Editorial: Labour Landslide Unlikely To Change Indo-British Ties

Editorial: Labour Landslide Unlikely To Change Indo-British Ties

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Sunday, July 07, 2024, 10:25 PM IST
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UK PM Sir Keir Starmer | X

As widely expected, and predicted by the exit polls, the UK Opposition leader Keir Starmer led the Labour Party “400 Paar” in last week’s election. The Conservative Party which ruled for 14 years was shown the door by voters for its less than orderly conduct of the nation’s affairs. Though the Labour landslide was predicted, it won the biggest majority since Tony Blair in 1997; what surprised observers was that as the polling day approached its campaign lost some steam while the Tories got a small second wind. Yet Starmer will command a comfortable majority of over 170 members in the 650-memebr House of Commons. As the results poured in, a sense of inevitability among the voters was noticeable, with neither winners nor losers showing much enthusiasm. Which wasn’t the case when ebullient Blair won a famous victory over a rather boring John Major. Starmer took charge of Labour from the disastrous and pronouncedly extreme left and pro-Palestine, even allegedly anti-Semitic, Jeremy Corbyn after the disastrous 2019 election. He expelled Corbyn from the party and transformed it into a left-of-the centre party eschewing extreme positions of the left or the right. Corbyn, incidentally won as Independent defeating a Labour candidate. With a working class background and as a successful human rights lawyer, Starmer is on record saying he shuns all ideology and, tellingly, swears by pragmatism.

Indeed, if anything Britain needs at this difficult time, when almost all institutions are creaking, it is pragmatism. First, the hitherto jewel among all the global health-care systems, it is the unchecked decline of the National Health System. Under-staffing and over-worked and over-loaded with patients, the NHS needs greater funding than the increasingly stretched British treasury can afford. Successive Tory governments, especially the one led by Boris Johnson, promised billions for NHS, only to belie that promise. NHS cries for urgent infusion of money and personnel to arrest its decline. Then there is the faltering British education system, suffering from lack of funds and disinclination of politicians to raise fees for domestic students. Resistance from foreign students to pay ever-higher tuition and other fees, especially when Australia has emerged an attractive destination for study, aggravates further the problem of funding for British educational institutions. No less tricky is the pressure from British Muslims and left-liberal quarters for reversing the pro-Israeli stance on the on-going Gaza war. Under Starmer, Labour had moved closer to the Tories in offering arms and diplomatic support to Israel on Gaza, a fact evident in the less-than-enthusiastic vote for the party in the hitherto Labour-dominated seats with large Muslim population. Being a realist, Starmer in his first speech after the results were in, did not raise the bar for what his government can accomplish. Truth be told, it can only register incremental improvements, so stretched is the position of the Treasury. It will be hard to arrest the decline in British power, including its faltering economy. The Brexit was a monumental blunder. It yielded no tangible gains while adding hugely to the hardships of ordinary Britons. The cost of living crisis, one of the main factors Tories’ unpopularity, contrary to the Brexit supporters, was aggravated further by the exit of UK from the EU. A a major contributory factor was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which pushed energy prices higher. There is little chance of the new government changing the policy on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a noticeable facet was the smooth and almost immediate change-over from the outgoing regime to the incoming one. Barely within a couple of hours, Rishi Sunak was out of 10 Downing Street and the new Prime Minister was in, as were other newly-installed ministers in designated houses. Of course, there are quite a few things that the mother of democracies does which we can learn from. The smooth transition is only one of them. So is the graceful concession by the losing party. Almost the first to greet Starmer was the outgoing prime minister who wished him well for his onerous responsibility, offering cooperation in the national interest. Sunak won his seat but lost no time indicating a change of leader for the Tories. In sharp contrast, you had the Opposition in the recent Lok Sabha poll dancing a jig as if it had actually emerged the winner — while the ruling BJP had lost the election. Of course, there was no question of Rahul Gandhi felicitating Modi for winning a third straight term as the head of the National Democratic Alliance.

Meanwhile, the change of guard in London is unlikely to impact the Indo-British ties, with Labour also committed in its manifesto on a strategic partnership and a Free Trade Agreement. The trade between the two countries may be a paltry $24 billion, it can certainly increase after the signing of the FTA. Sunak had tentatively set the July deadline for signing after the two-year-long talks. Maybe the change in London will delay it for a few months but there is no threat of Labour, especially after the Brexit-hit UK, reneging on the FTA. It should benefit both, as Modi wrote in his congratulatory message on X (formerly Twitter). One discordant note in the ties between the two countries may prove to be the victory of a couple of Labour members of Indian origin, among more than two dozen elected on various parties’ ticket, who openly display pro-Khalistani views. They need to be disciplined, especially when Labour has pointedly shed its troublesome stance on Kashmir. Otherwise, Indo-British relations are set to remain on an even keel.

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