THE BRITISH ELECTION RESULTS: WHAT DO THEY PORTEND?
"David Cameron was last night back in Downing Street after a remarkable election victory and immediately began to address the two issues that could define his second term: the union and Europe. Mr Cameron defied the pollsters and his own expectations as the Conservatives won an overall majority with 331 seats in the House of Commons, routing the Labour party and his coalition partners the Liberal Democrats in the process. Voter turnout was the highest since 1997. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg, who both joined Mr Cameron at the VE Day ceremony in London later on Friday, resigned immediately, but the election also revealed a United Kingdom under unprecedented strain, after a night of triumph for Scottish nationalists. The SNP won 56 out of 59 seats north of the border, prompting Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader, to declare: “The Scottish lion has roared.” The SNP refused to rule out calling next year for a second independence referendum. Mr Cameron fuelled tension in the union during the election campaign by railing against the threat of a Labour government propped up by the SNP. In an attempt to heal the wounds, Mr. Cameron promised on the steps of Downing Street to govern “for one nation, one United Kingdom” and to deliver new tax raising powers to the Scottish parliament “as soon as possible”. Boris Johnson has called for “some sort of overall offer” to create a more federal Britain and Mr Cameron’s allies said they “did not exclude” proposing an even greater transfer of powers to Holyrood. Mr Cameron completed a frenetic day of political activity by reappointing George Osborne as chancellor and as de facto deputy prime minister, with a key role in Britain’s proposed EU renegotiation. British officials said Mr Osborne, officially first secretary of state, would be a lead negotiator in talks ahead of the Conservatives’ planned EU referendum, scheduled before the end of 2017. Mr Cameron’s election has focused minds in Europe on the threat of “Brexit” and European leaders pressed for long-awaited guidance from Number 10 on how to answer the “British question”.."George Parker, "Europe and union to dominate Cameron’s second term". The Financial Times. 8 May 2015, in www.ft.com.
"This general election will determine what Britain's place will be in the world in a way that no other general election has done previously, but the importance of this is chronically underdiscussed. Britain could look very different, could feel very different, and could be a different kind of partner to its allies over the next couple of years as a consequence of this election. As political elites become more navel-gazing and less engaged with the wider world, the UK’s international standing will diminish."Richard G. Whitman, "Is Britain retreating from the World". Chatham House. 6 May 2015, in www.chathamhouse.org
"Now tell us what 'twas all about,' Young Peterkin, he cries; And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes; 'Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for.' 'It was the English,' Kaspar cried, 'Who put the French to rout; But what they fought each other for I could not well make out; But everybody said,' quoth he, 'That 'twas a famous victory....'And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win.' 'But what good came of it at last?' Quoth little Peterkin. 'Why, that I cannot tell,' said he, 'But 'twas a famous victory'."Robert Southey, "THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM". 1796. One does not have to be as cynical as Robert Southey was at the time of the French Revolutionary wars, to express some skepticism that the triumph of British Prime Minister Cameron and his Tory party will change very much in the British political and diplomatic firmament. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the victory of Cameron's Tories is on the whole a 'good thing'. While I would certainly not have actively supported a party which (among other things) voted for the Gay Marriage Bill, it is without a doubt the case that a return of the Labour Party to office, with or without the de jure support of the Scottish Nationalist Party, would have been little short of a disaster. Like Evelyn Waugh in 1959, I can very well remember the last term of office of the Blair & Brown regime, and (to quote Waugh) the Kingdom did indeed give the appearance 'of being under enemy occupation' 1. Something which the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition did not entire dispel unfortunately. With all that being said, it is the case that a Tory government will to a limited ( indeed very limited) extent be more conscious then previously of the importance of Britain's diplomatic position in the world. Something which indeed the Americans (and not only the Americans) were highly concerned about very recently2. Ideally, of course an effective Tory government will 'resolve' (as Cameron appears to realize) the twin conundrums of both the Scottish Nationalist challenge to the United Kingdom and the 'in or out' of the European Union question. With that being said, it is difficult to imagine that this government, nor indeed any future British (or English) government will have either the capacity and more importantly the will to exercise the type of diplomatic and military influence that was the norm for Britain since the early to mid-17th century. The fact that Cameron himself appears to be obsessed with channeling more money to international assistance at the cost of military spending is something which is quite illustrative by itself. Of course it is obviously the case, that the British people are to a degree 'exhausted' by the twin wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. What is less clear is why these two wars were more exhausting to the British to-day then say the various 'emergencies' of the immediate post-bellum period from 1945 onwards: Malaya, Korea, Kenya, Suez, Cyprus, and Aden among others. It would appear to be the case that in the past forty to fifty years or so, something which the late American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles stated in his hospital deathbed in the Spring of 1959, has finally come to pass in its entirety:
"Something has happened to the British. We can no longer rely upon them. For years we've had a very special relationship with them, an equality in partnership. We must now accept the fact that something has happened, not just to British politicians of both parties, but to the British people 3."With the end result being that regardless of the talk of a 'Special Relationship', between the USA and the UK, all such talk is at present and most likely going forward no more than eyewash. The United Kingdom has now most definitely passed from being a Great Power of the second rank, or if you like a Great Power manqué to nothing more than a middle-ranking European power. Or as the mandarins of the Foreign Office perhaps best described it in 1958: "the neutrality and comparative isolation of the purely commercial Powers such as Sweden or Switzerland" 4. 1. Evelyn Waugh, "Aspirations of a Mugwump". In: The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. Edited Donat Gallagher. (1984), p. 537. 2. Steven Erlanger, "Britain’s Drift From the Global Stage Becomes an Election Issue". The New York Times. 27 April 2015, in www.nytimes.com 3. John Foster Dulles quoted by Livingston Merchant (a high State Department official). As per Merchant, this swan song was Dulles' 'Foreign Policy Testament'. See: Livingston Merchant papers, Seeley Mudd Library, Princeton University. 4. Quotation is from: "The Position of the United Kingdom in World Affairs: report by officials". 9 June 1958. In: The Conservative Government and the End of Empire. Series A, Volume 4. Edited Ronald Hyam & William Roger Louis. (2000), p. 44.