There are lessons for many, including Australia, in Brexit and in the demise of David Cameron.
That demise resulted from a failure of leadership. He pandered to the extremist Eurosceptic in his party. Instead of dismissing them and telling them politely to jump in the Thames – and showed leadership in what he believed in – the UK in Europe – he offered them a plebiscite that gave a platform to little Englanders on so-called sovereignty and immigration.
Malcolm Turnbull is also pandering to the extremists in his party, from climate sceptics, opponents of same-sex marriage and those like Peter Dutton who are unsympathetic, even hostile to refugees. In all of this, Malcolm Turnbull has failed to lead on issues in which we thought he believed. David Cameron is a model which no future leader should try to follow.
There is also a lesson to be learnt from single-issue plebiscites, whether they be about the UK in Europe or same-sex marriage. Too often these single issue plebiscites reflect a failure to lead and govern. They give voice to extremists like Nigel Farage, who knew only too well that attacking foreigners is the easy way to mass appeal. This low road works almost every time. Yet Malcolm Turnbull is following Tony Abbott and promising us a plebiscite on same-sex marriage which will give voice to a very nasty public debate.
The UK will now turn its back on the lessons of its history and the big picture which has been so much part of its centuries-long development.
In his series, A History of Britain, Simon Schama highlights how much Europe has influenced and moulded Great Britain, from the Vikings on. The 25 barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta were mainly Norman French. The Angevin kings all spoke fluent French. The Bill of Rights and the Constitutional monarchy of Great Britain were the result of a Dutch invasion by William of Orange. The Dutch Republic wanted to pull Great Britain into its struggle against the Catholic French King, Louis XIV.
The House of Mountbatten is a European dynasty a branch of the German Battenberg family. Mountbatten – Windsor is the personal surname of some of the descendants of Queen Elizabeth11 and Prince Philip.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews have fled Europe over the centuries to escape persecution and death. Many found refuge in Great Britain or it was a waystation to freedom elsewhere. 50,000 Huguenots, including the ancestors of Nigel Farage, fled Catholic persecution in France to find safety in Great Britain. He now leads the opposition to Europe.
Now the little Englanders want to turn their backs on their history and what has enriched them.
David Cameron deserves little sympathy. With advice from Lynton Crosby, now Sir Lynton for his services to the Conservative Party, David Cameron won the last election in part by appealing to the English not to vote for Labour because it might form a Coalition with those awful Scots. He won the election with this English parochialism. But very quickly he has reaped the bitter harvest of this chauvinist appeal to the English. With the UK now moving out of Europe, the Scots are likely to decide to leave the UK. The Queen will not be amused. Her Prime Minister has not only turned his back on Europe, but it is likely to turn out that he will break up the United Kingdom. What an awful legacy he will leave. He played with fire and he got burnt.
There are also lessons for Europe as well as the UK in Brexit.
Growing inequality brings social, economic and political consequences. Many in Europe felt that they were being left behind. It seems that many of them from areas that traditionally vote Labour, voted for Brexit. Part of it was probably frustration, mainly mistaken in my view, about the flow of migrants who threatened their livelihood and prospects. As a result many responded to Nigel Farage who applauded the ‘decent people’ who voted for Brexit. Marine le Pen said Brexit was a ‘victory for freedom’. The Dutch anti Islam and ultranationalist M P Geert Wilders said the Dutch people also deserved a referendum.
There is a real risk that the Brexit contagion will spread. It was therefore no surprise that Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel urged the UK to leave as quickly as possible.
The neoliberal ideology that has preached austerity has also brought with it high levels of unemployment across Europe, particularly for young people. Frustrated they are more easily seduced by the far right. The political ,bureucratic and business elites are out of touch with many people who have been disadvantaged.
Mistakenly, NATO has broken an understanding reached between Presidents Regan and Gorbachev. They had a clear understanding that in return for the unification of Germany, NATO would not extend eastwards. But it did and now borders Russia in the Ukraine. We see the consequences of that. Vladimir Putin must be delighted to see David Cameron fall and weaken Europe in the process.
Yet the EU was one of the most remarkable projects of the 20th Century. After centuries of war, Europe was at last at peace and prosperity was building. This was thanks to the leadership of people such as Schuman Adenauer, De Gaulle, Brandt, Schmidt and Mitterrand. They knew their history and the importance of muting nationalism. So much of that wise leadership of the past is no longer with us and nationalism is raising its dangerous head right across Europe and in the UK.
Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop are now telling us that, with the Brexit developments, they have a plan for our future, so that we can withstand economic and political shocks. There will be problems ahead, but they are likely to be exaggerated for political purposes in the next week.
The last major external shock we had was the global financial crisis which Australia, through the Rudd government, handled more successfully than almost any other country in the world. See links to further articles on economic management.
There are clear lessons for us in Brexit. Prime Ministers, like David Cameron, who pander to extremists and abandon what they believe in. do us and their countries a great disservice. They reveal their hollowness. Hopefully Malcolm Turnbull will stop pandering to the extremists in his own party and provide leadership on the issues which we thought he believed in.