As the first round of the Republican Primary debates sweeps across the American television networks, the beacons are lit, the pens sharpened, and the political satirists emerge from their mid-term hibernation. The 2016 US Presidential Election campaigns have begun in earnest, and the response in Britain has been an enthusiastic, forthright ‘who cares?’. However, we should all be paying attention to the 2016 election. Its outcome matters to us all.
Although many of the issues that are being fought over in the primaries seem irrelevant to us – Mexican immigrants, Planned Parenthood, the Trans-Pacific Partnership – many of the salient issues that are being tackled by the hopeful American candidates are mirrored in the UK. Like us, the US is witnessing a meteoric grassroots campaign by its own anti-austerity politician, Senator Bernie Sanders. An election that was previously considered to be a foregone victory for Hillary Clinton has been destabilised by his presence, and has brought discussion of the ‘liberal’ issues of income inequality, student debt and military spending to the forefront of the American political discourse. So, why does this matter to you? A number of reasons.
Britain has substantial economic links with the US, and talks are currently underway to expand them into a free trade agreement – The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Although many Europeans view this solely an attempt for the US to exert greater economic power over Europe, a more detailed examination reveals that there is also lobbying power on the British side – Lord Livingston, Minister for Trade, announced that a framework to privatise the NHS through American healthcare companies was on the table, and there is substantial pressure from British banks for TTIP to deregulate their American counterparts. Only two major candidates have declared opposition to TTIP – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Along with the bulk of the Republican candidates, Hillary Clinton is in support of the deal. Hillary Clinton’s biggest campaign donors are American banks Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs, who are lobbying hard for the deregulation which TTIP would bring. The outcome of the 2016 election, and the campaign issues that are discussed during it, will affect TTIP, which in turn affects everyone in Europe.
This isn’t just important for Economist readers. Guardian readers should pay attention, too. Britain and the USA are part of the ‘Five Eyes’, a group of countries that monitor phone and internet activity and share the collected data. Sanders recently announced that he intends to dismantle the NSA’s spying program – by far the largest link in the chain that includes the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Regardless of whether Sanders wins, Hillary Clinton’s own staunch support of the USA PATRIOT Act, which governs the NSA’s spy program, will bring the two into conflict in the forthcoming Democratic Primaries. Most importantly, it will force public debate over the issue, and will inevitably bring scrutiny to Britain’s own Governement Comminications Headquarters (GCHQ). Regardless of your position on these internal spy agencies, a threat to the Five Eyes has major global repercussions.
While it would be convenient to be able to ignore the lunacy of the American political sphere, with Donald Trump, who leads the Republican Party polls, commenting that waterboarding “doesn’t sound very severe”, and claiming that vaccines “are causing an autism epidemic”, it would not be in our best interests to do so. Our representatives must negotiate with theirs, our businessmen must trade with theirs – we are still part of NATO. The last time America elected a self-proclaimed “war president”, he formed a military coalition with us and invaded Afghanistan. By that token alone, it is a necessity to sit up and listen to what the prospective next President of the United States, whichever of the current candidates that may be, has to say.