This is no tribute to the late unlamented Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein who predicted a “mother of battles” as the invading forces approached Baghdad. It never happened and he was eventually deposited in the dust heap of history. His colourful phrase has joined the burgeoning bag of clichés. But what is trite and commonplace is [...]


Will it be May’s day in June?


This is no tribute to the late unlamented Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein who predicted a “mother of battles” as the invading forces approached Baghdad. It never happened and he was eventually deposited in the dust heap of history. His colourful phrase has joined the burgeoning bag of clichés.
But what is trite and commonplace is not necessarily false or untrue. It is simply a weathered phrase. In fact it is very true of next month’s parliamentary elections in UK which is turning out to be a mother of all battles.

To avoid being misunderstood let it be said right now that it is not the ultimate result that is in doubt. If you believe the opinion polls which have often proved to be as wrong as Mahinda Rajapaksa’s astrologer who predicted a Rajapaksa victory in 2015, Theresa May’s Conservative Party is bound to win next month.

Those polls have now been buttressed by the sweeping Conservative victory in the local government polls earlier this month. So some credence could be attributed to what the pollsters now predict.

What makes this the mother of all battles is not the challenge that the opposition Labour Party poses to the incumbent government. Rather it is for a handsome majority that Theresa May is fighting for. She called an early election to ratify her position as the Supreme Brexit leader and she wants a substantial majority not only to provide her with a strong hand in pushing through domestic policy but in the forthcoming negotiations on Britain’s departure from the European Union which is bound to be hard and acrimonious.

There are already clear signs that the EU is strengthening its bureaucratic barricades and is prepared to give May a hard time as she whips up her nationalistic cry calling for a “strong and stable leadership” to take on the hardliners in Europe.

So the June 8 election is a precursor to the mother of all battles that she is preparing to fight for Britain against the European obstructionists as she sees them. To do battle, she needs to be heavily armed. That is what this election is actually about.

In recent months the nature of British politics has changed perceptibly. The political orientation of the major parties has altered. A polarisation is happening. The Conservatives and Labour are now clearly moving towards the polar opposites of the political spectrum.
If in previous decades the move was to occupy the middle ground as Labour under Tony Blair and the Tories under David Cameron tried to do, today the two parties are headed in opposite directions ideologically.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meets local residents during a campaign visit to Southampton. REUTERS/Stefan Rousseau

This is particularly so after Jeremy Corbyn, whose thinking is more doctrinaire socialism, won the Labour leadership with strong support from the hard Left and Theresa May began to take a more aggressive stance on the Brexit negotiations, clashing more recently with European Union bureaucrats. She thus strengthened her position at home with the hardline Brexiteers and those who wish to see a resurgence of nationalist sentiment.

What has come to be known as Brexit is now on centre stage as the country heads for the parliamentary election less than four weeks from now. However much the opposition might try to project other national issues of importance to today’s voting public in an attempt to hold onto their traditional political bases and gain wider support, Brexit is disadvantageous to the ‘progressive’ forces while it has reunited the Right.

The virtual disappearance of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) which once led the field in campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and its vote bank moving to support the Conservatives at the local government elections earlier this month shows that the right is coming together to safeguard its ‘nationalist’ stance.

At the time of writing what purports to be the final Labour manifesto has been leaked to the media. It might be tweaked here and there but this appears to be the policy platform.

The Conservatives are yet to come out with their own programme and so the details are not known yet though the broad brush work in terms of policy seems fairly clear. The immigration issue and how to cut back on net immigration in the coming years is bound to be a central policy for the Conservatives.
What is interesting is the Labour manifesto which tends to take Britain back to the days of public ownership and welfarism. For instance the leaked manifesto speaks of repairing the National Health Service, social care and school funding. That is to be expected. But it also wants to bring back collective bargaining, without which pay has fallen sharply since the 1980s as a share of Gross Domestic Product, while profits and top pay take a soaring share. It wants to bring back mail and rail to public ownership, not full-scale energy nationalisation, but one state energy company in every region to make the comparison.

It seeks to invest in a million homes and borrow £250bn over 10 years for urgently needed infrastructure which is good capital investment that the country can well afford. Policies such as free tuition fees, educational maintenance allowances for poor families, free school meals are surely ones that should attract voters to Labour as bears to wild honey.

But the trouble for Labour is not advancing attractive and popular policies but a leader that inspires little confidence, one who propagates discredited extreme Left ideas and is backed by hard Left trade unions and political groupings who badly lost the recent local government elections, Labour losing 320 seats including those in its strongholds.

To give one example – no part of the UK has been more loyal to Labour than Wales. Labour has won almost every general election in nearly 100 years. But at the local elections Labour was wiped out and if the general election brings similar results in most other parts of the UK, the call for Corbyn to step aside will become even more strident with the more moderate members demanding a credible leader.

If the recent local elections are any guide – history tells us that it is not always so – Conservatives will win easily. But the burning question for Theresa May is by what majority. That is her main concern and that is why her campaign slogan is a call for strong and stable leadership so that she can steer her ship with a stronger hand on the tiller and not the “coalition of chaos” that she says a Labour victory will bring.

This turn of political events has set a poser for the Sri Lankan community. Traditionally the majority – especially the Tamil community – voted heavily in favour of Labour which has generally been more sympathetic to immigrants and provided more welfare even to asylum seekers who were entitled to housing and other benefits including child credits.

But a turn to the Right and possible to the hard Right might eventually deprive immigrant communities of some facilities or cause cut backs such as child benefits etc.

The problem for quite a number from the Sri Lankan community is that its traditional vote for Labour and even the Lib Dems will be reduced to little if Corbyn-led Labour bites the dust and Conservatives are returned with a handsome majority.

This is not to say that there are no members of the Sri Lankan community who do not support the Conservatives. In fact there are at least two groups. One predominantly Tamil, supports the Conservatives. But that is of no help to those who wish to see a more benevolent and welfare-oriented party in power even at the local level.

For Sri Lanka there is the other question. How will Brexit affect bilateral relations, especially in terms of trade and the wider economic question? There have been calls on the warring parties to cut back substantially on foreign aid and use that money to fund domestic services like national health and housing.

Theresa May has said that she will continue with the 0.7 per cent of GDP budget now devoted to overseas development. But there are other issues and these are ones that should be studied and analysed.

One of the main tasks of the diplomatic missions of any country is to report back to their capitals on political, economic and other relevant developments in the country in which they are based and to anticipate possible developments that will be of importance to the capital in shaping or formulating its relations with the host country.

That naturally requires capable and thinking diplomats who report back to the capital with informed analytical opinions not just news culled from the media which probably reaches the various foreign ministries long before the mission’s fortnightly or monthly reports given today’s communication technology.

That is why analyses are more important than patchwork reports picked up from the media. With Brexit on the cards and the British Foreign Office still talking of Sri Lanka’s obligations on human rights and accountability issues under the UNHRC resolution that Colombo ill-advisedly co-sponsored, is the Sri Lanka government and its foreign ministry kept properly fed and alive to the current thinking here and what changes in the short and medium term might be expected depending on how the new May government shapes up.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.