Four dilemmas facing Britain – as others see it

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, central London, November 2016. Dominic Lipinski/Press Association. All rights reserved.June is bringing the British isles moderate
temperatures and heavy rain. The contrast befits Britain's mood, for the
country is facing four wrenching dilemmas.

The first concerns who should form the
coming government after the 8 June parliamentary election. The choice is hardly
about a conservative party with centre-right positions versus a leftist
opponent. It is also not, as often depicted in British media, a contest between
affluent, confident, and quite content South-East England versus the (economically
just-getting-by) rest. This election is by far more important than that, for it
comes at the end of an era.

The two political experiments that have
shaped the country in the last thirty five years – Thatcherite Conservatism (under
prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s) and Blairite
liberalism (the almost 15-years of "New Labour" rule that began with
Tony Blair's coming to power in 1997) – have been discarded by the two
largest parties in the country.

Thatcherite Conservatism, by its confidence
in the wisdom and efficiency of market forces, is perceived by
wide sections of the electorate, and by the new grandees of the
Conservative party, as unbefitting our age of austerity and
economic anxieties, especially given the colossal failures of market forces
before the 2008 financial crisis. Blarite liberalism has been besmirched
by Tony Blair's pulling the country into the Iraq quagmire on pretexts and
arguments that exposed a descent to the supremacy of spin over substance. 

The current leadership of the Conservative and
Labour parties are putting forward vastly different economic policies and
political choices. At heart, each side is asking the electorate to subscribe to
a different understanding of the role of the state in society.

The second dilemma concerns Brexit. Ten days
after the election, Britain is expected to commence negotiating with the
European Union the terms of their divorce. The two major parties in Britain
want to minimise the immediate financial costs of the separation. But save for that,
there is a major cleavage in views, actually across the whole political class,
concerning the country's strategy post leaving the EU.

Many observers in Britain, and not only
die-hard Brexiteers, believe the country has the economic competitiveness,
technological edge, tradition of rule of law, human talent, social
institutions, unrivalled level of freedom of thought and expression, and the crucially
important qualities of pragmatism and mercantilism, to be able to carve for
itself a unique place in the world's global economy. In this view, Britain has what it takes to
sustain, and increase, its prosperity.

Others in the political class (interestingly
from different and often opposing political clans) see Brexit as a calamity. In
their view, it will expose the erosion Britain has experienced in the quantity
and quality of its resources, from the capital accumulated here (that is not
transient or marked for real estate investments) to the human talent that's
truly competitive in a world of rising Asia and economically desperate Southern
Europe.

This dichotomy leads observers to the third
dilemma: What is Britain's place in tomorrow's world? Most of those who are
optimistic about Britain leaving the EU aspire to a place for the country at
the top of a league of middle political and economic powers. Those who consider
Brexit a disaster foresee a slow but certain decline. These views lead to
different strategies relating to the country's objectives and dynamics in
dealing with major powers such as the US, China, and Russia. This dichotomy
also touches on the country's view of its future, and of itself, a hugely
important issue for a nation that, until seven decades ago, was a global
empire.

The fourth, and probably the most difficult,
dilemma, is what narrative the coming government would put forward in front of
its constituencies. Social narratives matter. For a society that will either
have to fight to retain its place in the global order, or that will have to
accept its inevitable decline into less power, privilege, and expectations, having a narrative that
justifies the sacrifices or explains the deteriorating standards of life is
crucial.

Britain's new government has monumental
problems to address. Global observers should keep an eye on what the
country will be making of itself, not only because of Britain's political,
economic, and military importance, but also because the next few years in
Britain will be interesting. Anglophiles like me wish Britain would summon the best
of itself to confront these challenges facing it. In a way, reading the history
of the British isles in the last few centuries advises one not to bet against Britain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *