Starmer’s landslide victory is a bright light ahead - Hindustan Times
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Starmer’s landslide victory is a bright light ahead

Jul 06, 2024 06:28 PM IST

This article is authored by Tara Kartha, director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

It fulfilled its promise of being the electoral overturning of the decade. A party that had been in power for 14 years had to bow out in a virtual bloodbath with the lowest seat count in their 200 old history. Keir Starmer’s Labour party made another record, in terms of a winning streak that points to a huge majority at 412. But it doesn’t follow that the Labour is at a peak of popularity. His vote share hasn’t risen much from 2019 and Conservatives have enough to keep them as the largest opposition party. The mood in the United Kingdom seems to be, a resignation that anything is better than what they’ve had to bear with so far.

Keir Starmer, UK prime minister, delivers the first speech of his premiership, following the general election, outside 10 Downing Street in London, UK, on Friday, July 5, 2024. (Bloomberg)
Keir Starmer, UK prime minister, delivers the first speech of his premiership, following the general election, outside 10 Downing Street in London, UK, on Friday, July 5, 2024. (Bloomberg)

It’s amazing how the Tories managed to get it so wrong considering they’ve been at it since 2015. Since then, they’ve lurched from crisis to crisis, with five Prime Ministers, a constitutional crisis, and at least two financial emergencies, one brought on by the disastrous policies of the ebullient Liz Truss. True, they had to deal with the pandemic, but even there were scandals of when under Boris Johnson, “partygate” had members partying breaking all distancing rules. Worse, the whole thing was denied by the upper class set to which Johnson and his buddies belonged. He was made to leave only when a record 57 ministers resigned, followed by the Liz Truss government which brought in tax reforms so wildly unrealistic, that a financial meltdown was only narrowly avoided. She lasted 49 days, surely a record of sorts. Rishi Sunak, the first person of colour to come to the post, did stabilise an economy that was threatening to go into full-fledged recession, by delivering on his pledge of halving inflation, but little else. Government debt stood at 97.9% gross domestic product (GDP), and austerity measures ensured a breakdown in the health system, schools and even the criminal justice system. And then Rishi Sunak announced a snap election, which seemed to be a forlorn hope to show confidence in their ability to fix a deteriorating system. As the elections gave him a mudslide exit, voters clearly thought otherwise.

Keir Starmer, is the antithesis of Conservative leaders. He’s typified as boring, which many see as reassuring, and stolid rather than chic. But that might be just what is needed given that he inherits huge challenges enough to daunt the bravest. Finding the money to kick up governance is first and most important hurdle. Another is the rather sensible and key issue which he calls “a fight for trust (in politics) which is the battle that defines our age”. He couldn’t be more right. The party’s manifesto promises “securonomics’, which hinges on partnering with industry, trade unions and the public to create confidence, and thereby investment. That’s all very well in a political document. The reality is chronic unemployment, underinvestment in public health and education, and bounding immigration. Remember the initiative to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda? No one eventually got sent, but it showed the desperation to deliver. As wars multiply, the numbers have been rising, with Afghans being the majority 11,433 this year, a quarter more than 2022 levels. On the other hand, some 173,000 Ukrainians had moved to the UK under a scheme that is now closed. The key? The UK needs migrants for its workforce. It just doesn’t want them to be unskilled, impoverished, and coloured.

This brings one to the simmering racial question. Starmer has bullied and cajoled the party into something more centrist, leaving out the extreme elements like Jeremy Corbyn who had called for international intervention in Kashmir in 2019. Corbyn has won as an independent anyway, while the rightist Reform UK Party, lead by Nigel Farage won 4 seats, a huge rise after several attempts. As the Gaurdian put it, “One in seven voters support a party that includes representatives who praised Hitler as “brilliant” and called black people “jungle bunnies”. He’s known as a confidant of Donald Trump, while Starmer is known to ally himself with the US on almost everything. That included the issue of statehood for Palestine, which Labour had once traditionally backed, a shift that cost Labour the Muslim vote in at least four constituencies.

But Labour clearly got it right on the Hindu vote, with Starmer declaring that he would hit the ground running on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) at the India Global Forum last year. The Manifesto also recognises the importance of the “strategic partnership’ with India, with Starmer earlier praising the fast-growing Indian economy as vital to Britian. Meanwhile, the Indian population at about 3.1% of the total, contributes some 6% to its GDP. That’s the good part, of ethnic weight. The other side is the rise of hate crimes against Hindus and the corresponding demand in a 'Hindu manifesto' by some 29 Hindu organisations calling for protecting places of Hindu worship, access to fairer education, equal representation and other issues important to any community, but also flags “protecting dharmic values”. The question is why Hindu hate crimes have suddenly surged, in a background of publicity on “Hindu nationalism” needs examination. Then there is the fact that the Khalistan issue remains alive and well. Earlier, the Sikh Federation were asking Sikhs not to classify themselves as Indian in the 2021 census. Recently, on June 1, 2024 the first Sikh court opened in London, apparently to counter the lack of expertise in secular courts in deciding on religious or cultural issues. Though politicians like Preet Kaur Gill was earlier demoted by Starmer for support to “Khalistan”, she has made it back to Parliament. So has Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, who has also expressed concern on the alleged killing of Khalistanis elsewhere. Incidentally, he was inexplicably detained by immigration for hours when he visited his ancestral village in India. These are two of ten Sikhs who have made it on Labour tickets, in what is the highest tally so far. No one can pretend the Khalistan issue is dead in the water.

Meanwhile India is UK’s 12th largest trading partner, with total trade standing at some 40 billion pounds. That’s rather a lot. Then there’s the fact that India is one of the largest investors in the UK, with some 971 companies operating, up from 954 last year, and worth some 69 billion pounds. China is its 5th largest trading partner but despite a de-risking policy initiated by Sunak after a visit to Washington, trade has been increasing at a steady 20%. Those are the stark realities. And now consider that Rajnath Singh’s visit in January, after a gap of 23 years shows that something is not right in the relationship. No defence deals since the days of Cameron, and the ‘Indo-Pacific’ has a British aircraft carrier, which has virtually no aircraft. But this time, Labour has a rock solid aim, which is to buck up the economy and deliver to an impatient population. His visit to the Swaminarayan temple on the campaign trail was to get the Hindu vote, but the FTA is to get the India vote. Meanwhile a cybersecurity dialogue has only just wound up, which is all to the good. Both need strong intel cooperation across the board, including on not just the Khalistan issue, but why a ‘Hinduphobia’ issue has come up at all. That may also entail some introspection from the community within UK, on how they want to project one of the most peaceful philosophies in the world. As Delhi gears up to deal with a new Labour government and bright prospects ahead, it also has to face the fact that its religious and ethnic positioning within the country has a strong overlap with foreign policy. A diaspora may mean strong support for this or that leader, thus acting as a leverage for your policy. But a diaspora that moves to projecting a muscular religious face is likely to act against it. A little more of a stiff British upper lip may be advisable. After all, its their country. And look out for that right wing element. Its growing.

This article is authored by Tara Kartha, director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

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