Liz Truss will become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. True, it would be tempting to draw implicit parallels with the indomitable Margaret Thatcher, but the country Mrs. Truss will lead is very different. The late Thatcher, for her part, the daughter of a grocer, demonstrated in word and deed that the UK was a land of opportunity – a theme that has, over time, diminished for many in the country. Second, the context – that of the political economy – is different. Thatcher’s incubus was the economic philosophy of “neo-liberalism” in which the late leader, among other things, aimed (successfully) to reduce the state. But Thatcher’s era was also one in which the UK was undergoing profound structural changes that did not seem apparent at the time.
One of them was immigration and the flow of immigrants into the country, the nature and form of which changed the face of the country. A ‘side effect’ of this development is actually that a brown-skinned person of Indian descent (Rishi Sunak) might not only be thinking of becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but also posing a challenge to what was once a country ruled by the “white establishment”. But this fact obscures a trend that is both latent and manifest – one that formed the fundamental premise of Brexit – that of a country deeply polarized and somewhat at odds with itself. (This includes the yawning divide between Scottish nationalism and Unionists as well as the diminishing returns of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland)
This is the general background and set of conditions that Ms. Truss will inherit. Covered by inflation of the nature of the decade highs that have made the cost of living exorbitant for ‘ordinary’ Britons, the challenges could not be greater and complex for the new Prime Minister.
The question is, can Mrs. Truss govern?
Of course she can. Governing, in the pedestrian sense, is easy. But the UK needs more than governance. Cleared of accretions and rhetoric, Ms Truss must or must reclaim the country for the British, in the widest possible sense. (The term Bretons is used here to designate all that forms the firmament of the country). How can this be made possible? Ms. Truss, for starters, must tread a delicate line: She must foster a sense of belonging to the country while disavowing narrow, exclusive nationalism. It’s not easy, but it’s doable – something that can be done by expanding the idea and concept of belonging, by fostering non-exclusive nationhood pride. But that would mean expanding the party tent, a possibility that would require bold and beautiful leadership.
While this is a dubious proposition given the nature of the Conservative Party, other challenges would require equally bold leadership. One of them is the UK’s position in the world. It would seem that post-colonial Britain is a confused country. His “island mentality” has not gone away. Despite its past (true or false), the country is actually turned inwards. In prosaic terms, it’s neither here nor there. Its foreign and defense policy is linked to that of the United States under the heading of “special relations”. The author is not suggesting that the UK disavows the special relationship, but it may be prudent for the country to have some “strategic autonomy” within the general framework of the relationship. Then, even if it is a “bridge too far”, the United Kingdom must repair and calibrate its relationship with the European Union. The why is obvious but not the how. This is another area where Ms. Truss needs to show leadership.
Currently, the UK has no soft power. (Obiter Dictum, Tony Blair’s trademark “Cool Britannica” was not only a vulgar, lame take on soft power, but as superficial as Blair himself). The country needs to reflect deeply and introspect on itself and its position internally and externally. The world has moved on and so has the UK. In terms of hard power, the UK is not lagging behind, but its defense and security posture certainly needs a rethink and perhaps even an overhaul. Here, Ms. Truss has experience, but typically bureaucracies — whether in civil services or defense establishments around the world — are defined by inertia. The very innovation of the stilted variety is resisted. Again, skillful leadership is needed here.
Overall, the essence distilled from this essay is that the adrift UK as it is stands at a crossroads. The country needs capable, bold and beautiful leadership; not mere governance or mere economic antidotes. Its challenges are too deep and heavy to be reduced to these. Mrs Truss not only won the race for Prime Minister of the UK with flying colors, but showed verve and perseverance. This is just the beginning. A country awaiting reconquest becomes. Mrs. Truss, for the good of her country, must rise to the occasion and redeem the United Kingdom.
(Disclaimer: The views of the author do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. WION or ZMCL also does not endorse the views of the author.)
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