Political caricatures, policies, and public service

Political caricatures, policies, and public service

The Paradoxes of Brexit: A Reflection on Britain’s Political Landscape


Brexit, once hailed as an opportunity for Britain to reclaim control of its destiny, has become a battleground filled with paradoxes. The idea was to restore parliamentary sovereignty, yet a British prime minister now sits in a windowless room in Brussels while 27 European countries discuss the country’s future in the council chamber. This image alone captures the irony of Brexit, as the leader who was supposed to exemplify independence instead finds herself dependent on others.

The Rise of Caricatures in Politics

In the Blair-Cameron era, politicians vied to be as bland as possible. Today, however, we witness the rise of grotesque caricatures. Jeremy Corbyn, often depicted as George Orwell’s sandal-wearing pacifist, leads a team full of upper-class socialists who claim affinity with the working-class despite their expensive education. Meanwhile, Theresa May, resembling the archetypical grammar-school girl, continuously rewrites the same essay in search of a gold star.

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, embodies the puffed-up little man who delights in using labyrinthine sentences to impress with his vocabulary. As for the hard-core Brexiteers, they can be divided into the self-assured golf-club bore and the mumbling monomaniac, tirelessly dragging conversations back to their singular points.

The Battle for Authenticity

Among the left and right wings of British politics, the concept of “real” Labour or “real” Conservatism holds powerful sway. The left argues that “real” Labour voters are coal-miners and steel-workers, and that their policies center around income redistribution and nationalization. Conversely, the right struggles to define a “real” Tory voter, yet they emphasize flag-waving nationalism, suspicion of foreigners, and a sense of British exceptionalism.

Moderate elements within each party often feel torn, fearing that they are betraying the true essence of their respective parties. Tony Blair resorted to top-down control and gesture politics to maintain order, while Theresa May constantly gives in to the Brexiteers despite her recognition that the Conservative Party needs to abandon its “nasty party” image.

The Decline of Britain’s Political Class

This week, yet another testament to the sorry state of Britain’s political class emerged. It is not just that the country has its worst prime minister and leader of the opposition, but it also boasts the worst cabinet and shadow cabinet. Historically, Britain sent its most talented individuals to Parliament, featuring distinguished figures such as Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, and Nye Bevan, representing different aspects of society. However, the talent pool has dwindled, leaving many capable figures sidelined on the backbenches.

Critics argue that the business sector has absorbed the nation’s talent, leaving politics bereft of capable individuals. However, it would be unfair to claim that all business leaders are an ideal fit for politics. Many become private-sector bureaucrats who excel in holding meetings and recycling memos. The few who do transition into politics, such as Archie Norman, have not showcased an inspiring performance.

But the issue runs deeper than talent allocation. Britain’s governing class has lost its core essence – the sense of public service. In the past, retired politicians would tend to their gardens and dispense wisdom in the House of Lords. Today, they join the ranks of the super-rich, engaging in social activities with billionaires, playboys, and dynasts. Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal lies, in part, in his austere lifestyle, which at least portrays an image of self-denial.

Two profound structural changes contribute to this decline. Firstly, the division of labor has caused academia to write for academia and businesses to be inundated with government-imposed metrics. Secondly, there has been a significant loss of cultural self-confidence within the governing class. Once aligned on the virtues of Western civilization, the erosion of common cultural values through academic fads and interest-group politics has made it easier for many to abandon public life and focus solely on personal wealth accumulation.

Brexit, with all its paradoxes, lays bare the flaws in Britain’s political landscape. As the country grapples with its uncertain future, it must also confront the challenges faced by its political class. Only by addressing these underlying issues can Britain hope to revitalize its governance, restore public service ethics, and re-establish a sense of shared cultural values within its political institutions.