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Putting the ‘Great’ back into Britain

After months of opinion polls suggested a hung parliament and continuation of coalition politics, the Conservative party won a majority in the House of Commons. They claim that the win is due to its record in office, mainly on the economic front, for having brought the country back from the brink of an ‘economic mess’ left behind by Labour.

comment Updated: May 08, 2015 22:54 IST

After months of opinion polls suggested a hung parliament and continuation of coalition politics, the Conservative party won a majority in the House of Commons.

They claim that the win is due to its record in office, mainly on the economic front, for having brought the country back from the brink of an ‘economic mess’ left behind by Labour. But a closer look at the election results shows that contrary to claims, the Conservative win is not so much due its ability to sell better its record in office, but due to three factors: The dramatic collapse of the Liberal Democrats; the equally dramatic rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland at the cost of Labour; and the significant chipping away of votes from the main parties by the three ‘insurgent’ parties: UK Independence Party, SNP and Green.

The Conservative majority cannot wish away the larger issues that face the next government: Tapping into the growing ire at Brussels appropriating ever more powers from Britain, Mr Cameron has promised to hold an ‘in/out’ referendum by 2017 on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU), a prospect much dreaded by London’s financial sector, among others. It may well be that the vote is to remain within the EU, but the issue is likely to dominate politics until the referendum, accompanied by the uncertainty that it will bring. Second, the SNP is now the third-largest party in the House of Commons, and the overwhelming support for its main aim of independence is likely to nettle the new government, particularly after the elections to the Scottish parliament in 2016. These two larger issues, combined with the rise of the ‘insurgent’ parties, pose a greater challenge to the tenuous Conservative majority than implementing its economic and social policies, which many see as contributing to a further shrinking of the welfare State. The challenge, in short, is whether Mr Cameron can effectively put the ‘Great’ back into Britain.

The 2017 referendum on EU membership will reaffirm whether Britain remains the ‘outward-facing’ country or not, but domestic politics over the issue will also affect the new government’s approach towards India. Mr Cameron has been gushing in his desire to work with the NDA but needs to initiate progress on India’s demand to share technology, clamp down on anti-Indian forces in Britain, and act on demands for the extradition of individuals wanted by India. Relations between the two countries have plateaued, if not stagnated, in recent years. It will take more than diplomatic smiles and ministerial visits to leverage the long-standing connections and make it a truly ‘new special relationship’.