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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Rishi Sunak has tough fight on hand

British conservatism has been resilient, having succeeded in adapting itself to changing political and social agendas.

ARUN SRIVASTAVA

The final ballot of the British Parliamentarians which put Rishi Sunak at the top place with 137 votes as against Liz Truss’s 113 votes does not give any indication of what finally can happen on September 5 when the final results will be out following voting by nearly 160,000 members of the Conservative Party. Rishi Sunak will have to organize a tough campaign among the white majority ordinary members to prove that he is one of them.

Liz Truss incidentally is pitching herself as the Boris Johnson’s ‘continuity candidate’ who wants to increase spending and lower taxes. It is believed the members may like her in comparison to Sunak. But her being lightweight in the nation’s politics is the major disadvantage. Though Sunak has been favourite of the Conservative Lawmakers and political commentators, it is his charm, whether the Tory party members would accept him that matters most.

The perception of the lawmakers and commentators that he is best suited to extract the country out of present economic crisis, ought to reach to the down, to the ordinary members. Nonetheless one development is quite reassuring for Sunak is Britons’ attitudes to non-white minorities have changed. Even the ordinary members respect him as a pleasant, intelligent, well-educated person. It is acceptance of the non-white members as the face of modern Britain that the right-wing Spectator magazine remarked, with a tinge of pride: “The Tories are showing Labour how it’s done on diversity.” Sunak would have to reach out to these members.

The situation has undergone major change during a decade. Earlier they used to play at the periphery. Most are from India, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds. This transformation to induct Asians into the higher echelons of politics owes to former prime minister David Cameron.

However seasoned lawmakers are sure of Sunak’s victory and to support their argument they point out that dour Yorkshiremen and women of the constituency always wanted a white Yorkshire-born candidate. This was for the first time they got Sunak who was born in Southampton.

No doubt Conservative party has marched a long way from when Norman Tebbit, a senior Tory in Margaret Thatcher’s time, stirred controversy in 1990 by saying British Asians couldn’t be truly loyal to Britain without cheering for the England cricket team. However it is a recent snap poll that has been creating anxiety in the Sunak camp. It shows that Truss would beat Sunak in the party members’ contest.

“This has been one of the most unpredictable contests to be the next Conservative leader in recent history,” said Chris Hopkins, the political research director at the polling company SavantaComRes.”This has been very different to recent contests where you have had one clear favourite run away with it.” The vitriol between the candidates also poses the question of how well any new leader will be able to govern.

Conservative Party, byname Tories, in the United Kingdom, is a political party whose guiding principles include the promotion of private property and enterprise, the maintenance of a strong military, and the preservation of traditional cultural values and institutions. Since World War I the Conservative Party and its principal opponent, the Labour Party, have dominated British political life. Surprisingly both the parties in recent times have been losing their support base and the membership has been on decline.

The Conservative Party is the heir, the continuation, of the old Tory Party, members of which began forming “conservative associations” after Britain’s Reform Bill of 1832 extended electoral rights to the middle class.

For some time alienation had been growing within the party over Britain’s continued membership in the European Union. In 2013 David Cameron first promised a national referendum on the issue, and in February 2016 he succeeded in winning concessions from EU leaders that were aimed at pleasing Eurosceptics. The party divided in the lead-up to the referendum in 2016, with Cameron leading the “Remain” side and former London mayor Boris Johnson heading up the “Leave” side. Britons were sceptic of Johnson’s moves. Though he was for Brexit, he was not too keen to enforce it.

British conservatism has been resilient, having succeeded in adapting itself to changing political and social agendas. The party is amalgamation of several ideological groups, the most important of which are a centrist “One Nation” bloc that stresses economic interventionism and social harmony and an economic-liberal bloc that emphasizes a free-market economy. Neither of these two blocs are monolithic.

The membership of the modern Conservative Party is drawn heavily from the landowning and middle classes-especially businessmen, managers, and professionals. Its electoral base has extended to incorporate approximately one-third of the working class, and working-class votes were essential to the extraordinary electoral success that the party enjoyed after World War I. Since the 1950s a regional alignment of the party’s electoral support has become apparent, so that it is now concentrated in nonindustrial rural and suburban areas, especially in the south of England. Indeed, the party’s decline outside England was so great that in the 1997 election, it returned no members of Parliament in either Scotland or Wales.

The development which has really been scaring the political institution and establishment of Britain is the increasing level of poverty. One can see many of the people across Britain surviving on begging. The crime too has been on increase. Sunak on Monday vowed new laws to ensure grooming gang crimes never get repeated.

Well over 100 of the Conservatives’ 361 MPs are aligned with one or more of a string of internal pressure groups. Covid Recovery Group; Net Zero Scrutiny Group; Common Sense Group; Northern Research Group and European Research Group. They have divergent agenda. How far Sunak succeeds in taking these groups into confidence will affect the swing of the lower level members.

The battle to become the U.K. Conservative Party’s next leader – and the country’s next prime minister – heated up over the weekend. It was interesting to see that all the five candidates, once colleagues, turned enemies as the campaigned progressed. They clashed over taxes, Brexit and trans rights underlining political and ideological perspectives. While Truss accused Sunak of raising taxes to their highest level in 70 years and challenged that his policy will “not drive economic growth.” On his part Sunak defended his record, saying the Covid pandemic had been a massive economic challenge and debts needed to be repaid. The victory of Sunak depends to what extent the lower level members accept his clarification.

The stand of the Eurosceptics is going to be of quite importance. It is worth mentioning that the EU referendum was called only to enable David Cameron to appease the Eurosceptics within his own party. It is certain that new prime minister will eventuality be under tremendous pressure from the Conservatives leaders and also from some Cabinet ministers to implement the deal in right earnest and spirit. The European issue has been a reliable source of problems for the party leadership.

There are different degrees of Euroscepticism. There are hard Eurosceptics who want either a radically reformed relationship with the EU or for Britain to leave altogether. And there are soft Eurosceptics who are sceptical about certain aspects of the EU. But one aspect that need to be paid enough attention is growing clamour for nationalism. A nationalist ideology appears to be central to much Conservative Euroscepticism. They could not this raise issue earlier during the time of Boris. But now they are contemplating to raise it with new vigour. MPs with more privileged backgrounds-for example those who have been privately educated or ex-lawyers-are more Europhile than other Conservative MPs. (IPA Service)

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