Look to the 17th century to understand Britain today.

Look to the 17th century to understand Britain today.

The Rollercoaster Ride of British Politics

British elections

Feeling a Bit Shaken

Damn her eyes! I only took over as Bagehot the other day, on April Fools’ Day, and now I have an election to cover. Theresa May’s decision to call a general election has certainly caught me off guard. Just as I was getting comfortable, easing into my new job, and planning a trip North, I now find myself thrust into the chaotic world of British politics once again.

Theresa May’s Shrewd Move

Theresa May’s decision to call a general election has been thoroughly analyzed, but it is no doubt a smart move. Labour is at its weakest point, and Mrs. May will have the opportunity to establish her authority within her party. Not to mention, by shifting the next election from 2020 to 2022, she won’t be pressured by the ticking clock while negotiating with the EU. This election, however, could be more significant than just a political power play. Mrs. May recognizes that something has gone wrong with globalization and is proposing a return to our national traditions and a sense of community to address it.

The Post-Globalization Era

This election marks the beginning of a new era, the post-globalization era for British politics. Since the 1980s, British politics has revolved around the ideology of liberal globalization, advocating for a dismantling of the corporate state, pushing for a single market in Europe, and championing global integration. Britain became the poster-boy for this ideology, creating the most liberal market in corporate control, accepting a massive influx of immigrants, and establishing London as the world’s most global city.

Proponents of liberal globalization argued that it would benefit everyone, rich and poor alike. While it did lift millions out of poverty globally, Britain began to witness the downside. Disruption and job loss became all too common, while productivity growth significantly lagged behind the post-war years. The global financial crisis further exposed the flaws of financial globalization. The promise of a healthier economy kept falling short for many, and inequality continued to rise.

A Struggle for a Slice of the Pie

Low productivity growth poisons politics, creating a struggle over who gets what share of a fixed pie. This struggle is worsened in Britain due to two factors: rising inequality and mass immigration. Inequality has reached levels not seen since the 1920s, with a small elite acquiring a growing proportion of the country’s wealth. Immigration has increased at a pace unmatched since 19th century America. The blatant gap between what the political elites promised and what they delivered has fueled populist anger and fundamentally changed Britain’s relationship with the EU.

May’s Key Questions

Theresa May’s campaign will revolve around two essential questions: Will you give me the authority to negotiate the best deal for Britain with Brussels? And, do you trust a hard-leftist like Jeremy Corbyn to run the country? It is highly likely that the majority will answer in favor of Mrs. May. However, underlying these questions are more general concerns about Britain’s economy. Even Jeremy Corbyn, for all his faults, struck a chord when he criticized those who got rich by breaking the rules and hiding their money. This election may be an opportunity for Mrs. May to break away from some fundamental tenets of Thatcherism and challenge Britain’s emerging oligarchy.

A Fresh Perspective After Many Years Away

As someone who has spent a significant amount of time away from my homeland, I am often reminded of how little I know about the current state of British politics. While many political correspondents can recount the minutiae of Westminster’s dealings, I am easily confused between names and events. Perhaps it’s better to write as Rip Van Winkle rather than Bagehot.

A Feeble Political Establishment

The British political establishment, as feeble as it has ever been, is currently facing a crisis. The House of Lords has become a gilded cattle-car of has-beens and time-servers, while the House of Commons is rendered powerless due to Brexit negotiations and a weakened Labour Party. The Foreign Office is in disarray, and Whitehall is stifled by business-worship, management-speak, and political correctness. Institutions are losing their sense of identity and confidence, and Britain finds itself at a crossroads.

The Quest for Community

In today’s society, the quest for a sense of community and belonging has become increasingly important. Globalization and technology have left people feeling atomized and in need of a new sense of belonging. Britain, much like America, has become a land of flags, with each region displaying their own symbols. This longing for community is especially evident among those who voted to leave the EU. Many Leavers felt that globalization had taken away their sense of belonging and self-respect. It’s time for politicians to think beyond just economic policy and focus on rebuilding communities and restoring self-respect.

A Political mistake of Suez Proportions

Brexit is undoubtedly the worst political mistake since Suez. While the EU has its flaws, the decision to engage in an acrimonious divorce from our largest trading partners will undoubtedly have a high opportunity cost. Britain was already in a favorable position as a semi-detached member of the EU, and the argument that EU membership hindered global opportunities was baseless. The referendum revealed a deeply divided country, disillusioned with the establishment and seeking change. Brexit illuminated the regional and class divides that had gone unrecognized. It was not just a struggle between “globalists” and “localists,” but a reflection of a country that no longer trusted its own government.

A Revolt of the Provinces

The parallels between the English Civil War and the Brexit referendum are striking. The Cavaliers control the cities, boasting of their superior civilization. The Roundheads, representing the countryside, complain about the establishment’s blood-sucking ways. The referendum result was not simply about Brussels; it reflected the resentment of the people towards the political elite. The courts and institutions failed to recognize the growing discontent, believing that the country was full of bigots and backward-thinking individuals. This breakdown between the “country” and the “court” is reminiscent of the divisions seen in 17th-century Europe.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

The coming weeks will be filled with name-calling and political maneuvering, but amidst the chaos lie significant challenges and opportunities. Can Britain negotiate a favorable deal with the EU while addressing the concerns of those who fear disruption? Can the country find a balance between globalization and a renewed sense of community? And, importantly, can Britain tackle its productivity problem, which is poisoning politics and turning us against each other?

The British political landscape is a rollercoaster ride filled with challenges, reforms, and uncertainties. While the coming election will provide some clarity, the road ahead is full of twists and turns. Brace yourselves, for the ride is about to begin.