By Mohamed Harees –
‘’The good news, to relieve all this gloom, is that a democracy is inherently self-correcting. Here, the people are sovereign. Inept political leaders can be replaced. Foolish policies can be changed. Disastrous mistakes can be reversed” ~ Theodore C. Sorensen
UK, has had a bumpy fall; so bumpy, in fact, that Liz Truss resigned as Prime Minister , after only six weeks in office, admitting that she could not deliver the mandate on which she was elected. Only a day before, she said in the House of Commons that she was a fighter and not a quitter. It appears that the serious problem with British politics today is an absurd governing party – the Tories in power continuously since 2010, that hardly even trusts itself to govern any more. Amid this mess, Rishi Sunak (RS) became Britain’s third prime minister in two months, vowing to put the public’s need above politics, in recognition of the growing anger at Britain’s political class and the ideological battles that have raged ever since the historic 2016 vote to leave the European Union. Be it as it may, as German paper Die Welt stated, British politics has developed a self destructive centrifugal force that should serve as a chilling example to those who still tout easy solutions to our solutions.
Liz’s brand of Trussonomics, a plan for massive tax cuts aimed at Britain’s wealthiest, however became an instant disaster. The Truss-Kwasi Kwarteng “Growth Plan 2022” started out as a budget at war with itself, with vast emergency spending sitting alongside big unfunded tax cuts. These measures of course sent the British financial markets into a weeks-long tailspin, on top of a deepening cost-of-living crisis, sent foreign investors fleeing from the British economy, and drove the Pound to a record-low value against the dollar. The proposals introduced by one Chancellor had to be rolled back and comprehensively reversed by another, who succeeded the former after he was booted out. By the time Liz apologised for all the economic turmoil the proposals created and resigned, the damage was already done. The question now remains: Can RS clean up the economic mess left by Liz Truss, and be the rescuer from Number 11, now he’s moved next door. or will his election, referred to as a landmark historic event – the first PM of colour, as a successor to Liz be just another eyewash?
RS will have many challenges on his plate from the start. Many faces in his cabinet seems the same old faces . Selection of Suella Braverman as home secretary days after she quit over data breaches already stirred the hornet nest. Moreover, over the past decade, there has also been a clear rise of populism in the UK and the West. Liz calling herself a Zionist, was also hinting at forging stronger relationship with Zionist Israel, even to the extent of moving the UK embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. RS also has gave a similar assurance, which will put the new administration and UK in an avoidable international crisis. With the Ukrainian and climate crises on the lobal front and an unprecedented cost of living crisis to tackle internally, Britain under him will not at will be a cake walk for RS.
The examples of both crazy Boris’ and crazier Liz’s disastrous tenure of office show how self conceited and inefficient political leaders can comprehensively trash the reputations of their party and their country. British citizens do not deserve it; meaning prime ministers of this calibre. As Washington Post stated, Liz’s tenure is a disastrous series of self inflicted wounds which turned into a political death spiral and that the country looks like an isolated Atlantic island state instead of an international player. Britain has sadly become thus a government by lettuce (which some media humorously stated outlasted Liz), destined to end up in the political dump. A woeful Post Brexit six years has thus hastened the decline of a major global power, thanks to dunces and charlatans thrust into command.
This pitiful status quo in UK certainly offers apt lessons to politicians and citizens even in other countries including Sri Lanka, which is also facing a similar crisis due to similar brand of self conceited political leadership – but family based and corrupt. This is however just a tip of the iceberg of a worrying phenomenon: how gradual erosion of democratic norms are leading to democratic collapses. Under the guise of democracy, many vested interest groups and right wing media work in concert to make and break governments to suit their vicious agenda. Many analysts said that election of Liz was spearheaded by the 55, Tufton Street Gang, an address which brought together a right wing, Eurosceptic, climate-sceptic think tanks such as IEA, Tax Payers Alliance and Vote Leave. This gang reportedly quietly created the Brexit campaign, influenced the deal and campaigned for a Hard Brexit and was the mastermind behind the recent disastrous mini budget.
The system of MPs voting for a Prime Minister may sound democratic, but it is what produced the likes of Liz. Racism has already been playing up among Tory circles indicating whether election of brown skinned RS will let the hell loose. In a recent radio LBC, one of the Tory supporters also indicated that people electing do not want a brown skinned at the top, meaning it is not what the Tory vote bank will wish for – incidentally very unrepresentative of the people of UK; they are predominantly male, wealthy, elderly and living in the South of England. Another striking feature of Boris’ and Liz’s governments was the strong presence of loyalists who had backed them for their premiership.
Be it as it may, UK is in an economic crisis, a political crisis ,food crisis and also a morality crisis. This political crisis is one which Britain can barely afford to carry, at a challenging time when households and businesses are grappling with galloping inflation and a slowing economy which has lead to increasing food prices and mortgage rates. This sense of government incompetency has bled into an all-consuming worry about how bad Britain’s economic crisis could get, with some predicting it seems to be regressing back to painful economic times of the 1970’s.
A national election does not need to be called until 2024, but the opposition including Labour, have demanded one to be held now saying government lacks legitimacy. In this context, the incoming election may only be a sideshow, with the lobby supported by right wing Media, which elected the likes of Liz be fully alert and functional to safeguard their ulterior agenda, at the cost of the ordinary hard working people of Britain whose real wages and standard of living have gone down in qualitative terms. These crazy neo-liberal ultras tanked the economy and ripped the nation’s fabric apart.
Years of political turbulence which followed 2016 Brexit have led British politics to descend into warring factions, and Liz’s transient administration appears to be the climax of that turbulence. As Britain continue to project an image of instability, some analysts called Brexit a seismic event, which delivered a huge shock to the country’s global reputation as a beacon of stability. UK’s attempts since, to redefine itself has gone off course making it a broken Britain. Great Britain is at a crossroads and how they navigate in the coming weeks and months will determine whether or not it will hold on to its “great” name and status.
One apt lesson which other countries can take from the political crisis is how political accountability is viewed and adopted. Any issue that deals with the governance of a country is, by definition, political. What the issue may not be is partisan politics, but it is political by nature. Former PM Johnson’s parties, during a COVID-19 lockdown that had been imposed on citizens, were enough to cost him his office. Gross mismanagement of the economy, even if it was just 45 days, was enough to cost Truss her prime ministerial post. One beacon of hope thus for UK has been the authority of Parliament and other bodies such as Bank of England which were ‘reaffirmed’ in recent days and so was the viability of the political system which does not allow political misfits to survive, despite the enormous influence of political vested interest groups .
However, in countries such as Sri Lanka, politicians from both sides of the divide are allowed to overstep and only hold them accountable at best during a general election. Even the statutory bodies which need to oversee accountability such as COPE are stuffed with political loyalists That should not be. Our local system should be designed so that a politician who missteps, who takes the public’s trust for granted, or who does not fulfil a mandate or promise made to the electorate should do the right thing. That is where our governance system must be. Politicians need not wait for any legislation to be passed in Parliament. The ironic thing about integrity is that it is something that should not have to be policed. Integrity must come from within.
The political crisis in Sri Lanka sadly has been the cumulative result of decades of misgovernance and corruption arising from lack of potent and vibrant mechanisms and ‘checks and balances’. Politicians cling to power at all costs. Gotabaya had to be literally flushed out, and those who advocated real changes to political system in Sri Lanka are being persecuted and put behind bars. Family dynasty which virtually destroyed Sri Lankan economy are still entertaining plans to come back, thanks to a family friend who was voted into power as the President until next elections. He has been using all available powers to suppress public dissent and activism.
No matter how high or low the post a politician occupies, doing the right thing should be par for the course. And in a case where the majority of the voting public is demanding that you go, simply do the right thing and, like Johnson and Truss, tender your resignation. Of course there was public pressure to do so. But, if this were in Sri Lanka, however, Boris and Liz would still be in office. The party would have played the ethnic and religious card, in fact, they would have hired thugs or even to use ‘legalistic’ means to break up any attempt to challenge them. But the British held firm and pushed them and all the law breakers out.
Another lesson which could be learnt was about the death of Trussonomics which has been a cautionary tale. Politicians must learn not to over-promise. The British have proven that you cannot come to the people, promise Heaven and Earth and hope you can get away with whatever you throw at them, In a country where accountability is key, no politician can hoodwink the people and play games with the people’s fortunes and future. The UK lesson is that sound monetary and credible fiscal policy will be rewarded, but mistakes will be punished. The British system thus self-corrects because its institutions are strong. The Sri Lankan system self-destructs because its institutions are either weak, compromised or non-existent. The resulting crisis also showed the “imperative” of making sure policy is inclusive, as the attempted UK tax cuts apparently favoured the rich. There is evidence that the damage to a government’s economic credibility has long-lasting effects on political confidence, permanently changing voting intentions, weakening support for established parties who have been in power. It can lead not only to electoral defeat, but disenchantment with the whole political process.
Another lesson which will be useful is worthy to note. As a matter of fact, election of a non-white PM in the UK is indeed a landmark and a significant reflection of the coming of age in its Post-colonial history. That nation, whose one-time leader was Churchill himself, who was known to have made disparaging remarks about Gandhi and leaders in colonized countries, has come a long way from that snobbish, patronizing and condescending conduct and embraced a more humble, egalitarian and realistic attitude towards its own minorities. Today, London electing Sadiq Khan, a Muslim as its Mayor on two occasions and RS, a Hindu as its PM are great examples, like Obama’s election in US. This is one area where countries like Sri Lanka can learn. It is dreadful to think of how the racist lobby will go on an overdrive to oppose even making such a suggestion, like what happened when Lakshman Kadisgamar’s name was once proposed for the post of PM.
In the present context under reference, what has happened to British politics, to its reputation for stability and moderation, to its venerable Parliament, is shaken by upheavals at an accelerated pace since Brexit. Even amid such political disorder, the future of the U.K. is not lost to its present instability. Absolutely there are things it can do” to rehab its image, thanks to its robust systems. However, the new incumbent at Downing Street is set to meet a daunting set of economic and social challenges. The new UK government faces a tricky task in reigniting global investor confidence in its economic stability, even with a new prime minister widely seen as a steady hand. The new premiership must deal with a severe cost of living crisis, creaking public finances, a rash of strikes and foreign policy headaches ranging from the Ukraine war to the consequences of Brexit. Weeks ahead will tell what awaits Britain-Post Liz. The bitter lessons will however serve for the future good, not just for Great Britain, but beyond too.