The United Kingdom has always been considered a model country for supporters of Western political culture. Its institutions have endured over the centuries, and political confrontations, though they could become intense, never crossed certain lines. Supposedly the British establishment had the wisdom to open itself up to new blood and talent without ever succumbing to the pressures of the times.
The best product of the British establishment, former Conservative prime minister David Cameron, made a fatal mistake. Instead of acting with the confidence of a leader, he pushed his country into endless turmoil. Now everything in Britain is being tested: the institutions, its political system and its economy.
We Greeks are watching the unfolding of a situation which is somewhat paradoxical. The British are quarreling bitterly among themselves in various fora. The great advantage their country has always had – its predictability, essentially – has all but vanished. We are entitled to be unimpressed at their predicament and even to encourage them to “keep calm and carry on.” We’ve already been through all that.
We have seen how a country can enter a precarious phase when its establishment flounders and makes huge mistakes, bringing to power political groups that are unprepared and unorganized. We are familiar with the corrosive role of social media through which our brains have been fed conspiracy theories and many lies.
The difference between Greece and Britain? Basically, it is that we, as Southern Europeans, are good at political acrobatics. We are not impressed either by political U-turns or by numerous lies. We take them for granted and consider them a part of our political routine. In this climate, Yes can also mean No.
The British are making all the mistakes we made in Greece, but they lack our flexibility. A British politician told me that “obviously I believe there should be a second referendum and that a disorderly Brexit will be devastating. But I prefer it because if Parliament votes to have a second referendum we will become a banana republic. We will show that we do not respect the institutions and the opinion of the people.”
It is sad to see what is happening today to a country with such a long political tradition and one of the strongest economies in the world. Though it may make us feel that, at the end of the day, things are not all that bad in Greece, the British drama also says a lot about the systemic failure of the West.