Easier said than done

ONE of the first speeches by Keir Starmer (pic), the 58th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was about the importance of all parties closing ranks.

For the lack of a better word, whether they were those who voted for the Labour Party (to return them to power with a massive majority, an increase of 214 parliamentary seats), or those who opted not to, it was important to remain united.

Starmer, who has a wooden, almost robotic style of speaking, is clearly not one in the mould of former British premier Tony Blair, who swept the Labour Party to power in May 1997. Even Starmer, on his campaign trail, admitted just as much – that he was not as charismatic.

That being said, Starmer, before he entered No. 10 Downing Street, spoke of the Labour Party’s commitment to rebuilding Britain “brick by brick” and to reset it in a new direction.

The $64,000 question is, can he? The answer could well be no. But why?

First and foremost is “Eurosclerosis”, a syndrome marked by low growth and high public and private debt, which has been pervasive across Europe since the late 1960s. Even ignoring the fact that Britain is no longer a part of the European Union, its economy has been reeling.

If during any year, should the pound sterling not crash and its economy ekes out a minuscule growth of 1% or 2%, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (the equivalent of the finance minister), would be patting himself on the back.

The de-industrialisation of the UK economy is deep. The switch to a service economy is just as notorious given the reputation of London as one of the largest money-laundering capitals of the world.

Whether it is Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland, what Blair once labelled as “Cool Britannia” is anything but.

Starmer will have the largest number of female ministers in his Cabinet but his administration may have missed why voters were frustrated and angry at the previous Conservative government.

What ails Britain, not unlike many other countries in and across the Asia Pacific and the European Union, is an ostensible struggle of the “five Is”, namely Innovation, Inflation, Immigration, Identity Politics and a badly mauled International system (since the mismanagement and disintegration of the Soviet Union and the rise of China).

While Prof Peter Nolan from Cambridge University warned of Russia and China having diverging economic trajectories as early as 1992, all the administrations since the days of John Major have not worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin from 2000 till today.

As things stand, Starmer has yet to articulate a China strategy although the United Kingdom is part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quads) in Asia together with Australia, India, Japan and the United States. With such obfuscated thinking on the major issues of the day, the UK parliament is clearly malfunctioning.

The same is true of Britain’s mangled relationship with Malaysia. Instead of training more Malaysians to study in the leading UK universities, with the specification that they must return to their home countries to enhance bilateral UK-Malaysia ties, each British prime minister has missed the importance of the most basic form of statecraft – not to poach talent from their former colonies. Let these British-educated leaders grow Malaysia and their respective Commonwealth countries.

Due to the lack of any innovation in strategic thinking, the United Kingdom’s economic growth has not been able to outpace inflation. This has led to stagnant incomes and overworked British blue-collar and knowledge workers.

As for inflation, even though Britain has a strong and stable currency, no British prime minister (or Chancellor for that matter) has been able to stem the widening wealth gap.

Starmer has now inherited all these problems.

The third is immigration. As a member of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the birth rate and productivity of the United Kingdom have been trending downward too.

When the Global Innovation Index was released a month ago, Britain did not score any major hits, rather, it was Switzerland and Sweden that took the lead.

For what it is worth, the United Kingdom can’t seem to understand that unless foreign immigrants are seen as a plus to strengthen its intellectual fibre, the country cannot use its exit from the European Union to see its resurgence.

Even if Brexit was necessary, it was incumbent on the government and opposition to knock their heads together and solve its public housing crisis or the ever-deepening National Health System crisis, where doctors and nurses are overworked.

Whether it was David Cameron, Theresa May, Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, no one knew what was needed to keep housing prices low.

So how did the Conservatives get trashed so convincingly? The answer lies in micro-targeting and a first-past-the-post voting system.

Labour only received 34% of the total votes and even a candidate in London with a 15-vote majority was declared the winner.

In another seat, a Labour candidate scraped a win with 98 more votes.

As things stand, the United Kingdom has produced one of the world’s most-distorted representations of the electorate, ranking at number five after St Lucia, Barbados, British Virgin Islands and Bhutan.

Starmer also did not receive a congratulatory call from Donald Trump (who seems poised to be the US president again).

Trump instead congratulated Nigel Farage of the right-wing Reform Party, which managed to get five MPs into Whitehall. Indeed, by peddling white British nationalism, the oxymoronically named Reform Party improved their votes by 80%.

With BRICS+ (an inter-governmental organisation comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates) in ascendency, it is difficult to see how Starmer, who is not known for his creative thinking, can pull more proverbial rabbits from the hat to save the Empire from further implosion.

This election has also delayed the Scottish National Party from having another referendum for independence by 2029 – but it did not completely remove the likelihood of Scotland, or Wales, going all alone.

Starmer’s foreign policy, in all likelihood, will stay the same. Whether it is Palestine or Ukraine, he is unlikely to have a solution at hand but will continue with the current unjust and partial policies choreographed by the United States.

Dr Rais Hussin is the founder of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

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