BY SWAPAN DASGUPTA
One of the things I like best on a longish domestic flight is to read the London newspapers. I barely have time to justify my expensive subscriptions during the political season in Delhi. However, a flight, undisturbed by an eager co-passenger, over-anxious to discuss politics with a so-called insider, is a luxury that can’t be shunned.
Having downloaded the The Times earlier in the day, I was truly looking forward to reading about the leadership race in the British Conservative Party, an organisation that I have both admired and despaired of. This week I have looked forward to the Conservative Party finally putting an end to the national misery that Theresa May inflicted on the kingdom with her shambolic handling of the Brexit negotiations.
I know it is none of my business how the British conduct their internal affairs. However, if I was a Briton I would been inclined to give emotional support to Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party — if only to tell the European Union exactly where to get off. I mean the British electorate voted fairly and squarely to leave a European Union that, despite its ability to ensure a common market of goods and services, had been taken over by Eurocrats who just wanted to repudiate the last vestiges of national sovereignty. Britain reacted fiercely against it and voted to leave.
This is a verdict that should have been respected, both in Brussels and by the powerful minority in the UK that had voted to remain in the EU. Unfortunately, the two joined hands to subvert a popular mandate. Prime Minister May lacked the clarity of vision and the purposefulness that was expected from a British Prime Minister at this juncture. She was just the wrong choice of the Conservative Party and very successfully dissipated the Brexit mandate. She should have resigned at least a year ago, when she lost a series of votes in the House of Commons. But she was, what is called in Hindi, plain dheet, perhaps even more than Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.
The final round of the election involving only the Conservative Party involves two individuals: The flamboyant and sometimes buffoonish Boris Johnson and the very patrician, ‘safe pair of hands’ Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The new British Establishment — made up of seven different tribes of multicultural, politically correct folk — are all for Hunt. They are clearly not for Boris in the same way as the King was for the plodding but solid Stanley Baldwin rather than the brilliantly arrogant Lord Curzon in the selection after Bonar Law’s death. Curzon had described his rival for the Prime Ministership as a ‘man of utmost insignificance’ which I guess Baldwin was and his successor Neville Chamberlain too was.
There are moments when a country needs a safe pair of hands and the sort of insipid leadership that, say, was provided by Manmohan Singh —otherwise a very good man and a proper gentleman. But this is different, the UK is in a crisis. The decision to leave EU wasn’t merely about complex negotiations over tariffs and laws —although these are also important. It involved leadership of a country that needs direction about its post — EU role in the world. The UK will have to decide what sort of a country it will be. Will it be a new Singapore in Europe, as many feel it should be? Will it play a pivotal role in defining a new English-speaking Union that involves both the UK and the USA, as President Trump hopes? Or is there some other inspired way that Boris, an admirer and biographer of Winston Churchill, can discover?
Of course putting Boris into Number 10 is an incalculable risk. The man is astonishingly funny and has a way with words that should be the envy of every writer, but his impishness — which is underpinned with cynical calculation — could easily recoil and even trigger a diplomatic crisis or two. I believe that is a risk worth taking because the UK will realistically have to thrown some almighty tantrums and prepare to be a bit mad — as Churchill was in 1940 when Britain stood alone against a rampaging Hitler. For that Boris is the right man for the job.
I believe that the Ranka d file of the Conservative Party had long ago decided that May could only be replaced by Boris. It was apparent to most people, except of course the media. That is because the media, whether in London or Delhi, believe that their preferences constitute the reality. On top of this Boris is a former journalist who has done a thousand times better than each one of them. Hence all the silly stories of electoral skulduggery, of MPs being told that opposing Boris wouldn’t be good for their career and of deflating the quantum of support enjoyed by leadership rivals. If these constitute dirty tricks, I think the next time there is an election in India we should bring in plane loads of Westminster MPs to show them the real mean of vicious electioneering. What is being witnessed in Westminster is another version of elections to the Delhi Gymkhana Club of the Calcutta Club, but for higher stakes.
That many Britons think that this is the ultimate in the black arts is very revealing. It makes you wonder how such a people built the world’s largest empire and produced duplicitous rogues like Robert Clive and Cecil Rhodes.
(The Pioneer, Inida)