‘April is the cruelest month’ is the first line of T S Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land – his searing indictment of the global desolation that followed the end of World War I.
April 2017 shows every sign of following in its path.
On Easter Sunday, Turkey voted by a narrow majority (51%) to hand draconian powers to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In effect, Erdogan had created himself a dictator, a contemporary Sultan, with sweeping powers to appoint judges, dissolve parliament, declare a state of emergency and make laws by decree.
World leaders were swift to support Erdogan. Trump called him on Easter Monday to offer his fawning congratulations. Not to be outdone, so did Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan would be foolish to allow his vanity to obscure his view of reality. When Putin and Trump were slapping his back in international solidarity, it was no more and no less than a diplomatic booty call framing Erdogan’s place in the new world order.
At the end of March, Putin had already met French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen when she came to pay tribute to him at the Kremlin, when she vowed to press for the abolition of EU sanctions against Russia.
Until recently, Le Pen had been working to give her party a veneer of respectability, based on the assumption that she would win the first round of the election easily and would need to attract more moderate voters to secure a majority in the second round on May 7. But the latest polls suggest that she can no longer be certain of a place in the second round of voting on 7 May. As she lurches further to the right in a vain attempt to bolster her flagging support, she has pledged a drastic crackdown on immigration, and said she would suspend all visas for non-Europeans seeking to join family members in France. She has also, of course, promised to follow Theresa May’s example and hold a referendum on France’s membership in the EU within six months of her election.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Le Pen needs to be careful what she wishes for. Or, like Theresa May, she may find she doesn’t like what she gets.
It may seem perverse to compare Theresa May, the Church of England vicar’s daughter, with a man like Erdogan, who has political ideals rooted in historic and conservative Islam, but Theresa May has form.
In her Easter message to the people of the UK, she conflated her Christian beliefs with the political challenges facing the country. As Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, put it, ‘She does not exactly say if God had a vote he would have voted Leave, but she gets closer to it than she should.
And on Easter Tuesday, she tore up her promise not to hold an election before 2020. In an address to the nation, live on the steps of Downing Street, she urged voters to hand her a Brexit mandate before formal talks with Brussels began. “The country is coming together but Westminster is not,’ she declared. That is wrong. The Brexit mandate is only 52%, just 1% more than Erdogan’s victory in the Turkish referendum. But a lie dressed up is still a lie.
The UK, like France, like America, is divided. May could have tempered her words by showing some commitment to reflect the views of the 48% Remain position. Instead she has made a Scottish referendum almost inevitable, and a border poll in Northern Ireland infinitely more likely. Like Erdogan, May has rebooted UK parliamentary democracy as she fights for a place at Trump’s side.
We Are All European Now
Here’s the thing.
If the Front National’s Marine Le Pen wins the French presidential election on 7 May, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council would be led by Trump, Le Pen, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and Britain’s Theresa May.
This is where the vision of the 49th President of the United States is blindly leading us. This is what the Brexit vote in last year’s referendum has abandoned us to. This is where Le Pen, unchecked, will take France if she wins on 7 May.
This is the future Theresa May will welcome us into after 8 June.
Trump, Putin, May, Le Pen: they compete like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, blindly embracing Conquest, War, Famine, and Death.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
The day after 9/11, the French newspaper Le Monde published a front-page editorial “Nous Somme Tous Américains” (“We Are All Americans”). The message was as moving as it was clear.
It was later echoed by words of international solidarity – Je Suis Charlie (I Am Charlie) after the two Kouachi brothers burst into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and murdered 12 people in the name of al Qaeda in the Yemen.
It is time those words were echoed now. Nous sommes tous Européens – we are all European now. Let us as Europeans affirm that on 31 April, on 7 May and on 8 June.
Should we fail to meet that challenge, history will judge us harshly on our silence.