[13th June 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Britain’s summer of discontent

PYQ Relevance: 
Q The judicial systems in India and the UK seem to be converging as well as diverging in recent times. Highlight the key points of convergence and divergence between the two nations in terms of their judicial practices. (UPSC IAS/2020)

Q Why did the Industrial Revolution first occur in England? Discuss the quality of life of the people there during the industrialization. How does it compare with that in India at present times? (UPSC IAS/2015)

Let’s learn!

Mentor comment: The UK’s upcoming elections are marked by widespread disillusionment and uncertainty. Labour leads amid economic woes and political divisions but lacks clear solutions. The Conservatives, grappling with internal turmoil, face low expectations. The outcome will impact India-UK relations, particularly in trade, immigration, and strategic partnerships, amid Brexit’s aftermath and domestic challenges like NHS funding and economic recovery.

Why in the News?

Rishi Sunak called a general election six months early, making the announcement in the rain, symbolizing the current pessimism in Britain. 

Party-Dynamics in UK:

In the UK, the dominant parties in elections are:

1. Conservative Party (Led by Rishi Sunak): Historically, the Conservative Party, under the leadership of Rishi Sunak, has emphasized strengthening economic and trade ties with India. They have shown interest in forging closer partnerships in various sectors, including technology, defense, and education. The Conservative Party’s immigration policies, including visa regulations, can affect Indian nationals wishing to study, work, or immigrate to the UK.

2. Labour Party (Led by Keir Starmer): The Labour Party has also sought to enhance relations with India, focusing on areas such as trade, investment, and cultural exchange. However, the party has faced criticism from some sections of the Indian diaspora for its stance on issues like Kashmir and immigration policies. Labour’s approach to visa regulations and its stance on international affairs can impact its relationship with India.

Labour Party’s Contributions for India’s Freedom:

Support for Indian Self-Government: The Labour Party, especially under leaders like Clement Attlee, expressed support for Indian self-government and independence. Attlee, who later became Prime Minister, was sympathetic to Indian aspirations for freedom and worked towards granting independence.
Cabinet Mission Plan: In 1946, the Labour government sent the Cabinet Mission to India to discuss and negotiate the transfer of power. The mission proposed a plan for India’s constitutional future, advocating for a united but decentralized India with significant autonomy for provinces. Although the plan did not ultimately succeed, it demonstrated Labour’s commitment to finding a peaceful resolution to India’s struggle for independence.
Indian Independence Act: In 1947, the Labour government passed the Indian Independence Act, which provided the legal framework for India’s partition and independence. The act received support from Labour members of parliament and was instrumental in facilitating the end of British colonial rule in India.

Labour’s Challenge

  • Leading Polls but Facing Issues: Labour is leading in the polls but is aware of the challenges: a weak economy, a strained social contract, and political division.
  • Lack of Solutions: Labour recognizes it currently lacks real solutions to these problems.
  • Reflecting on Grievances: No party offers optimism; Britain is reflecting on past grievances.

Self-Inflicted Problems

  • Economic and Global Uncertainties: Britain’s weak economy and global uncertainties contribute to the current despair.
  • Brexit’s Impact: Much of this despair is due to Brexit, which failed to address migration issues and did not deliver economic benefits.
  • Funding Shortfalls: There is insufficient funding for the National Health Service (NHS), education, and addressing the cost-of-living crisis, with nearly 3% of the population relying on food banks.

Conservative Party Issues

  • Unpopularity and Internal Chaos: The Conservatives, in power for 14 years, are unpopular due to internal chaos and frequent leadership changes.
  • Frequent Leadership Changes: Since 2019, the party has had three Prime Ministers, four Chancellors, four Foreign Secretaries, and five Home Secretaries.
  • Low Expectations: The party is not expecting to win another term.
Why UK elections matter to India?

Trade and Economic Relations: The UK is an important trading partner for India, and the outcome of the elections could influence future trade agreements and economic cooperation between the two countries.
Diaspora Concerns: The large Indian diaspora in the UK has significant political and economic influence. Their interests and concerns, including immigration policies, are often considered in the UK’s political landscape, which can impact India-UK relations.
Strategic Partnerships: India and the UK share strategic interests in areas such as defense, security, and counter-terrorism. The political leadership in both countries plays a crucial role in shaping and maintaining these partnerships.
Diplomatic Engagement: The stance of the UK government on international issues, including India’s relations with its neighbors and global affairs, can influence diplomatic engagements between the two countries.
Immigration Policies: Immigration policies proposed or implemented by the UK government can directly affect Indian nationals, including students, professionals, and families, leading to implications for bilateral ties and people-to-people exchanges.

Labour’s Campaign

  • Lack of Optimism: Unlike in 1997, Labour’s current campaign lacks optimism and focuses on ending Conservative chaos.
  • Challenges for Keir Starmer: Keir Starmer’s Labour faces challenges as the UK exits a shallow recession and remains divided over Brexit and immigration.
  • International Tensions: International tensions, particularly with Russia and China, dominate discussions without the financial means to increase defense spending.

Domestic Issues in UK

  • Economic Concerns and Public Services: Britain’s problems are mainly domestic, including economic concerns, an overburdened NHS, and public services affected by migration and Brexit.
  • NHS Promises: Both Labour and Conservatives pledge to protect the NHS but lack concrete solutions.
  • Brexit Stance: There is little difference between the parties on key issues, particularly Brexit.

Brexit Regret

  • Growing Regret: More people regret Brexit now than support it, but Starmer has ruled out rejoining the EU or restoring free movement.
  • Similar Brexit Stances: Labour’s stance on Brexit is similar to the Conservative hardline approach, despite the economic impact.
  • Migration Rhetoric: Starmer avoids sounding soft on migration due to toxic rhetoric surrounding the issue.

Scandals and Public Distrust

  • Major Scandals: Two major scandals are prominent: the Post Office miscarriage of justice and the infected blood scandal.
  • Bipartisan Involvement: Both scandals involve Labour and Conservative governments, with denial and obfuscation by politicians and civil servants.
  • Compensation and Distrust: The new government will face compensation costs and a distrustful electorate.

Conclusion: Britain faces a critical juncture marked by economic stagnation, social division, and disillusionment exacerbated by the Brexit fallout. To navigate forward, leaders must prioritize rebuilding trust, addressing NHS and social care crises, fostering economic stability, and healing societal rifts. Effective governance and genuine solutions are imperative to restore optimism and tackle pressing domestic challenges.



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