Power is ephemeral. Unfortunately politicians — and even some engaged in diplomacy — have not learnt this simple lesson. It is not only those who have reached the pinnacle of power by hook or by crook (mainly by crook) who seem to delude themselves that their seat at the top is permanent. Even those who [...]

Sunday Times 2

More slaps likely as political uncertainty spreads


Power is ephemeral. Unfortunately politicians — and even some engaged in diplomacy — have not learnt this simple lesson. It is not only those who have reached the pinnacle of power by hook or by crook (mainly by crook) who seem to delude themselves that their seat at the top is permanent. Even those who have come to office with the votes of the people through the democratic process appear to suffer from this, even if it is a short-lived aberration.

History is littered with the names of leaders, who like the Bourbons of France, learnt nothing and forgot nothing.

When I wrote earlier this month that the defection of a Conservative MP to a rival party that did not even have a seat in parliament was a resounding slap on the face of British Prime Minister and Tory Party leader David Cameron, I said the sound will reverberate for months to come and Cameron would be forced to turn the other cheek as well.

David Cameron speaks to an audience in Strood, southeast England. Rochester and Strood will hold a by-election on November 20 following the defection of Conservative MP Mark Reckless to UKIP. Reuters

It came sooner than I thought. Douglas Carswell who defected just last August from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) causing a by-election in Clacton won it by a thumping majority over the Conservatives becoming the first UKIP MP.

Now another by-election is due next month forced by the defection of a sitting Conservative MP who is re-contesting under the UKIP banner. Even if the defector Mark Reckless does not make it to the House the damage that these political long jumps have done to Cameron’s leadership and to the Tory Party itself is clear enough though the extent of the harm cannot be truly assessed yet. What is clear though is that the Tories are in real political trouble and their hold on power is slipping.

That is a bad sign not only for the Conservatives but for Sri Lankan diplomacy which has been assiduously cultivating the Cameron-led party in the seeming belief that it would stay in power for at least another five years after the parliamentary election next May.

If Mark Reckless wins or comes extremely close to doing so, as UKIP did in another by-election in which the Labour candidate won by a whisker, it would surely show that it is not their personal popularity that has got them re-elected but the growing disillusionment with the Conservatives and the increasing attraction of the UKIP as an alternative to the mainstream political parties.

Admittedly UKIP is only now entering the national political scene and has absolutely no chance of ever gaining power in the next few years. It will be of nuisance value to the mainstream parties on the right and left as it eats away at the voter base of all the parties that have ruled the UK or shared power in the last several decades.

From Sri Lanka’s standpoint the question that needs to be asked is what we have gained, if anything at all, by pursuing a relationship with the Conservatives when more and more of that party has been turning against Sri Lanka driven, no doubt, by domestic political compulsions.
Over the years the Conservatives in power had begun to antagonise the Muslim community by police actions and other means creating the conditions for the spread of extremism and now even jihadism among the younger Muslims many of them British citizens.

Previous general elections have shown that there are several marginal seats — perhaps as many as 80 — in urban areas and outer cities where the outcome is often decided by the votes of various minorities.

For this reason mainstream parties have tried hard to win this deciding vote. After the last parliamentary election in 2010 the Conservatives also realised — however distasteful it might have been to the public-school educated, privileged upper class leaders of the new Tory dispensation — that they too need to reach out to the minorities if they are to capture some of the marginal seats.

That is one reason why the Conservative leaders including Cameron and Foreign Office ministers started lending a sympathetic ear, as per Mark Anthony’s entreaties to the people of Rome, to Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora organisations including persons who had connections with the LTTE.
By this time British politicians and law enforcement agencies had forgotten that the LTTE was an organisation that was banned under UK anti-terrorism law. LTTE flags are still displayed at protests but the Tory leaders and their agencies turn a blind eye as they do to the students’ call for a semblance of democracy in Hong Kong, the former British colony towards which the British still have responsibilities.

Sri Lankan diplomats made a great song and dance when it was known that Cameron would attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last November, some even considering it a personal triumph.

In the event it turned out to be a tragic mistake to gloat over that intended visit for Cameron made it into a three-ringed circus and the British press made use of that occasion to make mincemeat of Sri Lanka. The ham-handed handling of the visiting media included abortive attempts to stuff media kits for journalists with propaganda material unknown to the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Sri Lankan diplomacy’s efforts to invite mainly Conservative MPs to Colombo for meetings with some Sri Lankan political leaders and visits to other parts of the country somehow reached the British press and party whips came down hard resulting in the visits being called off.

While all these puerile efforts were bringing only adverse publicity, Sri Lanka was actually missing the trick. It failed to understand the importance of newly emerging parties such as UKIP which was gaining public attention and sympathy largely because of the public’s disillusionment with Conservative Government policies which continued to favour the rich and the upper crust of society while slashing public funding from essential services on which those at the bottom end of the social ladder depended so heavily.

Instead of making inroads into smaller parties such as UKIP which had taken a strong stand on immigration from Europe and the heavy hand of Europe smothering Britain we continued to mingle with the Conservatives and made little effort to talk to Labour or the Lib Dems.

The key here, however, is UKIP. The other mainstream parties have taken a strong anti-Sri Lanka, pro-Tamil stance and will continue to do so because of the importance of minority votes at the coming election. But this is camouflaged, of course, in the guise of protecting human rights and punishing those who violated them.

UKIP is new and its anti-European immigration policy might even be extended to asylum seekers and those who are exploiting Britain’s welfare system.

Though somewhat belated, it is still possible to shake our diplomacy awake to start talking to UKIP which might well decide who forms the next government here.

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