Economic, Environmental, Human Rights, International, Life as it is, Political

The political landscape in Britain is changing

Lib Dems jubilation after their unprecedented success

A new dawn in British politics may have begun on Thursday, the 2nd of May 2019. It arises not only because the Lib Dems have literally risen from the ashes of coalition with the Tories between 2010 and 2015, but also because the Greens have managed to find space to push through green shoots in the perched landscape devastated by the right-wing elements of the Tories.

The right-wing clique of the Tory party had been agitating for quite sometime to get Britain out of the EU. Their underlying aim was to take Britain out of the EU (and thereby out of the EU regulations) and make Britain into an offshore tax haven to materialise their selfish ends. Realising Tory party’s visceral antipathy towards the EU and to bring together the divided Tory party, David Cameron, the then prime minister, in his ‘Bloomberg Speech in 2013’ agreed to have a In/Out referendum on EU by 2017, if the Tory Party wins the 2015 election. Probably he felt as the prime minister of the coalition government with Lib Dems that there would be little chance of Tory party winning outright in 2015 general election and therefore committing EU referendum was a low risk strategy. 

However, the political landscape changed dramatically since 2015. In the general election, Tory party did manage to win an overall majority of 5 seats by most disingenuous and unscrupulous means by blaming the coalition partner, the Lib Dems, of all shortcomings and failures of the government. The drubbing that the Lib Dems had suffered for being the partner of the Tories was that 57 Lib Dems MPs had been reduced to mere 8 MPs in 2015! That was a disastrous result for the Lib Dems. Since then, Lib Dems had been tarnished by Tory association and the voters kept punishing them for implementing Tory policies in the coalition government.

When in the EU referendum on 23 May 2016, Britain failed to secure ‘Remain’, the right-wing Tory fanatics as well as xenophobic nationalist bigots were simply ecstatic. Boris Johnson, arch Brexiteer, declared on the morning on 24 May that this was ‘the day of independence’ for Britain.  

It is blatantly obvious that the British politics, particularly the national politics, is now truly and utterly broken and dysfunctional. This process of political erosion and corrosion did not start with the present regime, although this regime bears the brunt of total delusion of the Tory extremists. The erosion of morality among the top politicians had been going on for quite a while now – at least from the dying days of Thatcher administration – sex scandals of Cecil Parkinson, perjury of Jeffrey Archer and others are the vivid examples. However, the end of Thatcher regime did not bring to an end of sex scandals; it only metamorphosed into more sophisticated form. The media then coined a new term ‘sleaze’ to cover everything from political to sex to parliamentary expense scandals. Subsequently, the term ‘spin’ came into the media vocabulary to cover misrepresentation of facts, misleading statements, soft lies, innuendos etc.

However, spin gradually became the norm in political circles. It became a sort of sophisticated political public relations tool during Tony Blair’s regime. But then during and after the tumultuous 2016 EU referendum, all forms of political spins and massaging of facts had become rather mundane and more aggressive form of lies, deception, bigotry became the preferred political tools. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, David Davis, IDS and so forth had been at the forefront of such aggressive use of lies. In the EU referendum campaign, they showed in writing in a double decker bus that £350 million per week extra to NHS would be available if Britain leaves the EU, they also claimed that agricultural subsidy, university research grants from the EU, regeneration of depressed areas etc would be available from the savings of British contribution to the EU. They also shouted out loud that 80 million Turks and endless queues of migrant workers from Africa, Asia and Middle East that were lurking outside the British borders must be stopped by leaving the EU. These are all preposterous scare-mongering lies and deception to achieve their aim.

Honesty, decency, political correctness etc had been thrown out of the window. When the national and international economic bodies such as the London School of Economics, the Bank of England, various Think Tanks, the OECD, the World Bank, the IMF had all been saying that leaving the EU would be disastrous for the UK, opportunistic politicians like Michael Gove, IDS, Priti Patel, John Redwood etc had been saying that these organisations had been wrong before and they are wrong again! When car manufacturers like Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Range Rovers were saying that leaving the EU would harm their business tremendously, Tory politicians dismissed them all as scare mongering.

Three years down the line, chickens are coming home to roost. Honda factory in Swindon is closing in two years’ time, Toyota is not planning to have new model built in the UK. Multinational companies in the finance sector are transferring their operations from London to various other countries. Workers are being laid off here and there – not in torrents yet, but in dribs and drabs.

The general public are now seeing what they have been sold in the name of ‘take back control’, ‘we hold all the cards’, ‘bring back sovereignty’, ‘the day of independence’, ‘the future is bright’ etc. When they see and hear on TV and radios that the British prime minister had to go to Brussels early in the morning to seek an additional concession from the EU and she had been told at the end of the day to wait in a side room while the leaders of 27 EU Member States would have dinner and discuss the British request for concession, that was not ‘take back control’ or ‘bring back sovereignty’; that was utter ‘submission of sovereignty’. That was because of some delusional Tory imperialist bigots had been hankering after colonial dreams outside the EU!

Smaller parties like the Lib Dems and the Greens had always sought to ‘Remain’ within the EU and in the aftermath of the corrupt EU referendum, they asked for a new referendum to gauge the view of the public based on facts, not Tory fantasies. The de-facto verdict of the people came in the recent local election in England and Northern Ireland on 2nd May. The Tories lost 1330 councillors (nearly 30%) and Labour lost 84 councillors (nearly 5%). (It should be pointed out that normally opposition party gains a lot of seats from the ruling party in mid-term elections). On the other hand, the Lib Dems gained 704 councillors (nearly 110%) and the Greens gained 194 councillors (nearly 270%). Another striking feature was that independent candidates won 661 seats (nearly 130%).  

Anti Brexit march in London on 23 March 2019

The conclusions that can be drawn from this seismic shift in politics are twofold. The first one is that people have lost confidence in and patience with the traditional self-serving opportunistic politicians – be it Tory or Labour. The politicians have forfeited all moral authority, as they lied and cheated in the EU referendum to achieve their goal. The trust in politicians in general is in short supply, although there are lots of very good, honest and sincere politicians in British politics. The second lesson is that despite what the crooked politicians claimed to hammer in their partisan view that ‘the people have spoken’ in the referendum, the people have realised now that they had been given a short shrift by the fraudulent politicians.

Now the opportunistic politicians are throwing up a smokescreen to spread their egregious message that people voted against the established two parties because they disliked the failure of the politicians to deliver Brexit in time. It is like a fraudster deliberately misdiagnosed the illness of the patient and gave a wrong medicine and when the patient was nearly dead, told others that enough dose had not been administered.

The sooner the enemies of the people are exposed and thrown out of their self-serving cocoons, the better it is for the country. However, the big question now is, will this change in political landscape be a permanent one or is it going to be just a flash in the pan?

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist

Economic, International, Life as it is, Political

How ‘Democracy’ had been massacred in the EU referendum

4200The word ‘democracy’ came into English from Greek words demos meaning ‘the people’ and kratos meaning ‘the rule’. The joined-up word, democracy, thus defines ‘the rule of the people’. A system of governance, using what is called ‘direct democracy’, was invented by the Greeks more than two and half thousand years ago when every piece of legislation was voted by eligible Athenian voters. However, this eligibility excluded women, slaves and people who had not completed military services. That left only 20% of the population to have the benefit of the ‘direct democracy’.

That form of democracy became eventually the blueprint for democracy adopted round the world with some alterations, modifications and qualifications to suit socio-economic and political imperatives of the land. In the UK, the system is called ‘parliamentary democracy’, where parliamentarians elected directly by the people are responsible to formulate and pass legislation. Thus, the system is, what is known as ‘representative democracy’. In almost all the countries of the world, which operate ‘democratic’ systems, there are single or multiple layers of election processes.

Whatever the process, the system is fraught with shortcomings, inadequacies and downright failings of the original spirit. Bernard Crick in his book ‘Democracy’ commented, “If there is one true meaning of democracy, then it is indeed, as Plato might have said, stored up in heaven; but unhappily has not yet been communicated to us”.

Plato, the great Greek philosopher at the time when democracy evolved in Greece, detested intensely the system that was practised. To him, that was the rule of ‘opinion over knowledge’. The British sociologist of the last century, Beatrice Webb, said that if we are talking of justice and of good governance, then we are talking of multiplicity of concepts, values and practices which never remain the same. It cannot be the ‘multiplication of ignorant opinions’.

This ‘multiplication of ignorant opinions’ is what is passed on as democracy now. Democracy should not be considered as sacrosanct, particularly the way it is being practised now. Plato sensed that calamity lies at the heart of democracy as it is likely to be abused, and may lead to tyranny and subjugation.

In his book, The Republic, Plato described several stages of democratic process, where the system could be abused and manipulated. In a segregated and differentiated society, the process would invariably turn tribal and societal discord would be aggravated. The leaders elected by sectarian support would be alienated from the majority of electorates and would impose punitive measures to enforce sectarian interests and views, which may create dissent, dissatisfaction and may lead to revolution, bloodshed and subjugation. Even if violent overthrow can be averted, the leaders would be isolated from a large section of the voters and the leaders would take steps to protect themselves from large sections who voted for them. Gradually the government would lose support of majority of the people, become oppressive and tyrant in order to maintain power.

Plato’s concern (as well as Socrates’) was not far-fetched at all. One can see it has great resonance even in the modern society of today, nearly two and half thousand years later. In the majority of countries in the world, ‘democracy’ is used only as a badge of honour for the country, but then invariably abuse it in its implementation. In highly autocratic countries, democracy is used as a shield to deflect any criticism, whereas in other countries, it is used to legitimise its rule. Basically, it is used as a smokescreen.

But probably nowhere the system is more blatantly abused than in Britain and America. In both of these countries, the ruling class claims to uphold a true form of democracy, but, in reality, nothing can be furthest from the truth. In Britain, it is claimed to have the ‘mother of parliamentary democracy’; whereas in America, liberty, freedom, human rights, which are the key attributes of democracy, are proclaimed to be upheld. But neither of them can truly justify them.

Take America in the first instance. Donald Trump came into power by propagating racist, xenophobic, bigoted messages; he stoked up peoples’ prejudices and shamelessly polarised the society. A multi-billionaire Trump projected himself as the champion of the downtrodden underclass of the society. He averted paying hundreds of millions of dollars as taxes by using tax advisers, and then his propaganda machinery projected him as a clever guy to avoid tax. He stands against all decent and moral rectitude, and he is blindly followed by “a basket of deplorables who are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic bunch”. If this is what democracy produces, then vulgarity could be a preferred option.

Britain is no better than America in its track records. In the EU referendum last year (23 June 2016), the Leave camp had persistently used blatant lies, deception and misrepresentation to persuade ignorant voters to vote for Leave. £350 million per week extra for the NHS; stopping millions of EU workers streaming into the UK; maintaining sovereignty of the British parliament; rejecting unelected EU legislators etc. and many more were the slogans for the Brexiters. Each one of these was a lie and mendacious presumption. But the election commission, advertising ombudsman etc., in general the administration, was unable to stop such lies. ‘Mother of parliamentary democracy’ went in a coma.

Even more pertinent point is that despite 651 democratically elected representatives in the British parliament, why and how could they have relegated their responsibilities on such a vital issue to decide whether or not to remain within the EU to the general public? Is that not an abject failure of the system? If this was beyond the intellectual capabilities of the elected representatives, how reliable is the democratic system to pick up competent legislators?  How can the presumed legislators even imagine that the illiterate and semi-literate general public comprising factory workers, farmers, fishermen, shop workers and shop keepers, plumbers, roofers etc can make a better decision? Have they all lost their senses?

The fact was that the referendum process was hoisted on to the public by the internal squabbles of the Tory party. The previous Tory party leader had to agree to have a referendum under duress from the Eurosceptic Tory political agitators. When the referendum came, the vile instincts of the Eurosceptics burst out into open to stir up fear and prejudices of the ignoramus people. Lies, deception, xenophobia, bigotry, innuendos and all other vile instincts that run counter to the spirit of democracy had been played out.

Democracy cannot survive in ignorance, illiteracy or moral degeneracy. When honesty, decency, morality etc. are divorced, democracy takes leave too. As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education”.

No matter how loudly Brexiters shout, “Brexit is the will of the people”, if the voters had been fed with misinformation, fear and prejudices, the outcome is bound to be anything but sensible. When over a million people ‘Google searched’ the word ‘EU’ a day after casting vote on the EU referendum, one can say that there was something grossly wrong. Democracy had been massacred in the referendum. Sir Winston Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”.

–  Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist