Observing British politics from a distance (and therefore in a highly romanticised way) we can get the impression that Great Britain is one of the most stable countries in the world. And you can easily find examples of praise for this system: I have often heard from lawyers educated in the continental system of law (and therefore based on codified and not precedent law) that Great Britain is a country that is almost perfect. There was an agreement between the elites (aristocracy and the bourgeoisie), we are told, which stopped revolutionary movements (the king was not overthrown as in France in 1792). And so, the story runs, the political system is almost unwavering, although there is no constitution written in one act – the political system is more based on tradition than on legal acts.
In such a climate, which of course is a false, idealised vision, it is even more difficult to understand the political events of the last few years, and even less of the last months, that have taken place in British politics.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Great Britain has been ruled alternately by the Conservatives (Tories) and the Labour Party, which was a non-radical branch of the workers’ movement (similar to the SPD in Germany, which split off from the communist movement). In short, the compromise of the elites consisted of the regular exchange of power between two status-quo parties maintaining the imperialist system – one of the parties being strongly capitalist, and the other allowing certain social (not socialist!) solutions, supporting trade unions in a limited way, etc. Bhagat Singh in his text “To Young Political Workers” wrote: “The British Labour leaders betrayed their real struggle and have been reduced to mere hypocrite imperialists.”
Even so, Labour Party leaders were often unionists. The situation changed in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and introduced a brutal neoliberalism. Most of the public services, including the railroad and the energy sector, have been privatised. Such anti-human governments caused much grief to the working people, so in order to divert attention from the suffering, Thatcher’s successor Prime Minister John Major initiated the Back to Basics campaign, which de facto blamed single mothers living on benefits for the country’s problems. The media favouring the government tried to distract citizens with scandals within the British royal family – mainly related to the figure of Princess Diana. The Tories’ rule shifted the country’s political discourse to the right so much that it even changed the Labour Party itself. The party in 1994 chose as its charismatic leader Tony Blair, who won the 1997 elections and became Prime Minister.
In addition to plunging the country’s economy, Liz Truss also buried the Conservative party itself: with the opposition Labour Party led by Blairist and utterly uncharismatic Keir Starmer in polls gaining a staggering 50% of support
However, he did not reverse the reforms of Thatcherism. The Labour Party has adapted to neoliberalism by completely betraying the remnants of any pro-working-class ideals. Blair expanded the private finance initiative (PFI) – a system of public-private partnerships designed to pursue public goals through private entities. It also led to the introduction of private entities into the National Health Service (NHS). Margaret Thatcher, when asked about her greatest success, replied “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.” And of course, she was right, because nothing in politics is more permanent than a change in political discourse.
The Tories came back to power in 2010 and won the elections again in 2015, promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s staying in the European Union. In 2016, 52% of Brits voted to leave the EU – this led to the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, who had been campaigning in favour of staying in the EU. Theresa May became the new Prime Minister, and her main task was to negotiate an agreement between the EU and Britain. But she failed to do so – mainly due to opposition inside the Conservative party itself: some wanted a tough policy towards the EU and some a soft one. That is why she quit in 2019. The Tories chose Boris Johnson as their new leader, who called the 2019 parliamentary elections, which he won. As the Grayzone suggests based on leaked emails, Boris Johnson’s rise to power could be part of a conspiracy by some business elites, but also British intelligence, to secure a “hard” exit from the EU.
The Labour Party, led by the most left-wing leader in decades, Jeremy Corbyn, suffered a painful defeat. It is worth stopping at this topic for a moment. For this failure was not due to Corbyn’s ineptitude or lack of popularity. The entire establishment had allied against him. The BBC and other British media accused him of ‘anti-Semitism.’ But to make matters worse, Corbyn’s campaign in 2019 (but also the one in 2017, only unsuccessfully back then) was sabotaged by the Blairists inside the Labour Party – the purpose being that the party would lose the election and Corbyn will resign from the leadership. A thorough journalistic investigation on this subject was published in 2022 by Al Jazeera as “Labour Files.”
However, Johnson’s victory came at the wrong time as the COVID-19 pandemic began, which he was managing terribly. His anti-lockdown policy resulted in thousands of deaths and did not (as he justified his policy) help the economy, which fell into an even greater crisis. The pandemic and the Tory budget cuts left the health service in a disastrous state – it caused such outrageous situations that patients living in retirement homes lost funding. The hunger crisis is also growing catastrophically: 31% of children live in poverty, and over 2 million adults in the UK cannot afford to eat every day. Due to inflation rising from the beginning of 2022, 90% of schools will have no money in 2023, which could result in massive teacher resignations or lack of heating in schools. Boris Johnson’s government was also becoming more and more authoritarian, increasing the powers of the police. Interior Minister Priti Patel pursued a brutal anti-immigration policy.
There was a growing controversy around Johnson, related to, among other things, the organisation of a party that broke Covid restrictions. In July 2022, after the massive resignation of ministers from his cabinet, he resigned. Personally, however, I believe that the main reason for his resignation was beyond the conflicts within the party. People like Rishi Sunak wanted to take power themselves – he had long planned to overthrow Johnson, as evidenced by the fact that the website of his campaign for the Tory leader had already registered six months earlier, as was the fact that Johnson was a “Trump man” in London, which greatly disliked by the Biden administration. I am not suggesting an overthrow, of course, but Washington was very happy with the rebellion within the Conservative party against Johnson.
On 05 September, the Conservatives elected Foreign Minister Liz Truss as their new leader. Admittedly, the new Prime Minister – the third woman to hold this position in the UK – was extremely unlucky from the start. Apart from the fact that she is a comic character due to the many blunders she committed, or styling herself as another Margaret Thatcher (which made her rather caricatured), two days after she took office, Queen Elizabeth II died after 70 years on the throne.
The queen’s funeral and mourning revealed an episode of egregious Western hypocrisy. Let us recall how the Western media laughed and distorted accounts of the funerals of foreign leaders that it does not approve of, such as Kim Jong Il of North Korea. But that very media landscape has reported, for example, about the “double rainbow over Buckingham Palace” or “clouds in the shape of a queen’s head.” Everywhere in the country were portraits of the queen, and a British MP cried in parliament as a 6-year-old son comforted her after the queen’s death. On the day of the funeral, Heathrow airport stopped planes, McDonald’s closed all its restaurants and hospitals canceled surgery visits to “show respect.” There were also repressive actions: for example, a woman was arrested for holding the sign “Abolish monarchy,” a man who publicly expressed opposition to the new King Charles II was arrested too or a teacher was suspended for questioning the sense in maintaining the monarchy.
The new King Charles “is in many ways a classic aristocrat: wealthy, privately educated, with average intelligence and skills […] but more importantly, he is a figurehead of a powerful elite that still owns 1/3 of British land and has the blood of millions of people around the world.”
However, this time it was not possible to cover the economic problems with the affairs of the royal family.
Liz Truss has promised Thatcherism 2.0. The pound sterling has dropped dramatically compared to the US dollar, reaching its lowest level in decades. Truss withdrew from these radical economic plans in an attempt to save herself, but the rebellion in the party forced her to resign.
To understand why the market reacted in such panic towards the highly pro-business proposals of Liz Truss, it is best to refer to the analysis by Prof. Prabhat Patnaik. In short, tax cuts for the rich alone are not enough. The capitalist class also needs stimulation in the form of, for example, the tax burden of the working class – in this particular case to control fiscal deficit.Thus, she became the shortest-serving Prime Minister of Great Britain in history: just 50 days.
In addition to plunging the country’s economy, Liz Truss also buried the Conservative party itself: with the opposition Labour Party led by Blairist and utterly uncharismatic Keir Starmer in polls gaining a staggering 50% of support, while the Tories were reduced to just 20%. Of course, Labour’s success is not the result of their program, but fatigue with ineptitude and constant conflicts within the ruling party. The party under Starmer turned a lot to the right – its deputies, for example, did not support amendment 58 of the Schools Bill to provide free school lunches to all pupils in households receiving universal credit, and he announced that his party is a “responsible money party” (that means the de facto continuation of the neoliberal system). The Labour Party is not even optimistic about the income tax for the super-rich. Keir Starmer himself cracked down on opposition inside the party: essentially eliminating the pro-Corbyn left wing.
Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister will not end the racism problem in Great Britain, much like President Obama did not do this in the US. This is because he is the representative par excellence of the ruling class, which will ultimately do whatever it takes to defend its interests, and in the absence of opposition (Labour under Starmer are basically Tories, but painted red), Britain’s future looks very bleak
The Conservative Party, at that time, used a different mechanism for selecting a new leader. Instead of general elections among party members, conditions were imposed on MPs that were aimed at barring the way of several candidates, so that the elections would not take place. Thus it happened that the only person who got the required support was Rishi Sunak, and so he automatically became the party leader. This was the very same Rishi Sunak who lost the competition to Liz Truss just a month earlier.
Incidentally, if any Third World country had three Prime Ministers in just two months, the financial, social, and health crisis would immediately be described as unstable and undemocratic. And if it had valuable natural resources, powerful Western commentators would consider “intervening to introduce democracy.”
In any case, the new Prime Minister is Britain’s first Indian leader, and we’ll come back to that in a moment. Above all, however, he is the richest MP with a net worth of $830 million (two times more than the property of King Charles). The golden child of the establishment and the City of London, he worked for Goldman Sachs. 20 years ago, Sunak himself marked his elite origin, realising that he had no friends among the working class: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are, you know, working-class but, well, not working-class…”
Sunak’s program is simple: more and more austerity! Public services will be cut, and the government’s energy support package will be withdrawn.
Sunak’s assumption of power is not only Big Business’s dream (after all, he is their man) but also a “return to normal” on the political scene. Conservatives are starting to catch up in polls – the Labour Party loses support in each subsequent poll (which only confirms the thesis that their earlier success was the result of Liz Truss’s ineptitude).
Coming back to the last thread: that is, the new Prime Minister being of Indian (or, in fact, Hindu) origin. Most of the media, as well as politicians (including the opposition), focus on this issue, even calling it a “historic moment”. Indian MP Shashi Tharoor even said: “I believe we have to admit – and I was a critic of British racism – that they chose the anointing as their leader of a brown-skinned Indian after a history of blatant racism[…] They have outgrown their worst qualities.”
But this absurd argument is similar to celebrating Netflix’s series Bridgerton, which is a costume fiction set in 19th century London, where aristocrats (including the queen herself) are people of colour. This series is not an example of anti-racist success. On the contrary, it ignores and obfuscates the racism and ruling-class domination as the basis of the British colonial system!
Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister will not end the racism problem in Great Britain, much like President Obama did not do this in the US. This is because he is the representative par excellence of the ruling class, which will ultimately do whatever it takes to defend its interests, and in the absence of opposition (Labour under Starmer are basically Tories, but painted red), Britain’s future looks very bleak. By focusing on the ethnicity of PM Sunak, instead of the question of whose class interests he defends, we are completely distracting ourselves from the crux of the problems that bring so much suffering to the common people.