The UK’s transition from Tweedledee to Tweedledum
Don’t expect Britain’s first Asian prime minister to radically reverse the UK's direction, as he is a pillar of the establishment.
By MK Bhadrakumar
October 31 2022
Photo Credit: The Cradle

Rishi Sunak’s inauguration as Britain’s prime minister turned out to be a cathartic experience for Indian elites, spontaneous in its emotional release and spiritual cleansing. But Indians often tend to go overboard when it comes to the diaspora in the West.

Prime minister Narendra Modi went as far as to describe Sunak as a bridge between India and the UK. Such lofty thoughts will inevitably lead to exaggerated notions. Although a Hindu, Sunak will remain a Briton who reads Bhagavad Gita, and a British politician who will only make his decisions on behalf of the British establishment.

From an Indian perspective, a cautious attitude and a pragmatic approach are called for, as identity and ideology have become the primary drivers of British politics, and contradictions are bound to arise on that score.

Another unelected leader

Sunak belongs to the same breed of politician as Italy’s Mario Monti and Mario Draghi – your typical technocratic leader or central banker. He is prime minister by appointment: neither elected through a general election, nor even by his own party or parliament. The Conservative Party avoided a members’ vote by setting an artificially high first-round voting threshold.

In political terms, as well as by the norms of a democratic transition, his appointment amounted to the disenfranchisement of Conservative voters through an electoral stitch-up that ensured Sunak somehow reached Downing Street.

Of course, it worked, as on earlier occasions too in Britain’s modern history. But the despairing majority of British people are now demanding a proper vote on who runs the country.

A YouGov poll last week found that 56 percent of the British public think Sunak should call an early election. But his party MPs seek to avoid an election given their rock-bottom poll ratings, and this crooked carousel may well help him go round and round till the January 2025 deadline for the next general elections.

Another short-lived premiership?

However, politics is unpredictable. Internal dissent cannot be ruled out, chiefly by MPs supportive of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The Indians who romanticize Britain’s political culture as a model of liberalism do not realize that skulduggery can pass for ‘democratic values’ in Britain too.

The possibility of earlier elections in the UK is actually very high, especially if Sunak fails to tackle Britain’s economic crisis in the next 6-month period or so.

Powerful interest groups picked this ardent globalist right-winger to steer Britain through choppy waters trusting that the immensely wealthy youthful politician is also one of them and can serve their interests.

Indeed, Sunak is calm and professional, and won’t try to implement any radical or destabilizing. But then, there is always the safety net if Sunak fails, since the shadow prime minister – Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer – will gladly serve their class interests with equal dedication. The conspiracy to oust Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of the Labour Party now falls into proper perspective.

The problem today with Britain is that a successful Brexit would require a shift in its economic model. But Boris Johnson didn’t have one, and Liz Truss failed to sequence her plan properly.

Whether Sunak has a plan we do not know. Clearly, Brexit is not sustainable. Someone has to bite the bullet for the UK to revert to the EU’s single market and customs union without having to reverse Brexit. It entails renegotiating the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and creating a customs union with the EU. Perhaps, it will have to wait till Sir Keir becomes prime minister.

Uninterrupted foreign policy

Meanwhile, Ukraine hangs like an albatross around Britain’s neck. The sanctions against Russia have boomeranged on the British economy, and recovery will only truly begin with normalizing ties with Russia – which, in turn, must begin with Ukraine.

But all indications, including the drone attack on Crimea’s Simferopol last Saturday, suggest that British intelligence is in the driving seat of covert operations against Russia. Moscow has alleged that the very same British operatives of the Royal Navy based in Turkey masterminded the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.

Therefore, Sunak’s decision to reinstate Ben Wallace and James Cleverly – both ex-military men – as defense and foreign secretary respectively, does not bode well, as it signals continuity in Britain’s approach to global affairs.

Neither man backed Sunak in his successful leadership bid but they enjoy Washington’s trust, and Wallace also has personal contacts within NATO circles.

It was revealing that Sunak’s first call with a foreign leader was with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week. He reportedly informed him that Britain’s support will remain “as strong as ever under his premiership” – per a Downing Street readout.

Pragmatist at heart?

Earlier in the year, there was talk that Sunak believed a deal would one day have to be struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sunak, who cut his teeth as a hedge fund manager at the City of London before his seven-year career in politics, must be familiar with the strengths and resilience of the Russian economy.

Equally, when serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak continued to advocate for a ‘mature and balanced’ relationship with China and sought to improve trade links, resurrecting the China-UK Economic and Financial Dialogue. In this respect, Chinese experts are cautiously optimistic about Sunak’s Treasury mindset toward foreign policy.

But, make no mistake, Sunak’s foreign policy will adhere to the diktats of Washington in line with the neoconservative ideology. It is debatable, though, how much weight that “special relationship” carries today – in world affairs, at least.

The paradox is that Britain’s national decline is leading to growing political polarization and identity conflict. This engenders political instability, which in turn is reflective of the overall endogenous structural contradictions of capitalism.

The politicians of the ruling elite remain besotted by the alluring thought of a ‘Global Britain’ over which the sun will never set, and have yet to figure out realistically and calmly their country’s due place in the modern world. Thus, as caretaker prime minister, Sunak will be mired in home issues for his survival but has little political capital to solve them.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.
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