In comparison with France and Italy, Britain is a haven of political stability – iNews

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Despite all the political and social turbulence of recent years, something remarkable has happened in this country: specifically, not very much.

Consider the circumstances. It is over a decade since the greatest financial upheaval of modern times. The state has been reconfigured dramatically in order to reduce an unsustainable deficit. Social, cultural and economic norms are being revolutionised by technological advances which, to a child of the 1980s, feel increasingly like science fiction is coming true.

‘If you described these conditions to someone back in 2006, they could be forgiven for predicting absolute disaster’

Political storms

In politics, too, a storm has raged. Parliament still carries the bruises of an expenses scandal which exposed MPs to everything from ridicule to prosecution. The question of Scottish independence was put to a referendum and defeated, while the question of UK independence from the European Union was carried by the largest vote for anything in our country’s democratic history.

All the while, in a nation used to strong majority government, power has been wielded by a coalition, then by a small majority, and now by a minority administration via a crumbling confidence and supply agreement.

These conditions do not amount to rich soil in which a political establishment can spread its roots and flourish. If you described them to someone back in 2006, they could be forgiven for predicting absolute disaster for the established parties, and probably for various British institutions, too.

Neighbours in turmoil

They would have good reason. In other countries, very like our own, similar – or even milder – conditions have turned the political world upside down.

In Italy, the previously major parties of left and right have been unceremoniously downgraded to minor party status, with the amorphous radicals of the Five Star Movement and the formerly separatist anti-immigration Lega elevated to government. Not only have the former insurgents adapted swiftly to the game of hanging onto power, but those they supplanted show little sign of working out how to get back on top.

In France, the shift has been even more drastic. Emmanuel Macron, who modestly created a new party bearing his own initials, was able to seize the presidency – and in so doing shattered the two parties which had dominated French politics for decades. According to the latest polling , those former big beasts now struggle to top eleven per cent combined.

‘Even Germany, Europe’s solid, dull, but technically competent heart, has started to wobble’

Macron’s government is in crisis, but his errors and Marmite personality haven’t revitalised the old parties. Instead, the leading French opposition options are notably extreme: either Marine Le Pen’s rebranded Front National, or the riotous gilets jaunes who have been smashing up street furniture, restaurants, and national monuments for several months. Neither is very attractive, to put it mildly.

Even Germany, Europe’s solid, dull, but technically competent heart, with its solid, dull but technically competent Chancellor, has started to wobble. The Greens on the left and the AfD on the far right are jostling their way up the poll ratings. The German economy avoided recession by the alarming margin of just a single day last quarter.

In this country, we love a dose of self-doubting miserablism. Isn’t Britain just awful, we think to ourselves in a mixture of performative wokeness and tantalising masochism. We are always eager to beat anyone else to the punch when bemoaning our own performance on the world stage.

Maxime Nicolle aka Fly Rider, one of the leading figures of the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes) face riot police forces preventing them to cross the border between France and Italy. (Photo by YANN COATSALIOU / AFP)

Sure, the UK isn’t perfect. It has all the challenges I listed above and more. But when you consider how quickly things have unravelled for several of our neighbours, a thought presents itself. Whisper the heresy, but maybe we aren’t doing all that badly after all.

Little appetite for extremism

Every society has its extremists, of course, and our home-grown variety have tried their best to mimic what has happened elsewhere. Tommy Robinson and his thugs have taken over what’s left of Ukip, while some buffoons have bought their own yellow hi-vis vests to our shores and tried to do a bit of rampaging.

Thus far, happily, there is little visible appetite for either. A deeply entrenched communal suspicion of people who take themselves too seriously, particularly when dressed in silly outfits, is hard to overcome.

Read more in Politics

Despite everything, our great institutions and parties have either withstood or adapted to the forces raging around them. Radical political movements – from the Corbynites to the Brexiteers – have boomed, but they have done so largely within the existing structures of British politics.

There have been points of friction and tension, and neither Labour nor the Conservatives have yet found a fully comfortable equilibrium in this new politics. But neither has everything been torn down and burned to ashes. The former elites of French and Italian politics would love to have the luxury of having to grapple with mere discomfort while still being on top.

Long may it continue, this ardent, enthusiastic commitment to not getting too excited about things. It has helped us to steer through many a storm so far, and might yet be key to navigating many more.

Mark Wallace is Executive Editor of ConservativeHome.com. @wallaceme





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