Global News in Brief for volume XXIX issue 2. Originally published 18/10/2022.
Truss stumbles as Mini-Budget provokes backlash
A slew of underperforming media engagements, coupled with a turbulent party conference, have left the PM under siege.
Truss’ fiscal policies having been received with widespread condemnation and ridicule from senior economists, followed by a litany of catastrophic interviews and a chaotic Tory conference, characterised by Owen Jones as one of 'fear and loathing', it must be acknowledged that Truss's premiership has delivered a haphazard opening act.
Her tax reforms have prompted an unprecedented intervention from the independent Bank of England, which was compelled to snap up government bonds in an effort to prevent market collapse. Global markets, already characteristically capricious, continue to fluctuate as Truss's tax cuts on the rich leave many in poverty during a brutal Cost of Living crisis.
In an effort to defend her controversial fiscal policies, Truss engaged in a media blitz, speaking with BBC local radio stations across the UK. Truss struggled to respond reassuringly to public frustrations, appearing to falter when asked by a BBC Radio Kent presenter if she was 'ashamed of herself'. The interview has been mocked on social media, with JOE Politics publishing a compilation on YouTube. Her responses to questions about rising interest rates on mortgages, uncertainty surrounding pensions, soaring energy bills, and skyrocketing inflation took the form of promises about 'economic growth' coupled with dubious statistical claims about financial supports the Cabinet had announced earlier. For example, her claim that no household would pay more than £2,500 in energy bills was found to be misleading by Full Fact, a U.K. based fact checking charity, as this is merely the price of the average bill, not the maximum.
Her somewhat stunted performance throughout the media crusade has been seen to indicate that Truss lacks the diplomatic prowess, interpersonal skills, and perceived charisma of her predecessor, a leader not known for his tact. Indeed, even Truss's allies appear concerned that she lacks the political acumen to effectively communicate her policies, with one Tory conference attendee saying to Owen Jones in a recent documentary: 'She was elected on her policies and her strength: she just showed she has no strength.' Her economic policies, radical even by the standards of her Tory predecessors, will be a tough sell, with Labour making gains in the polls.
On Friday 14th October, Truss removed Kwasi Kwarteng from his Cabinet post as Chancellor of the Exchequer. A prominent ally of Truss, having been a close confidante and colleague for a decade, Truss has become increasingly isolated, having been compelled to fire a close friend for implementing her own policies.
Starmer, until now viewed by some as a relatively weak and ineffective leader compared to Corbyn, has capitalised on the recent industrial disputes and broader discontent with current conditions. As many face the stark choice between eating and heating their homes over Christmas, left-wing backbenchers within Labour have called on party leadership to do more to support Unions fighting on behalf of workers.
Starmer, although making gains in the polls, has been reluctant to throw his support behind the Unions, and is apprehensive about the party's historic affiliation with the strikes and disruption caused by the 'Winter of discontent'. In an interview with Good Morning Britain earlier this year, Zarah Sultana MP criticised Starmer for failing to support the R.M.T. Rail Strikes, chastising his absence from the picket lines: 'The clue is in the name (...) the Labour party was founded by the Trade Union movement to advance the interests of working people.' This has, until now, hampered Labour's ability to court the working-class vote.
Can Truss deliver to her base? As the U.K. faces a tough Winter, Labour could benefit from a struggling P.M., rising energy bills, and even more projected strikes from Unions. Harnessing the organisational muscle of the Unions may prove crucial if Labour is to regain the confidence of working-class voters left disillusioned by both parties. Truss on the other hand, will need to seriously evaluate her policy priorities and communication strategies if she is to survive the impending storm.
Meloni triumphs in Italian Election, Sparking Fears of Growing Far-Right
The Far-Right leader is poised to become Prime Minister of the nation that is considered the birthplace of European fascism.
Giorga Meloni is set to become Italy’s most right-wing Prime Minister since the dawn of the Post-War era, after her ‘Brothers of Italy’ party won a plurality (26%) of the vote in Italy’s recent general election.
Flirtation with fascist tendencies is not widely seen to be unprecedented in Italian politics. Former Prime Minister Berlusconi was notorious for expounding inflammatory anti-immigrant rhetoric, implementing conservative economic policies, and appointing open neo-fascists to senior political positions.
With his incendiary demonisation of refugees and asylum seekers, Berlusconi’s administration is associated with helping to create a conducive environment for the proliferation of reactionary ideology. This, coupled with economic volatility, is widely being considered a dominant role in facilitating Meloni’s meteoric rise to power.
Berlusconi’s record in public office was marred by corruption scandals and financial crises. Having been supplanted by the 5 Star League, later followed by Meloni's Brothers of Italy, Berlusconi eventually lost the support of the public, and contributed to a deteriorating political climate in which the electorate felt alienated from the political and economic system.
Many turned instead to alternative avenues to air their frustrations: parties who portrayed themselves as anti-establishment despite supporting economic policies that offered very little tangible, substantive material change for working-class communities. Meloni’s rhetorical prowess has enabled her to capitalise on this public anger and disdain, thus catapulting her to the Palazzo Chigi.
Meloni’s contrived brand of political heterodoxy takes the form of a kind of jingoistic, Trump-esque, blue-collar patriotism, perhaps most concisely expounded by her motto: ‘God, Fatherland, and Country’. Italian philosopher Lorenzo Marsili has argued that: 'Meloni may succeed in mutating the far right from the status of outsider in European politics to tenacious insider.' In a recent article in The Guardian, he compared her to Trump, and warned that her victory was symptomatic of the rise of the far-right.
Italian journalist Roberto Saviano has described her as a 'danger to Italy and the rest of Europe', and criticised the parallels between her and Fascists who have used similar slogans and symbols. Indeed, the stylistic and aesthetic (not to mention ideological) parallels between Meloni and the gaudy phantoms of Italy's dark past have alarmed many critics, including a group of students who occupied a campus in Milan almost two months ago, as reported in the Irish Times.
Left-wing political parties and trade unions in Italy have protested Meloni's rise, but many fear that the left is simply too weak and divided to offer formidable electoral competition to Meloni. The CGIL (one of Italy's largest Unions) recently organised a protest-rally in Rome, however it was criticised for failing to deliver an explicitly anti-fascist condemnation of Meloni by many left-wing activists.
Meloni has faced controversy for her perceived links to Italian fascism, as argued by left-wing groups, and also by undercover journalists. For instance, the Italian website Fanpage conducted an investigative journalistic project which found evidence of alleged financial impropriety within the party, not to mention offensive rhetoric and trivialisation of Fascism.
Brussel’s reluctance to ostracise other far-right figures (including Victor Orbán in Hungary and the Law and Justice Party in Poland) would indicate to Meloni that her political programme, though controversial, will not encounter much resistance from E.U. leaders. Meloni takes office amidst a period of crisis, and as of yet appears unlikely to capitulate to demands from the Italian centre and left to moderate her positions.
Tide turns for Ukraine as Europe battles Energy Crisis
As Zelensky’s forces gain unforeseen territorial advances against Putin’s invasion, Europe struggles to emancipate itself from its dependence on Russia’s most potent weapon: Gas.
Last month, Ukraine's forces successfully liberated several strategic cities. This includes 3,000 square kilometres of formerly Russian occupied land, including Izyum and Kupiansk, two strategic towns in Kharkiv oblast, according to Amnesty International, who have called on Ukraine to secure evidence of Russian war crimes. This month, Ukraine looks East and South, as its forces retake territory in the key Kherson region.
Ukraine's forces now face the challenge of maintaining the pressure on Putin, who has lost a significant amount of foothold in recent weeks. Putin has claimed that his mobilisation of Russian reservists will end in a fortnight. As Russia falls back, European leaders struggle to survive a debilitating energy crisis, without compromising on their principled commitments to show solidarity with Ukraine and economically isolate Putin.
Despite recent energy trading deals, coupled with increased investment in renewable energy infrastructure, Germany continues to import vast quantities of Russian-sourced natural gas, thereby inadvertently bankrolling Putin’s imperialist aggression. Germany has been apprehensive about a full-scale boycott of Russia, instead imposing punitive sanctions on other sectors of the Russian economy. Its approach to transitioning away from Russian gas, however, has been much more incremental and complex.
As reported previously, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took office last year, announced a €65 billion energy package to tackle the Cost of Living crisis, levying windfall taxes on energy companies, and investing in renewable sources in order to address the Climate crisis.
In light of the geopolitical leverage that Russia enjoys as a result of its control of much of the energy supply, German leaders are beginning to view energy policy as an area of immediate national security concern, as opposed to being merely a fiscal or environmental matter, as recent comments in The Guardian long read have illustrated. Interviews with German policy makers, politicians, and business leaders show an increased concern for the security ramifications of energy policy.
Patrick Wintour reported in The Guardian long read earlier this year that the German economics ministry initially dismissed N.A.T.O. concerns over trade deals with Russia: Norbert Plesser, head of the gas department at the time, insisted that Germany would never rely on Russia for more than 10% of its gas supplies. Wintour went on to report that, with half a century of hindsight, Russia now provides the majority of gas and 1/3rd of the oil that Germans use to power industry, heat homes, operate transport, and cater to a variety of industrial, domestic, and economic needs.
Commercial interests within Germany consistently opposed attempts at weaning the country off of cheap Russian gas. In 2022, despite the imposition of harsh punitive sanctions on numerous sectors of the Russian economy, Germany and much of Europe are still heavily reliant on the Russian energy industry. This is a dangerous situation: for the climate, and for security. It also carries grave implications on the diplomatic stage, impeding Europe’s capacity to deter military violence from aggressors such as Putin.
As Ireland grapples with an energy crisis of its own, the question is once again posed: how can E.U. member states assert their energy sovereignty, produce their own domestic supply, and liberate themselves from crippling dependence on imported fossil fuels that wreak havoc on our climate, and threaten the future survival of our species? 21st Century policy makers face the challenge of improving infrastructural capacity for renewable energy, and addressing these pressing ecological, economic, and security threats.