Friday, July 12, 2024 | 19:48 WIB

An Indonesian Perspective on Labour’s Land slide win in Britain

Jakarta, IO – “I feel like I have just come out of an abusive relationship and still feel traumatized,” was how one British voter on James O’ Brien’s LBC show described the rapid change of government in Britain after Labour’s electoral landslide.

On the 4th of July Britons headed to the polls and after 14 years of conservative government rule, they all but crushed the Tories by giving the Labour party a landslide majority. Labour’s 411 seat victory in the House of Commons, is seen by many as British voters punishing the Tories for Britain’s many woes since the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage convinced voters to endorse Brexit, and for the political and financial turbulence of the Tory rule that followed. Simon Alexander a British writer says that the last 14 years have seen the worst government in his lifetime. He thinks that voters voted for change as well as to punish the Tories, “Most people say that they voted Labour because they have not forgiven Liz Truss for what she did to the economy and because of Boris Johnson’s partygate scandal during COVID.”

Donna Grew a property manager from Northern Ireland based in London spoke passionately of the human cost, “Partygate showed the Tories felt they were above the law and had no shame. My friend Seamus’ mother suffered alone from dementia and cancer in an NHS hospital where she eventually died alone. Meanwhile, the Tories partied and remained immovable on lockdown rules. They trotted out the line that they were our guardians, keeping the country safe from COVID. Partygate showed a total disregard for their constituents and displayed their hypocrisy. They showed no compassion, especially for the sick and elderly…”

It was largely this anger that fuelled Labour’s biggest electoral win since Tony Blair’s victory in 1997. Surprisingly, many voters’ reaction – including Labour supporters – was not so much one of euphoria but simply a profound sense of relief. Many echoed the sentiments of the British voter on LBC not only in LBC’s comment section but in other media outlets as well. One of them described his reaction to the Labour victory as feeling a great sense of relief after finally waking up from an ongoing nightmare. Britian has gone through years of instability and chaos. The polarization that Brexit and its aftermath created in British society and the abrasiveness of politicians such as Nigel Farage (few will forget his deliberate rudeness as Britain withdrew from the EU parliament) has been very stressful for many of the British who have traditionally had a reputation as a very polite society. Simon Alexander described how polarized society became after Brexit, “Everything was black and white. There was no room anymore for nuance and exploration. Views on Brexit became rigid dogma. Brexit was like a civil war about ideologies, not policies.”

A long time British resident of Jakarta echoed this sentiment, commenting that it was a relief to have a smooth change of guard. “I just hope Starmer can lead us back to the centrist position and stay true to British values, not those to the left of his party.”

The polarization of British society seems to have driven many British voters into becoming centrists. (The Lib Dems also gained substantially in the election with an unheard of 71 seats in parliament.) In many ways, the new government’s program while campaigning did not appear to differ very much from that of Starmer’s predecessor, Rishi Sunak. His priority is ensuring stability and for Starmer national renewal means just that, ensuring stability. He has said that his mission is to deliver ‘a calm and patient rebuilding,’ carried out by a government of service.

All nations require stability before they can rebuild economically as Indonesia itself saw under both the Suharto as well as the Megawati governments whose first priorities were also about creating national stability. Starmer’s military and foreign policies appear to remain more or less the same as his predecessor’s, except for Gaza where he now calls for an immediate ceasefire, unimpeded aid to Gaza and recognition of a Palestinian state. As regards climate change, he appears more committed than the previous Tory government to the task of delivering net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and in upholding environmental regulations.

Starmer is hitting the ground running. On his first day in office, he scrapped the Rwanda plan for refugees and announced his cabinet with women making up 40 percent. He also made three surprising appointments that indicate a prime minister who wants to make serious reforms. He has appointed three ministers who are real experts and not members of his party or even members of parliament. Under the British parliamentary system, a minister must be a member of parliament. Starmer by-passed that difficulty by making them members of the House of Lords. He appointed Richard Hermer KC, a top lawyer, not a member of the Labour party as attorney general. It shows Starmer’s desire for integrity for one of the most important tasks of the attorney general is to advise the government whether an action they wish to take complies with the law. The second position of Science Minister went to Patrick Vallance, one of the country’s top scientists and shows Starmer wants expertise. Third position, is James Timpson as Minister of Prisons. He is a philanthropist who employs former prisoners and is chair of the Prisons Reform Trust with a real interest and experience in the prison system. The British prison system is full, with the government having to release prisoners early to keep the system from completely collapsing. Timpson’s appointment indicates a desire to bring in major reform.

Donna Grew says, “Starmer has made promises regarding the NHS, a publicly owned energy company, to close private education loopholes to improve state schools, stop water companies providing their CEOs with bonuses when the company has harmed the environment, to provide greater support for victims of violence, to increase the minimum wage, to improve the railways, free breakfast clubs etc… However, what is worrying is that there is nothing there economic.”

Currently, there are no reserves in the British Treasury to rebuild Britain’s underfunded and deteriorating social services and infrastructure with energetic welfare programs, new infrastructure investment or enterprises without increasing taxation.

Unlike most voters, Scottish businessman Tony Fayre, says he feels despondent at the outcome of the elections as he feels that nothing will truly change and the new prime minister has said so. He says that 14 years under the Tories has simply seen more upward wealth transfer as well as the spread of cultural and climate wars. What Fayre wants to see is a comprehensive strategic plan for the British economy. He explains that both Britain and Europe became rich through their colonies. They have lost their colonies and no longer have access to their cheap natural resources and labour or to their markets, causing Britian and Europe to lose their competitive manufacturing edge. For a time, Britain sold financial services through London but Britain no longer leads in this. After Brexit it became apparent that what London was offering could be done elsewhere as well. Added to that both Britain and the EU have to compete with China and the United States. “The problem is that neither Europe nor Britain has a plan or strategy for overcoming this or for standing up to China and the United States.

Fayre says, “To stay ahead, Britain needs to create the sort of economic plan that Singaporean prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew devised for Singapore whereby Indonesian conglomerates ended up transferring their business profits from activities in Indonesia to Singapore and then from there reinvesting again in Indonesia. Singapore was able to do this by providing a stable political and economic environment, a clean and impartial legal system and a welcoming attitude and supporting facilities for them. The whole Singaporean economy is geared towards that. They found a new way of making money and Britain needs a prime minister who can do the same.”

Oxford historian Dr Peter Carey describes Britain as a nation facing multiple crises. Britain’s GDP per capita (US$46,125.26) is now half that of its former colony Singapore (US$82,807.63) It is less than Ireland’s and its economy has contracted by three percent. This happened during the last 14 years of Tory rule. He says that this was mostly due to Brexit. “Britain shot itself in the foot when it gave up direct access to the EU’s market of 500 million people. It has left Britain impoverished culturally and morally with 280,000 people sleeping in the streets. Liz Truss then cut the tax burden of the top 2% of the wealthiest people which led to a run on the pound and resulted in a drop in Britain’s credit ratings. It almost led to a collapse of the stock market!”

The EU was created by German and French statesmen who were trying to put together a European framework creating conditions that would make war in Europe impossible. Britain was not that involved because it had its empire but that empire collapsed and now according to Carey, Britain’s very existence is at stake.

As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland and Ireland had access to Britain’s empire which brought them many economic benefits. With its disintegration the economic benefits of the union also disappeared. During the Brexit referendum 62% of Scotland and nearly 56% of Northern Irland voted to remain as compared to England and Wales which voted to leave. “Just next door, they see that Ireland received great benefits from its EU membership with its GDP per capita expected to reach US$ 92,885.00 this year, making it substantially higher than Britain’s,” declared Carey.

Added to that Catholics now outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland and in both Northern Ireland and south of the border Sinn Fein are in power so that the two are likely to unite. Peter Carey believes that the risk of Scotland seeking independence is also high. However, Scotsman Tom Fayre who would like to see an independent Scotland does not see it happening anywhere in the near future. With North Sea oil and gas, Scotland could be independent but he worries that both Westminster as well the Scottish national parties have decided to give it up in favour of reaching zero green-house emissions.

Peter Carey remarked, “Queen Elizabeth II’s task was to graciously oversee the break-up of the Empire and put in its place the Commonwealth.  King Charles task is to help save the Union. For this he needs to be a monarch for all ethnicities.

Cecil Rhodes said that to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life but for the United Kingdom to remain united and not become a poor nation, the British must give up the sense of exceptionalism that was created through having an empire and accept that Britain is now a middle income, declining power that must cut its cloth to suit its budget.”

In 1962, Dean Acheson described Great Britain as having lost an empire but not yet having found a role. Britain appears to still be on that journey of exploration towards its true role in the 21st century. It is almost as though on that journey, it has had to face its shadow side in the form of Brexit, COVID, the tearing down of statues and the many figures in government and politics that deceived, manipulated and mistreated its people.

Peter Carey sees Labour’s landslide victory as a political earthquake. Simon Alexander describes it as not only punishing the Tories for what they put the British people through but also as a great cry for change. In trying to affect that change Carey says that the new Labour government faces an arduous task in rebuilding the country as well as Britain’s identity. Like Fayre, he believes that for this Britain might take a leaf out of Singapore’s play book when Singapore looked into the abyss following its 1965 expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia and came up with a strategic plan for national renewal and survival, over the next ten, twenty years prioritizing strategic goals and policies.

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As a relatively young democracy such as Indonesia, we watch with interest the challenges that older democracies face and how they handle them. All nations at certain times face challenges to their systems and identities and even at times to their existence.  How they handle those challenges determines their survival and their future. Added to the challenge now, is also that the world community is  going through shifts in the balance of world power. However, Cometh the hour, cometh the man – and Keir Starmer about whom it is said that in every position he has held he exceeded expectations – may just be that man.

How will having a new British government affect relations between Indonesia and the United Kingdom? Former Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa who was also former ambassador to the UK said, “Benefitting from fresh mandates from their respective electorates the newly elected government in the UK and the incoming in Indonesia, have the opportunity to not only reinvigorate decades long friendly ties between the two countries, also to shape a relationship that’s fit-for-purpose for twenty-first century challenges and opportunities. A partnership of equals, modern in outlook and reflective of two democratic countries determined to promote a more just, peaceful and prosperous world.” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)


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