hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why the British Election Matters

Yorkshire, God’s Own County and all that. 22 April. “We Yorkshire folk love our political jokes.  It’s just a shame we go on voting for them.”  Back in my home county of Yorkshire, place of my birth which is gripped by election fever…not!  Regular victims of my musings will have had pause to note that not much International Relations theory ever pollutes my blogs. This is mainly because most IR theory (not all) is complete drivel – the semantic and the unintelligible in pursuit of the turgidly theoretical.  There is one particularly school of IR theory that really gets my Yorkshire goat; rational choice positivism. Rat choice positivists believe one can explain all international relations without any recourse to domestic politics.  Come 7 May and the British general election and proof positive will emerge that demonstrates that domestic politics really does matter. One of the world’s more powerful states is about to vote itself into being one of the world’s weaker states and gthe consequences will be profound.  A weak British state on the edge of Europe and the wider West will have the most profound implications for international relations.

Why and how?  Over the past twenty years British politicians have handed so much power away to Brussels and every other part of the United Kingdom except England that not only do they hate each other (normal) but most of them are hated by the people.  Consequently, the political landscape has fractured with the result that ‘Yorkshire folk’ have a whole plethora of ‘jokes’ from which to choose, but very few in which they actually believe.  The 7 May election is thus unlikely to decide a clear winner.  Therefore, the next government will either be a continuation of the current Conservative-led coalition or some form of mutual murder-suicide pact between the Labour Party and the UK-busting Scottish Nationalist Party or SNP.

Britain is also facing the perfect domestic political storm.  First, austerity-driven budget cuts, an ageing population, mass/hyper immigration, and a rising population have combined to destabilise the British state.  Second, the EU’s “Europe of the Regions” policy has served to further weaken the United Kingdom to the point where disintegration remains a very real political possibility.  Third, to mask their failure politicians have drained Britain’s foreign and defence budgets to fund domestic structures, such as the National Health Service.

Marxist Bertold Brecht once said that it would be ‘simpler for the government to dissolve the people and elect another”.  This general election certainly smacks of Brecht’s justified cynicism. The political class have attempted to avoid responsibility for their collective incompetence by simply avoiding the issues which reflect their failure – immigration, Europe and defence.  In spite of there being clear evidence that such issues remain high on the policy wish-lists of a majority of voters.

A charitable analysis would be to suggest that if a Cameron government is re-elected then Britain will remain out of the line of international relations for a further five years and then re-engage.  If a Miliband-led government is elected it will spend two years trying to act like a Syriza-lite mob before common sense and the bond markets re-impose some rationality, much like the 1981 Mitterand government in France and President Hollande today. 

So, what will that mean for rat choice positivists and international relations?  At the political level neither Cameron nor Miliband show any aptitude for international relations whatsoever beyond the politics of “gesture aid”. At no time has either of them offered a vision for Britain in Europe or Britain in the world. In other words, there is a profound strategic malaise in Britain’s political leadership, add that malaise to the coming chronically-instable government of whatever political hue eventually emerges and to employ a technical ‘IR’ term Britain is stuffed.

Britain's retreat could not happen at a worse moment.  With the Greek debt crisis about to kick off again far from being a rock of stability in an unstable Europe Britain will vote itself into being another European political basket-case.  The implications for the American-led West are dire.  With the effective loss of Britain as a serious international relations actor, a top five world economy and military actor, a large black hole will appear in the heart of the West marked by a large sign which will read, “Here Britain once stood firm”. Consequently, even more strategic pressure will be placed on an already over-stretched America. The world will be made even more dangerous and at some point the US Congress will say “enough”.

Let us hope that by some miracle the British people defy the polls and vote for some form of stable government and let us hope that the strategic political lightweights vying to ‘lead’ Britain can concoct some form of credible foreign, security and defence policy beyond the new appeasement both Cameron and Miliband espouse in their various ways. Don’t hold your breath. Indeed, 2015 British General Election could well mark the moment Britain ceased to matter on the world stage.  Worse, the effective loss of one of the West’s two historic anchor states and the West itself will cease to exist. Who could possibly benefit from that?

Britain's General Election matters, not just to the British...but to you too!

Julian Lindley-French

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