As human beings, we exist in a world where we are constantly confronted by decisions. We examine the options involved and once we have decided, we make our choice, one action over another, stay or go, do or do not. These instances of choice shape hundreds of choices which follow the initial one, cascading outwards like the ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown into it.
Without exception every decision we make carries a consequence or in the case of a larger decision a set of consequences which can shape our lives entirely. Unfortunately, and paradoxically, we cannot understand the nature of the consequence until the action or decision has been made, sometimes far into the future.
In a political world, a decision and its consequences are a more public animal. The intense scrutiny placed by society on political decisions merely increases our understanding and analysis of the decision being made, and the potential consequences of that decision. The difference between a political decision and a personal one is that the potential implications and ripples have a wider range and affect more people.
It has been a year of big political decisions with far reaching consequences, some of which we’ll examine here.
We cannot talk about 2016’s big political decisions without addressing the elephant in the room: The EU referendum. As decisions go they don’t get much bigger, especially in terms of the long term future of the population of the UK. In the aftermath of the vote, you got the strong sense that it was an unexpected choice that none of the politicians were prepared for. This was certainly true in the first 48 hours after the vote, when politicians railed against each other and the premiership of David Cameron came to a very abrupt end.
A quick leadership contest and cabinet reshuffle later and we can finally see the first of the wider implications of that decision as we look to commence negotiations to leave the EU. We face a European bloc eager for us to leave but with a definite resolve to make it the right sort of exit to ensure their long term security. Additionally, we have a new government with a strong desire to enforce the vote of the people but with the added obligation of ensuring that Britain remains a stable economic power as it moves on its own.
Despite the warnings and naysayers, so prevalent throughout the stages of the referendum there seems to be a definite appetite to see things through and no shortage of countries and businesses eager to do business with the newly independent UK. A period of intense negotiation between the two parties is required, but with the UK reluctant to start negotiations right away this period seems further and further away. Only after these negotiations and the resultant exit period have concluded will we understand the fuller consequences of our decision.
One of the immediate ripples reverberating from this decision was the abortive coup d’état that has engulfed the Labour party for the majority of the summer recess. It began as a concerted effort to remove Jeremy Corbyn from power, but it has spiralled into a second leadership contest in twelve months. The summer months have been characterised by massive infighting and resignations, which only serve to destabilise the Labour party further. If as predicted, Mr Corbyn wins the leadership election in September, then we can expect a winter of discontent within the party and the potential for a split between those loyal to Mr Corbyn and those who are not.
A party in turmoil, members trying to halt an unstable political force that they themselves have unleashed? You only need to look across the Atlantic to see another example of this; the startling rise of Donald Trump. Known primarily as a businessman and celebrity, the meteoric rise of this plain speaking plutocrat has captured the American imagination in a way which has echoes of a Hollywood movie.
With no previous political experience at all, the Republican establishment must have thought that he was merely indulging in a vanity based publicity stunt and tolerated his attempted campaign histrionics. Now just over a year later, the Republicans must be ruing the day that this egotistical hurricane entered their domain.
Seeing the rise of Trump from political joke to presidential candidate the Republican Party moved to counter, pitting the might and the finances of the Republican establishment against the man from New York. Leveraging candidate after candidate, they all fell down before the brusque showmanship of the Trump campaign leaving him as the official nominee of the Republican Party and the opponent of the victorious Democratic nominee: Hilary Clinton.
The long term consequences of this decision will not be known until America goes to the polls in November, and it’s easy to think that the brash politically inexperienced Trump will lose against the more moderate grounded Clinton. However, since the Democratic nominee is dogged by accusations of being a corporate stooge, along with allegations of impropriety in respect of sensitive emails, who can say with any certainty who will win? What will that person bring to the White House and how will their presidency be remembered?
Although the civil war in Syria has been the source of much consternation and politicking over the past 4 years, 2016 was the year where the problem became a truly international one with the migrant crisis. Scenes of families and large groups of people making the long march across Turkey and Greece toward Europe are common place and sometimes these migrations have tragic consequences.
One can argue that the migrant crisis affecting Europe is a consequence of the failure of NATO and the west to directly address the Syrian civil war when it began in 2011. This inaction left the Assad regime to its own devices and allowed it to carry out a campaign of terror against its own people, causing them to emigrate in massive numbers to Europe.
The Russian intervention on the side of the Assad regime has only served to exacerbate these numbers and, ultimately, the migration crisis affecting Europe as a whole. As long as there is continued unrest in the region, there is no easy solution to the problem which will allow these migrants to return to their own country.
As free thinking individuals in the world, we deal with the consequences of our actions and hope to learn from our mistakes, trying not to repeat them over again. Politically we face a harder road, as political society is not endowed with a collective will and is thus limited in what it can do and learn in the long term.
If the recent history of civilised man is any judge of how quickly political society learns from its decisions, consequences and mistakes then we face a far longer journey to the sort of society where decisions made politically do not engender potentially negative consequences. That is not to say that political society is not evolving in its understanding, but that learning is coming very slowly and at an increasingly high cost to the people of the world.
© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.