Never in my life have I been more conscious of the tide of history washing around my feet. Life changing events for millions around the world are happening almost weekly. The shape of things to come is clouded, old certainties are crumbling and new certainties undefined. Institutions and states are either disappearing or being forced into positions and shapes that they never expected to find themselves adopting. Whether we know it or not the world really is changing and the changes are going to touch every one of us.
The first inkling that Leviathan was on the move was the Brexit vote in the UK. Sitting here in Pakistan and watching the story unfold at the same time as doing the calculations as to potential effects even this far from the epicentre of the European sundering; there was a whiff of something bigger. The American elections duly delivered Donald Trump as the next president and paradigms begun to get recalibrated everywhere. In France Mr Macron gave the Old Order the drubbing of its life taking power in the process. Last week, a mere seven days back from the day these words will be read, the British prime minister won the general election that she did not need to have called — and lost her majority in the House of Commons. The opposition Labour Party partied like they had won and pundits everywhere went into funereal mode. Another election this year is a distinct possibility and Mrs May, to quote a former fellow politician, is a dead woman walking.
UK's Labour leader Corbyn sees possible new election this year or next
Meanwhile the Chinese are busy creeping up on the former giants that now lie winded and baffled. It used to be the old colonial powers that built the infrastructure in Africa. These days it is the Chinese. Did anybody here notice the inauguration of a new railway in Kenya a fortnight ago? Me neither. Or that China most emphatically reiterated its support for the Paris Climate Accord; and took the opportunity of making photo-ops that would have seen many eyebrows disappear over the top of diplomatic heads in the process?
Both America and the UK are losing ground in the global power race. The Donald is busy bringing jobs back home and revitalising the coal industry in the face of a global swing to alternative energy sources, and Mrs May is presiding over a grumpy country that is beginning to lose jobs at a rate of knots and wondering how on earth it got itself into the mess that The Maybot has at least had the decency to own as to her responsibility for it.
Just as the UK created the comfort blanket of the British Commonwealth in the absence of Empire, so today the US is ‘making itself great again’ under a man who may be suffering from a mental illness, who lost the popular vote and is revealed as a serial liar — not that any of that seems likely to stir the American populace into much beyond a short-lived Twittergasm. Meanwhile in France the Macronites are blinking in the bright lights of a political dawn that is for many of them who have never been politicians — truly another country.
America is no longer first and the ability to lead by right is slipping away perceptibly. Over the next two years — less if some of the EU states have their way — the UK will be ‘freed’ from Europe to navigate an uncertain sea, an offshore island that is fast beginning to look like a character in search of an author. As America will never lead again so Britain will never be ‘great’ either. In both instances the sense of entitlement has disappeared, ironically smothered by the very democratic processes and ideals that are the bedrock of both. China and India are rising, albeit at different rates and not entirely in harmony with one another, but these are the emergent global and regional powers of the here and now in the case of China, and the not-far distant future in the case of India. For Uncle Sam and dear old Blighty it is now all about the least-worst options, and not the sunny uplands of the Old Order that in reality was dying a generation ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2017.
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