On 23 June 2016, a majority of the British voters have voted for leaving the EU. The vote had been preceded by numerous warnings of an economic downturn, a secession of Scotland and Northern Ireland from Britain, political isolation etc. etc. And also after the British vote, the perennial theme was: catastrophe.
Now, a quarter of a year after the vote, the atmosphere in Britain seems to have changed. This can also be deducted from what is happening in the two large parties, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.
On 24 September, the head of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, had been confirmed as party leader, in spite of numerous critics in the parliament group, by a direct vote of the party members. Corbyn is a politician who is not fitting into the continental “standard size”. He is an explicit anti-war and anti-NATO activist. The fact that the party members have re-elected him clearly demonstrates that criticism of the war policy of the US and its governments has become an important issue for many British. So far, the country has participated in all US wars since the 90s, even being a driving force under the Labour politician Tony Blair. But meanwhile several official investigation reports have publicly documented the severe errors and neglects of the war politics of the past decades. It has been a clear signal that, in summer 2014, the former Prime Minister David Cameron did not win a majority for a direct military mission against Syria in parliament.
But there are also remarkable developments in the Conservative Party. While before 23 June the party had been split over the issue of an EU exit, the party convention from 2 to 5 October was very much united on the central question: the Brexit will be tackled with energy and resolve. The exit application is planned to be finished by March 2017. Moreover, even former Brexit opponents, among them many young party members – directly after 23 June we were told that their age-mates were mostly pro-EU – were speaking out almost enthusiastically about the chances of a now sovereign United Kingdom in future. The newly won sovereignty of the country was all but celebrated.
And indeed, there are no signs of the predicted economic downturn – on the opposite. Yes, the British pound has lost some of its value, but this does not need to be a disadvantage. For a country with an export-oriented economy it can even be beneficial. How many Euro countries would wish to be freed from the chains of a uniform currency in order to be able to devalue and thus become competitive again?
But even more remarkable is the Conservative Party’s new political programme for the future. Apparently, the new party leader Theresa May has scrutinised the old neoliberal credo of the party leadership and now talks about supporting those in her country “left behind” by globalisation, relying more on the state and its commitment for the common good. We will see which deeds will follow the words. It is a historical fact, however, that in the 18th century, Britain’s path towards the leading industry power was not a liberalist politics but an array of state laws protecting the budding home industry and its logistics from foreign competition.
But of course the British way in the 18th and 19th century cannot be a compass for the future. Colonialism and imperialism are among the dark sides of the British way. And the profiteers were not the majority of the British citizens but only a few. Great Britain became a class society with heavy social injustice. But it is no longer the goal of the party leadership to exclusively serve the capital owners. The statements on the party convention sounded more like a programme for a kind of social market economy, like a turning away from the Thatcherism of the past decades. It would be good for the country which has suffered from implacable class antagonisms. They were among the reasons why the country had, especially after the decades after World War II, dropped far behind Germany, the leading continental economic power. Germany’s economic welfare and rise was also due to the social partnership of employers and employees, the social market economy and social peace.
So it cannot be excluded that a United Kingdom becoming sovereign again can bring impulses for the rest of Europe – this time for the benefit of the continent and the peoples. It is to be hoped. Also for those who are, in their countries, striving for sovereignty or for keeping their sovereignty. •
km. Party Congress of the Conservative Party. The new chairman, Theresa May, said the withdrawal of her country from the EU was “a once-in-a-generation chance to change the direction of our nation for good”. She called for a more equitable society and announced higher spending on housing, schools and universities. She declared war on the “international elite”, which does not pay taxes, and demanded stricter rules for the financial markets. She promised to provide for an economy that “should work for everyone”. Her party wanted to be “the party of workers.” The powerful and privileged of the country should no longer ignore the interests of the people. With a clear dissociation from the internationalists in her country, she characterised them: “They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal.” But she wants to fight in the future to stop migrants “taking jobs British people could do”. She spoke out to “train up local young people before you take on cheap labour from overseas”. She announced changes also for professions where there are currently many foreign workers, for example in the country’s health care system: “I think it’s right that we say we want to see more British doctors in our health service.” Theresa May announced that she wanted to strengthen the state – not for the benefit of a few privileged but for the benefit of all; a state which “stands up for the weak and stands up to the strong“. (picture reuters)
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