Dates of destiny for Theresa May and Nancy Pelosi
If you love politics, historic votes on Dec. 11 and early January are guaranteed headlines.
The first will take place in the U.K. Parliament and will determine the trajectory of Britain as a global power, while the second will be held in Washington’s House of Representatives and could well determine the future of Donald Trump.
Both moments in time involve two female leaders. Nancy Pelosi was the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Theresa May was the first female chair of Britain’s Conservative Party and the U.K.’s second female prime minister.
They hold massive power in their hands but much depends on how and if, each can consolidate, cajole and command that power. Both, however, face internal and external enemies.
The two politicians vary in political philosophies. Pelosi is a progressive Democrat, often at odds with the moderates in her party and with the Republican caucus. May is a conservative, the target of the both the left wing in Britain and Conservative party factions.
Pelosi is 78. She is battling a desire for generational change. May is 62. She is battling headlines of incompetence.
May’s Dec. 11 Brexit vote will be preceded by a televised debate with the leader of the opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
Tensions about membership in the EU have simmered since a fractious 2016 referendum when 51.9 per cent of British voters chose to leave the EU. Two years and one badly considered election later, (reducing the Tories to a minority) the British continue to grapple with that close referendum decision.
The question was clear — leave or remain — but the consequences were not.
The economic reality, arguments about the Irish border and concerns about national security have taken their toll. Many youth, too young to vote in the first referendum, have discovered their voice and are urging the government to call another public vote.
Most voters understand that the British economy will initially be smaller as a result of Brexit, but nevertheless, many commentators have concluded that the “best” scenario is to accept May’s deal because the worst scenario is “no deal,” leaving Britain without political stability.
Would the PM resign or be ousted? Would there be a motion of non-confidence in the government? Could Corbyn be requested to be PM? Would another election or second referendum be called?
Without a deal, dangerous political manipulation is possible, given the ambitions of Brexiters, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, who have strong ties to Donald Trump.
Stateside, Nancy Pelosi, an Italian-American with an impeccable political pedigree, is fighting for her political legacy. With the House of Representatives now returned to Democratic control, she is seeking a second term as speaker, a feat not accomplished since 1955.
Having won 16 elections from her California district, Pelosi is no stranger to wheeling and dealing — an art she recently displayed as she agreed to procedural changes and offered positions to several newly elected members who had campaigned to oust her.
In the end, she managed to secure a vote of 203 in favour of her nomination, with 32 opposed, 3 blanks and 1 absentee.
But she still needs an absolute majority of the 435 members — 218 votes — to win as speaker of the House when Congress convenes in January. The full Democratic membership is still to be officially finalized but given the expected numbers, most political watchers say she can only afford to lose 17 votes.
If she were to lose, Democrats would lack an experienced House leader at a dangerous time in American politics. If she wins, she will be second in line, after the vice president, to succeed the president.
The stakes are high for both leaders. Agree with them or not, they have shown stamina and guts.
To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, “The credit belongs to the people who are actually in the arena … if they win, know the triumph of high achievement; and if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”
Pelosi and May have dared greatly. Their destinies now await them.
Penny Collenette is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa and was a senior director of the Prime Minister’s Office for Jean Chrétien. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @penottawa