Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 49 Number 13, June 22, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Trying to Extricate Britain from the Crisis by "Making
Britain Great Again" Is Not an Option for the People

It is not just that the jostling for position to become the next Prime Minister was unedifying. It represented that politics has been replaced by the cut-throat competition when it is every man for himself. It gave no clue as to what is at stake for working people, their concerns and how to combat the economic and political crises. These were not even recognised as issues.

Quite clearly, it has been showing that the Conservative Party hardly has a coherent position as a party, and all is illogical. Its driving down of political debate to the lowest level mirrors the destruction of any public or political authority which commands credibility. The "last-man-standing" approach mirrors the contending private interests of monopolies and oligarchs who care nothing for the people's well-being or national interests. The way this farce of "political debate" is conducted shows the social irresponsibility of the present state of governance, where the old norms no longer function and the people's voice is not heeded.

The rhetoric that the various candidates adopted could be said to have revolved around "how to make Britain great again". Apart from the undisguised attacks on each other's character, this futile and anachronistic attempt mainly focused on Brexit, whether having eaten the cake it could still be kept, or various ways of postponing eating the cake. In other words, it was not how to build a Britain outside (or inside) the EU on the basis of any alternative to neo-liberal austerity, but what could be done for Britannia to Rule the Waves Again.

One of the most coherent attempts at this was seen before the slug-fest when Jeremy Hunt spoke at the Lord Mayor's Banquet on May 13.

The Foreign Secretary set the scene by saying, "Today I want to look beyond Brexit. I will argue that whatever the Brexit outcome, Britain's role at the heart of global affairs is potentially more vital, more necessary and more significant than it has ever been." In an attempt to provide a rationale for this Britain at the heart of global affairs, he emphasises "the role played by the United Kingdom - alongside the United States - in building an international order after the horror of the Second World War that has stood the test of time." It is rather breath-taking that this period of the Cold War and then the attempt to enforce the Anglo-US dictate globally, with the establishment of NATO, the World Bank, the IMF, and so on, is summed up in this way. But this rosy picture is necessary to justify a "new" programme for Britain based on this portrayal.

So Jeremy Hunt's argument is that to achieve a "post-Brexit national renewal", three essential pillars must be established: economic strength, hard power, and, "the most challenging of all", a democratic renewal.

"Economic strength" is necessary, Hunt argues, "because economic power both strengthens soft power and finances hard power". To do this, Britain must be in the vanguard of the fourth industrial revolution. But this prosperity must have a "social purpose". It will come as a surprise to everyone involved in campaigns to safeguard the future of the NHS that the former Health Secretary cites the way the benefiting of the NHS was made a priority after the recession of 2008 as an example of this. But Jeremy Hunt has in mind the "social purpose" of strengthening the "hard power" of military spending, within the context of a "multipolar world without the assurance provided by unquestioned American dominance". This was what the news reports of the speech mainly picked up on - his call for a huge increase in military spending to help "our great ally the United States", and specifying Russia and China as the threats. And it was also recognised that this envisioned programme for a certain Britain in an uncertain post-Brexit world, a Britain siding 100 per cent with the US, a Britain encouraging "other democracies who share our values" also to ally with the US, would find favour in the Conservative leadership race.

But what was not so much remarked on was Hunt's third pillar, which he said was the most challenging of all, and called "a democratic renewal". "Good diplomacy begins at home. But our democracy has become rather frayed. Proud as we are of our traditions, we too need renewal."

This is the recognition that the Westminster system no longer functions, that there is a serious credibility crisis, that with Brexit "people simply refused to believe what leaders in Westminster were telling them", that "too many today feel that modern capitalism only works only for a privileged few". The answer is "a democratic renewal", but this renewal is one of the old social contract: "People want more power and agency over every aspect of their lives, including the decisions taken by those in authority, as part of a renewal of the social contract between state and citizen." In other words, the issue is to block the people reaching the warranted conclusion that it is precisely this "social contract between state and citizen" that must be rejected in order to have control over their lives and become empowered. Rather, they should rethink parliamentary democracy, start a new chapter in Britain's history not by fighting for change, but by getting behind Britain as a "global power", one with a "global vocation".

This is not an option for the people. The people are not to blame for the lack of credibility and legitimacy of the Westminster system of representative democracy. They are not to blame for the debacle of May's resignation, of the ongoing Brexit farce, of the crude spectacle of the leadership race. They are not to blame for the unapologetic racism, warmongering, chauvinism, militarisation and the breaking of all taboos of what is acceptable in a civilised society.

These things are rather confirmation of where the problems in society lie, of British and US exceptionalism, of the bankruptcy of the Old, of the blood-stained flag of "making Britain great again", of the disempowerment of the people.

In fact the people have the solution, which is to reject this old direction for the economy and society, and, taking stock of what they know, affirm that what is required are new arrangements, an anti-war system of government, where the people speak in their own name, not hand over their names to "representatives" who do not represent them but represent a fictitious person of state, a "global power", an ally of "unquestioned US dominance" and a wielder of "hard power" and a Machiavellian "soft power" and promotion of "shared values".

The issue facing the polity is how to bring the initiative of the people into play when they are excluded from political decision-making. The actual advances the people are making in developing their resistance against attacks on their rights and interests, and in speaking out on matters of concern to the polity and to the people's well-being provide an answer. They are searching for social forms and striving to create organisations which will embody their striving for empowerment.

The way that the process was conducted of deciding on who the next Prime Minister of Britain will be, confirms that genuine democratic renewal is required, and not to restore faith in liberal democratic institutions which lie in tatters. Whether it is Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt who is shoe-horned into the role of Prime Minister, they will not represent the peoples of England, Scotland, Wales or the north of Ireland. People will justly say, this person is not acting in our name; we must ourselves speak in our own name, and this provides the way forward out of the crisis and the antidote to the arbitrary power of the executive.

The people themselves must be empowered, not the ruling elite. That is to say, political power must be exercised on behalf of all members of society so that the direction of the economy serves them and not the financial oligarchy, and war and aggression is rejected. This is the kind of democratic renewal which is required, one which is the call of the times and which the people are vigorously responding to!


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