The importance of UK elections
EVEN after the referee blows his whistle, we will not know which side has won. The outcome of the UK general election on Thursday will produce more questions than answers.
Both the Labour Party and the ruling Conservative Party are neck and neck in the polls, with neither likely to win enough votes to govern in a majority.
Both stringently deny what they know to be undeniable. British politics is no longer a game of two. The rise of populist, anti-austerity parties has made coalition government the new consensus.
Their new influence asserts itself just as the question of the UK’s role in the world becomes pertinent. The Presidential elections in Nigeria produced a historic result that had traction all over the world.
The cliché of Nigeria’s economic potential and the shift in Nigerian politics make Africa’s biggest economy a global concern now. Muhammadu Buhari’s invitation to the G7 meeting in Berlin reflects the rising tide of interest.
The contrast with the UK elections could not be more stark. There is more fanfare around the hypothetical contest between US presidential hopefuls Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush in 2016, than in UK elections less than a week away.
Britain faces several existential questions, it’s future as a member of the European Union (EU) and as a Union is in doubt. Britain is possibly on the cusp of a change that could transform it and it’s place in the world, but the world is relatively disinterested.
Some of the reasons for this are superficial. Tony Blair and John Major, both past Labour and Conservative leaders respectively, had aesthetic advantages in engaging a global audience.
Tony Blair is articulate, vibrant and a trailblazer of ‘the third way’. John Major, an Englishman’s Englishman, a classic statesman and a lover of cricket. Margaret Thatcher before them was a towering figure at home and abroad.
In this pond of distinctive and memorable world leaders, David Cameron and potentially Ed Miliband, are small fish. Neither offers the vigour and force of personality characterised by a Barack Obama or an Angela Merkel. Neither is quintessentially anything. They are distinctly indistict by comparison.
Yet some reasons are more fundamental. The preeminent themes in the UK election campaign have been the Economy, Health and Immigration. Defence and Foreign policy have scarcely been footnotes despite unprecedented instability in Europe and the wider world. Conflict and crises are spiraling at every turn.
From Russian-Ukrainian tensions in Crimea, to ISIS in Syria and Iraq, a proxy regional war in Yemen, in Libya, and now the Mediterranean, the heart of possibly the worst refugee crises since the Second World War. These all present challenges that should at-least in part divert Britain’s gaze to the global and unavoidable forces.
Like in Nigeria, the collapse in international oil prices is perhaps the single biggest economic factor in Britain. Yet the world, both its markets and its politics, don’t feature in our discourse as it should.
Of course there are wider factors at hand. The centre of gravity in global affairs is shifting from West to East. Western influence in international affairs is waning as China’s seat at the world table grows bigger and more comfortable.
Economies in South America, Asia and Africa are gaining ground, whilst unsuccessful western military interventions have made the world hawkish in inviting the US and its allies into its conflicts and affairs.
The UK offers little strategic gains for emerging Superpowers like Saudi Arabia, India and Brazil. Perhaps if Britain is turning away from the world, the world is also doing the same. London remains the ultimate global and financial city, but the Country is reverting inwards. The ramifications of these changing dynamics are somewhat uncertain.
But they are significant. And besides the mutual apathy, the world has ample reason to switch on before next Thursday’s election. The permutations of how a government may look are as many and as difficult to predict as the throw of a dice.
The UK’s nuclear deterrent, Trident, as well as the budget for international aid are two of many factors that are vulnerable to next weeks result. If the Trident is scrapped, Britain’s place on the UN Security Council will look fishy. Nigeria is one of many countries who benefit from UK international aid.
Ed Miliband, the statist, authentically left-wing Labour leader and David Cameron, a middle of the road, small-c Conservative, are not stellar acts. They aren’t celebrity figures and don’t demand attention. Nonetheless one of either will be Prime Minister, and their tenure will each be markedly different and consequential. Like watching the weather, it may not exactly be riveting but it’s worth noting.