Keeping Calm and Carrying On

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

Two weeks in London underscored how much—apart from a 40-degree temperature difference—Southern Californians have in common with our British cousins.  Housing shortages and affordability, traffic gridlock, deteriorating infrastructure and mounting sexual harassment scandals beset both Los Angeles and London. Brexit—the UK’s decision to leave the European Union—mirrors our country’s schisms over trade and immigration.  London, like California, favors free trade and opposes draconian immigration policies.  It’s probably no coincidence that both the Golden State and England’s capital have been enjoying vigorous economies.  Just as California’s economic health is threatened by federal anti-trade and anti-immigration policies, Brexit could undermine London’s financial industry and the economic benefits of EU membership.

Just as in America, it is the rural and less populous areas where nationalist sentiment prevails in Britain.  That dynamic produced a narrow victory for the pro-Brexit forces in a 2016 advisory referendum that ended up forcing former Prime Minister David Cameron out of office.

Although UK politics tend to be more centrist—the Tory platform sounds a lot like a moderate Democratic platform in the US—the major parties in both countries are being dogged by internal strife.  The Conservatives in Britain are deeply divided over Brexit, just as the Trump-Bannon wing of the GOP is going up against the Republican establishment.  The Labour Party—with current leader Jeremy Corbin playing the role of Bernie Sanders—is in engaged in a tug of war between ardent old-school unionists and the moderate adherents to former PM Tony Blair’s “New Labour” philosophy.  Tory Prime Minister Teresa May suffered a set back when she lost her majority in her hastily called, snap election last June. However, no obvious successor has emerged and neither major party seems to have much traction with the UK electorate these days.

Sexual harassment stories are peppering the newspapers and newscasts in Britain, just as they are here.  English politicians, news presenters and entertainers are the fodder for allegations on a daily basis.  Our two countries even share a high profile, alleged villain—actor Kevin Spacey. Until recently, Spacey ran The Old Vic theatre in London.

Another thing that California and Britain have in common is intense antipathy toward U.S. President Donald Trump.  The president has engaged in Twitter feuds with Prime Minister May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.   There is heated debate in Parliament over whether England should withdraw its invitation to Trump for a formal state visit.  If he does go to London, expect the President to be met with vociferous demonstrations.

It is anybody’s guess as to whether President Trump will show up in London or in California first.  Neither place counts as friendly territory for the Donald.  Maybe we should start a pool on where and when Air Force One lands first.

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