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British politics today



By G.LL. Williams

February 10, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Britain’s politics is in crisis. Today there is a need to think about British politics to develop a better Left politics in Britain. Britain is faced with a simple choice today: capitalism or socialism, barbarism or socialism. British politics needs to lead to a better Britain — a socialist Britain.


The reality of this crisis can be seen in British society today: in the crisis of capitalism, the crisis of austerity, and the crisis of Europe. British politics, today, is being shaped by the reality of the crisis of Britain. If a better Britain is ever to emerge it must be based on confronting and overcoming the crisis. Britain needs a new politics. Britain needs socialism.[1]


British society is a political society.[2] British society has always been a political society; it has always debated its politics, its political origins, and its historical origins, ever since the revolutions of the seventeenth-century and the emergence of the United Kingdom in 1707 and 1801.[3] These politics have resulted in the political struggles of British society.


British politics is divided into two types of politics: capitalist politics and socialist politics. All of British politics, since the Industrial Revolution, can be divided between the Right and the Left, between capitalism and socialism, and has been determined by the struggle between these two types of politics. The struggle between the capitalist class and the working class has been shaped by these politics.


The crisis in British politics and in British society shows that British capitalism is incapable of solving its problems. The problems of Britain can only be solved by socialism.[4]


The crisis of British politics is a long crisis. The origins of this crisis go back to the 1980s: to the triumph of neo-liberalism, Thatcherism and Blairism. These politics have created the crisis that exists today in Britain. These politics need to be overthrown and replaced by socialism.


What direction British politics takes is a political question. British politics will be dependent on political struggles and political events. As such what direction British politics takes is a political struggle. Britain could go to the Right. Britain could go to the Left. It is likely, given Brexit and the crisis over Europe, that British politics will go to the Right. It is the duty of the British Left to struggle to make Britain go to the Left. The only way to solve Britain’s crises and Britain’s problems is a shift to the Left — a shift to the politics of socialism.


Britain has and always will be divided by its politics. The struggle between such politics has always depended on the Left politics or Right politics present in Britain at certain points and the political strength of political forces. For example, the Whig vision of British politics reached its height in the nineteenth-century, at the height of the liberal ascendency of British capitalism. The Conservative vision of British politics often dominated in the 1930s and 1980s, periods when the Conservative Party was ascendant in British politics. The strength of Left politics has usually depended on the relative strength of the Left itself in British society, such as in the 1940s and 1960s. For any socialist, the socialist understanding of British politics and British society is a powerful one due its explanatory power, but its success has always depended on the strength of socialist politics and Left politics in Britain in general.


The current historical debates about British politics, then, are not simply historical, they contain a powerful and vital political element. Today British politics has been reduced to a few parties and few types of politics: the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, and the Labour Party. For the British Left, today, all politics are political struggles for a new Socialist politics and a new Left politics in British politics.


Britain is in crisis today. The future looks very bleak for Britain. E.P. Thompson, writing in the 1980s, warned us that Britain’s future will always look bleak as long as Britain is a capitalist society.[5] His solution was to struggle for socialism. Britain needs to become socialist.


British politics has its own visions of the past, present and future of British politics. Where will British politics go in the future? In a way we cannot really know. The future of British politics will be determined by the past and present of British politics. It might be that Britain is forever destined to remain a capitalist country and a capitalist society. It might be that Britain is destined to collapse under its own contradictions and historical limits into various small nations and nation states, such as England, Scotland, Wales, etc, or into something much worse. It might be that Britain is destined for something else, such as a collapse of its civilization, with the threat of nuclear war and ecological collapse. [6]


Yet there is still hope that something better might emerge in Britain and in British politics: a socialist Britain. It may be that Britain is destined to finally become a socialist state and society. For socialists the latter is preferable — and necessary. Britain might go on being a capitalist society but its own politics implies that Britain can change, and will change. The future is not set: a socialist future might be part of that future.


[1] E.P. Thompson, Socialist Humanism, (1957)

[2] P. Anderson, Origins of the Present Crisis, (1961)

[3] G. Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, (1945)

[4] G. Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn, (1941)

[5] E.P. Thompson, Writing by Candlelight, (1980)

[6] E.P. Thompson, Zero Option, (1982)

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