop a program for the 2022 mid-terms and beyond is just as much an unknown.
    Those who voted Republican this time aren’t going to vote Democrat next time, whatever Biden does. But those who voted Democrat this time may not vote Democrat next time, especially if a Trump isn’t on the ballot paper. That spells trouble for the Democrats.

  • Paul Barker 1st Feb '21 - 5:25pm

    @ Little Jackie Paper
    Its worth remembering that Polls have overstated support for both Le Pens in the past, possibly not their fault, perhaps Voters are willing to say they will Vote Le Pen between Elections as a way of letting off steam but arent actually willing to face President Le Pen.
    Its possible that the next Election will see Le Pen vs X in the 2nd Round, its happened before, but then the majority unite round X.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Feb '21 - 9:05am

    I think the attitude we must now look into the NHS, that’s a bit late, Mr. Brown. The NHS, should have had some protection from political interference.
    I would personally love to believe that a Social Healthcare system could be rebuilt, run on a professional level taking out the politics.
    Top heavy, is one area. It was not out in place for some to profit from.
    In my last point, I hope the cancer patients are soon in a better position, children’s surgery, long term health issues.
    Distance the Jeremy Hunt type cut backs, and start treating those who need it’s help.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Feb '21 - 9:35am

    What do we really know about Mr. Putin’s alleged or real “palace?
    https://www.moonofalabama.org/
    (3rd post down 30/1/21)

  • Peter Martin 2nd Feb '21 - 8:38pm

    @ Tom Arms,

    “…. the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU has put Northern Ireland firmly into the economic orbit of the EU and Eire.”

    Firstly, anyone on LibDemVoice should do a little bit of research, and be more careful about the language they use. The term ‘Eire’ has long been out of fashion so to speak. But, it has continued to be used by some in England to mean the 26 counties of the Republic. However it does cause offense. It can carry negative connotations . People don’t, for example, when writing or speaking in English, use the term ‘Espania’ for Spain, or ‘Deutschland’ for Germany. So why ‘Eire’ for Ireland unless you are using the Gaelic language throughout, perhaps?

    It’s maybe one of the less serious of misunderstandings that outsiders have about the sensitivities of Irish politics. More serious is the mistaken notion that the Unionist community will ever tolerate a border along the Irish sea. There seems to have been a naïve assumption that the Unionist community will take umbrage with the rest of the UK for abandoning them and decide they may as well throw in their lot with the Republic. It’s not going to happen.

    We’ve just started to see what is going to happen with the threats to border personnel at Belfast and Larne. It was all so predictable. Politicians everywhere will huff and puff but if there is no-one prepared to do the customs checks they won’t get done and there won’t be any border.

  • john oundle 3rd Feb '21 - 9:41am

    Tom Arms

    ‘There is thus a growing feeling among the Northern Irish that reunification of the island is now inevitable and moving ever closer.’

    Perhaps the biggest block to Irish reunification is the NHS & the expensive, poor quality alternative healthcare system in the republic (one of the worse providers in Europe).
    Add to that the question of who will pick up the massive bill for reunification.

    Reunification is far from inevitable.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Feb '21 - 10:37am

    @ John,

    It’s not just the health service. Taxes are generally higher in the Republic. VAT is 23% for example. The cost of items in the shops is therefore lower in the North and that’s where many who live in the south do their shopping. The cost of living in the Republic is about 15% higher than in the UK.

    But it’s not mainly about the price of petrol or the typical €50 per visit to see a doctor in the republic. And that’s just to say Good Morning! There are additional costs on top of that when patients receive treatment or examinations. The Unionist community in the North have it in their DNA that under no circumstances will they be a part of a united Ireland.

    All Unionists know this and many didn’t want to rock the boat by voting for Brexit. This should not be interpreted as meaning they want to join the Republic as a way of staying in the EU. That’s just a secondary issue. If the Loyalist community really does start to feel that reunification is moving closer we can expect the ‘Troubles’ to kick off all over again.

  • Paul Fisher 5th Feb '21 - 4:55am

    Are the comments here about the island of Ireland made by residents of Northern Ireland or of the ROI? Informed comment would help the debate.

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