The Fog of Empire
- Surprising win for Cameron with greater mandate
- Right-wing ideology dominates discourse in Britain
By Vithal Rajan
The British election results have been a surprise to everyone, especially to David Cameron, the Prime Minister. He was quite prepared to put a brave face on it if he lost, but was hoping against hope that he might be given a second chance in another minority government, his Conservative party shored up by unflinching support from even more diehard Tories, the Ulster Protestant factions in Northern Ireland, and his new friends the Liberal Democrats.
Having secured an unexpected clear majority on his own, Cameron made an extravagant victory speech in front of No: 10 Downing Street, in which he promised everything to everyone. But within the next few days it became crystal clear that his gushing thanks were not to be taken seriously, and that the long dreaded vicious cuts of around 12 billion pounds sterling in social spending would take place. The National Health Scheme, the brightest jewel in the quiet social revolution ushered in by Atlee after the Second World War, would be seriously jeopardised, and poverty-stricken Britishers will be left in the lurch. Cameron’s support for industry would go for big business and not to help the million and a half or so small struggling entrepreneurs in Britain.
The Establishment in Britain, like that in any other country, is fixed upon securing its own interests first. If certain policies have benefitted it, these are projected as the science of economics, by which more of the same will/might deliver some benefit to other sectors and classes of people according to their merit. The Tories will pursue Reagan-Thatcherite policies, that ushered in new mass poverty in late 20th century Britain, with the same committed fervour with which their ancestors sent more millions to die in the trenches of World War One. The clue came in the first few minutes of Cameron’s victory speech when he said firmly that he would find employment for all ‘who wished to work.’ Clearly the British Prime Minister believes that the unemployed are voluntarily scrounging on welfare payments, and not that they are out of work because of anti-social economic policy.
In that very first speech he made another loaded comment which presaged a continued twilight over future British fortunes. He harked back to Britain’s glorious past, which journalist-historians of Niall Ferguson’s ilk have been busy whitewashing as the best thing that happened to a benighted colonised world. Such bluster has befuddled thinking in those isles more than their famous fog, and sedulously foreclosed any option of seeing a future as a European country in a prosperous Europe. British leaders have let go of every chance offered to them since the formation of the European Economic Commission in the mid 1950s. Consolidation of Tory power in effect consolidates the belief that Britain continues to have ‘imperial’ obligations. Britain’s social and economic costs are amplified by the self-destructive ‘special relationship’ with the United States of America, which itself is spiralling down with imperialist adventures. The new Tory vote has only strengthened even more the influence of a recalcitrant backbench, immured in the fog of imperialist nostalgia. Cameron will be as ineffective as any of his predecessors in taking Britain into an economically resurgent Europe. Soon, with increasing poverty at home, and with the lessons of Greece and Portugal staring him in the face, the best he can hope for is to potter along as an all but failed state.
All of this has happened with the tacit connivance of all English political parties, all of whom more or less projected shades of right-wing ideology. Tony Blair had converted the Labour Party more than a decade ago to a paler version of itself, even the colour changing from red to pink. Ed Milliband, who led the party at this election, had promised the unions that he was not a Blairite, and had undercut the leadership of his brother David, who was. But few of his policies could be clearly differentiated from those of the Tories. The electorate were not to be misled by prevarications. Labour lost heavily, even Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, losing in his assured constituency. The Liberal Democrats who had gathered voter support by posing as people with ‘a Tory head and a Labour heart’ were completely trounced, and left with no future.
During Cameron’s dark days he had held a referendum in Scotland, and around 60% of the Scots had voted to stay with the United Kingdom, though most of the youth had wanted independence. In this election, the Scottish National Party won a sweeping victory, securing 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. They want autonomy, no cuts in social spending and more of a share from North Sea oil, and now they have the power to insist. Cameron has promised devolution, but he has also promised big cuts in social spending to the Tories and big business. If he placates the Scots, his backbenchers will accuse him of being unfair to the English. Cameron can buy some time, but little else.
Straws in the wind about the new public mood are the election victories posted by even the Plaid Cymru, the Welsh national party. Its victory at the hustings is in keeping with public mood there. All road and other public signs are now given long Welsh names, and people will first talk to you in Welsh. The people at least are not lost in nostalgia about an imagined imperial past. They want a new future for themselves. Their leaders unfortunately remain enveloped in the fog of empire.