Britain needs more than just a change of personnel
Published: Jul 21, 2022 06:46 PM
UK Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

UK Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The political crisis in Westminster is symptomatic of a much deeper crisis of the British capitalism. Widespread dissatisfaction with the UK government reflects a growing awareness among the public that living conditions are rapidly deteriorating.

After rising slowly but consistently for 50 years from 1960 onward, life expectancy at birth has not increased in the last decade. Indeed due to excess deaths caused by COVID, compared with 2019, life expectancy in England in 2020 was 1.3 years lower for males and 0.9 years lower for females.

The Financial Times reported recently that four in 10 British households are struggling to pay their energy bills, which have increased dramatically in recent months. Inflation is currently running at 9 percent, its highest level in 40 years.

As prices are going up, income is coming down. GDP has been falling throughout 2022 so far.

Meanwhile Britain is struggling to rebound from the blow it received from COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins, over 181,000 people have lost their lives to the virus. Scaled up to China's population, this would be nearly 4 million people - a veritable tragedy.

Britain is suffering a human rights crisis which many thought was not possible in the 21st century. Statistics released in December 2021 indicated that at least 688 people died while homeless in England and Wales in 2020. And the crisis does not impact all social groups equally: Black children are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be growing up in poverty.

This human rights crisis is the root of the governmental crisis, and it will not be solved by a simple change of occupancy at 10 Downing Street. The grim economic situation is the result of policies that have been pursued by the British capitalism for the last decade and more.

While some countries - notably China - responded to the global financial crisis of 2008 by increasing investment in infrastructure and responding to ordinary people's needs, Britain responded with a program of neoliberal austerity, reducing expenditure on housing, education, healthcare, youth services and more.

Since Brexit, the British ruling class has deepened this program of neoliberalism, deregulating the economy, lowering taxes and reducing social spending in order to make Britain more attractive to the US, with which Britain is desperate to agree a free trade deal.

Along with this program of economic self-harm, Britain has essentially outsourced its foreign policy to Washington, going along with new cold war policies against China and Russia - policies that serve the interests of the US military-industrial complex but run directly counter to the interests of ordinary people in Britain.

The British defence review of 2021, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, defined China as "the biggest state-based threat to the UK's economic security" and announced that Britain would "tilt" toward the Asia-Pacific region ―a curious decision, given that Britain is on the opposite side of the world to the Pacific.

In an alarming throwback to the days of the British Empire, the UK joined with Australia and the US last year to form AUKUS - a trilateral security pact essentially aimed at creating a Pacific NATO. Connected to this, Britain has sent its largest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the South China Sea. On the economic front, Britain has mandated the removal of Huawei technology from its 5G network infrastructure.

Britain has also joined the chorus of despicable slander over alleged human rights abuses in China's Xinjiang region, as well as wilfully violating China's sovereignty by offering BN(O)passports to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents.

Meanwhile, Britain has been a leading "hawk" in relation to the Ukraine crisis, giving broad financial and military support to Kiev and campaigning for unprecedented sanctions against Moscow. These unilateral coercive measures are already having an adverse impact on the people of Britain (and indeed large parts of the world), driving up prices of food, energy and fertilizer.

In short, the British government has subordinated the national interest to US elites which are intent on pursuing an aggressive and hegemonic strategy against China and Russia. This escalating global hybrid warfare is directed toward the Project for a New American Century - a project that will bring absolutely no benefits to the British people.

Britain can overcome its economic and political crises only when it gives up on propping up US imperialism, and when it sets about defining Britain's role in a multipolar world free of hegemonism. In such a world, Britain could have extensive and mutually beneficial relations with China and Russia, as well as the other key emerging economies. 

Whoever leads the next government in Westminster, they would be well advised to develop a foreign and economic policy based on improving the living standards of the population. Unfortunately, the British ruling class is near-unanimous in its opposition to such a shift toward sanity. If this shift is to occur, it will be the result of mass action by the millions of ordinary people that are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

The author is a British author and independent political commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn