The Israeli and international media have in recent days marked two highs held by the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu: He was the youngest Israeli prime minister at the time of his appointment (at age 46) and he was the longest-serving Israeli prime minister – 15 years in total, 12 of them in a consecutive term.
With Netanyahu’s move to the opposition, he joins a small line of leaders who have served in parliamentary democracies for more than a decade. For the most part, the political upheavals, rivals from within the parties and public opinion reflected in the media cause frequent exchanges within the parties representing the people, and therefore there is no restriction of tenure in such democracies, in contrast to presidential regimes.
In an attempt to sketch and perhaps learn from the history of Western countries that experienced the departure of a leader after more than a decade in power, and focusing on their economic history, Globes examined three countries, one prime minister (Margaret Thatcher in the UK) and two prime ministers (Helmut Kohl in Germany and Pierre Trudeau in Canada), and With experts to understand the impact of leaving on them.
Germany: Helmut Kohl
The opposition implemented the reforms the Chancellor refrained from making
The Germans these days love their long-term chancellors. The stability of the German political system (a small number of parties due in part to a high 5% blocking percentage, designed to keep neo-Nazi parties out), and perhaps even the basic German deterrence of change, have made it a country where prime ministers break tenure records. So it was with Conrad Adenauer (14 years) and so it was with Angela Merkel (15 years so far) and so it was with whoever was her political mentor – Helmut Kohl.
Kohl served as prime minister of Germany for 16 years, surviving a series of personal and political scandals until he was forced to resign in 1998. Until then, the conservative chancellor had led the process of reunification of Germany, which involved extensive destruction of industry in the former East, and was in fact regarded by many as a kind of West German economic “annexation” whose effects are evident to this day. He also decided to adopt the euro for Germany and deepened the German partnership in the EU.
Kohl lost to Social Democratic candidate Gerhard Schroeder in 1998, in part because of the economic crisis in East Germany and the heavy taxes imposed on West German residents to fund the union. He planned to continue leading the party from the opposition, but it was his foster daughter, Angela Merkel, who was forced to commit a metaphorical “father murder” in the Conservative Party when she came out against him and against a corruption scandal and illegal party funding in the article
Which she published in a German newspaper. A few years later she rose to head the party.
If the audience had any economic heritage, then it had undergone a revolution after the Christian-Democratic Union lost power. Surprisingly, it was the Social Democrat Chancellor Schroeder who carried out labor, welfare and tax reforms – including a relatively comprehensive liberalization of the labor market – which is still considered the reason Germany put the “sick man of Europe” image behind it and progressed to economic prosperity in recent years. Schroeder promoted the reforms, which included painful cuts in unemployment benefits, even at the cost of splitting the Social Democratic Party and against the positions of the trade unions that were considered its support base.
The harsh reforms may have taken away from him the power he lost to Merkel in 2005, but the chancellor is considered to have reaped the rewards, wisely pursuing policies that prevented further change and allowed Germany to become a significant economic power again.
Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher, 1989 / Photo: Associated Press, Udo Weitz
United Kingdom: Margaret Thatcher
Thatcherism was replaced by an intermediate path that led to very strong growth
The harsh hand policy of Margaret Thatcher, the ax that hovered over large sections of industry and British trade unions, made it a symbol of a neoliberal economy around the world, creating the great gap maintained to this day between Anglo-Saxon economies such as the US and UK and the Rhine. German capitalism, continental capitalism or even the Scandinavian welfare state model. Privatization was the name of the game in the UK in the 1980s under Thatcher, taxes fell, organized labor stood on target and economic inequality in the United Kingdom skyrocketed.
Thatcher came to power in 1979 and immediately began implementing a comprehensive conservative economic plan, which she did not hesitate to carry out even at the cost of rising unemployment and growing inequality. She was ousted by elements from within her party in 1990, after her power had waned and she became embroiled in a series of unpopular public initiatives. She was able to work for the election of her designated successor John Major, who initially tried to continue her financial legacy.
“There has not been much change in economic policy under Major,” Professor John van Rinnen of the London School of Economics (LSE) told the Globes, but in terms of European policy, contrary to Thatcher’s negative position, the government under Major “Turned in a pro-European direction.” He said, “Major’s mistake was the interest rate and currency policies that eventually ended in the collapse of the pound sterling and exit from the ERM (European Exchange Rate Mechanism) in 1992.”
Margaret Thatcher, 1980 / Photo: Reuters
This economic crisis, dubbed “Black Wednesday,” “gave the impression of an economic inability from which the Conservatives never recovered.” The opposition, he said, realized it needed a “third way” between the veteran left that supported unions and a broad government, and Thatcher’s free capitalism. Tony Blair, who led a reform of the same name in the Labor Party, was educated on this platform.
“In retrospect,” explains Prof. Van Rinnen, “one can see that there were some positive aspects to Thatcher’s reforms, and especially more flexible labor markets, and that there were some negative aspects, and especially growing inequality.
“After 1997, when Blair was elected, Thatcher’s commitment to market reform and globalization remained, but there was a greater emphasis on reducing poverty through more generous welfare payments to families and the unemployed and reducing inequality through the minimum wage.” Overall, he concludes, the combination “worked well for Britain: in the three decades from 1979 to 2007, British GDP achieved, and in some cases even surpassed, those of France, Germany and the United States, after decades of relative decline.”
Prof. Van Rinen believes that even in parliamentary democracies there should be a restriction on tenure. “I think there is an advantage to tenure restrictions. Mrs. Thatcher stayed longer than she was wanted. You could say something similar about Blair, after three election victories. At some point the hubris comes.”
Canada: Pierre Trudeau
Leaving a regime that has changed a deleted focus and law to advance the economy
Pierre Trudeau is still considered the mythical Prime Minister of Canada, so much so that the effect of fame he receives has helped his son Justin to be elected to the post and serve since 2015 as Prime Minister. More than in economics, Trudeau was the one who tried to unite the French- and English-speaking parts of Canada into one country, and to successfully separate from Britain while establishing an independent political and constitutional system.
Pierre Trudeau, his son Justin and his wife Margaret, in 1980 / Photo: Reuters, PA Images
In 1979, after 11 consecutive years in power, the “Liberals” party led by Trudeau suffered an election defeat. It was an earthquake in Canada, but it did not last long, explains Prof. Daniel Bland of the Institute for the Study of Canadian History at McGill University. “The government formed by opponents of the opposition lasted only six months, and Trudeau returned to the post of prime minister.”
“From the moment he returned to office,” explains Prof. Bland, “global crises such as the energy crisis were far more significant than independent economic policies. Trudeau tried to cope with high energy prices by an unpopular emergency plan, and his entire second term from 1980 to 1984 was characterized by On issues such as a growing deficit and macroeconomic issues. “
Trudeau (second from right), Thatcher (center) and Kohl (left), London Economic Summit, June 1984 / Photo: Associated Press, Udo Weitz
Also in the Canadian case, the opposition that came to power with Trudeau’s departure from politics in 1984 carried out an economic “upheaval”. “The Conservative-led government led by Brian Melroni led a significant change in the economy,” explains Prof. Bland, “mainly because it signed a free trade agreement with the United States in 1988, a move that Trudeau’s Liberal Party vehemently opposed.” , Is also considered to have consulted on economic issues with British Prime Minister Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan, all from the conservative side of the political map.
Prof. Bland details that Trudeau was more concerned with constitutional and legal matters and the integration of the various parts of Canada than with the economic sphere. “The economy was not his wish, and it may have adversely affected the country’s economic policy,” Bland explains.
On the question of whether the case justifies a restriction on the tenure of prime ministers, Prof. Bland believes that there should be no such restriction, especially in a country that draws much inspiration from the British system of government. And in any case, the question of whether a prime minister contributes to or harms a country in a particular field, “depends mainly on the identity of the prime minister.”