Britannia chained

Mediocre times reflect mediocre leadership. Once sat in the hallowed halls of Westminster figures such as Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, and Clement Attlee, who shaped Britain and the world; the same halls now see MPs’ caught watching porn and flatly lying about breaking their own laws. While the divide between Westminster and London’s echo chambers widens, the quality of British leadership drops.  

Similar to the 1970s, the economy is sluggish and inflation is high, and most Britons view the country as in decline, with its best days behind it; but unlike then, there is no towering Margaret Thatcher to pull the country out of its economic mess, and restore British pride. The demise of the venerable Queen Elizabeth has exacerbated this sentiment. Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak aren’t cut from the same cloth as their illustrious predecessors, and neither are their opponents in the Labour party. Both seem out of touch and elitist, bickering about issues that ordinary Britons don’t care about. Most were elected as the lesser of the two evils, rather than on their merit: Kier Starmer is tipped to be the next prime minister, but simply because of the Tories’ misrule. Beyond their own loud and vocal bases, both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson were widely detested by much of the country.

The Labour-Conservative dichotomy has been out of favour with the country for a while now, kept alive by the first-past-the-post system. Most of these parties’ supporters today evoke Thatcher and Attlee, and not the current leadership; it is as if they have nothing new to offer to the country: The Tory leadership race was dominated by who was a more worthy successor to Margaret Thatcher. As British democracy matures, most voters do not identify with current platforms. The divide is stark between the governing and the governed. Given a choice, the young progressives would flock to the Greens and the older conservatives to Nigel Farage. 

The idea of parliamentary democracy is for local constituencies to elect their MPs who then champion their issues in Westminster. But with party candidates selected at random, there is often no connection between the MP and their constituents. It is worth asking Boris Johnson about his ties to his constituents in Uxbridge or the urbane Rishi Sunak to his in North Yorkshire. With the cream of the Tory party drawn from the Eton-Oxbridge dichotomy, they are already out of touch with most of their voters; it is also worth questioning how many working-class or union members actually find a place in Labour’s scheme of things. Thus, most of these parties are kept alive by their donors, media machines and well-oiled echo chambers. 

It is therefore no surprise that the issues that matter in Westminster are vastly different to those that matter to working Britons. Most ordinary Britons are not bothered by lofty titles of capitalist or socialist or culture wars or political correctness; rather, most are concerned by bread and butter issues: lower taxes, safer and cleaner streets, reduced wait times for NHS and dentists, better schools and apprenticeships, and immigration reforms. It is hard to find common ground on contentious issues such as immigration and taxes; right or wrong, they reflect the beliefs of voters and thus have to be respected. The wisdom of the voter is often ignored by the political class. 

This form of democracy is unsustainable. With deepening fissures between Westminster and voters, Britons could resort to extremist solutions in vain. Divisive forces on both the left and right find it a ripe ground to attract disenchanted voters with lofty promises and rhetoric. The role of citizens has been relegated to elections, and many do not find a stake in their own elected government. For a robust and thriving democracy, prime ministers, leaders, MPs and candidates ought to be rooted with boots on the ground. The parliament ought to resemble the country it represents. Instead of top-down hardline ideologies as in the case of Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Truss, leaders ought to listen to both the voters and their MPs; the public sentiment will often echo pragmatic centrism and governance, and not strong ideological barriers. 

A more long-term solution is to attract the wider populace to enter politics. The working class cannot rely on strikes to get their due, the answer lies in formally taking power; the same goes for green progressives and social conservatives. The debates which happen on university campuses and village pubs ought to happen in parliament. Parties ought to open up their platforms to their voters. Secondly, campaign financing and donations have to be reformed. But a large mandate also lies with citizens who rail and lament, complain and groan, but do not turn up on election day or participate in the political process. 

Unlike what we often believe, Britain is not divided beyond repair. Across the political divide, most want a fairer economy, safer streets, better schools, robust public services, and quality employment at the doorstep. Revitalising the political process and empowering Britons to do it themselves is the way forward. There is nothing wrong in Britain that cannot be fixed by what is right in Britain.  


The picture was taken by Joe Daniel Price for Getty Images.

Britannia Chained

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