Sunak's Conundrums: He Can't Revive The British Economy Without Peace With Russia, And He Can't Make Peace With Russia

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Oct 25, 2022 04:38 PM +05:30 IST
Sunak's Conundrums: He Can't Revive The British Economy Without Peace With Russia, And He Can't Make Peace With Russia Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister of the United Kingdm
Snapshot
  • Revival of a floundering British economy is not possible without removing the root cause of the crisis.

    Rishi Sunak needs to make some sort of peace with Russia without rupturing Britain’s special relationship with America.

Rishi Sunak’s elevation as the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has led to an expected buzz on social media in India.

Our dyed-in-the-wool secularists, preferring their stock prism of identity as a primary descriptor of a human being, rather than merit, eagerly pointed out that if the British could make a member of the minority community their Prime Minister, then perhaps India’s ‘fascist majoritarians’ could do well to take a leaf from that book.

Another set crowed over the fact that the colonizers were now to be led by the formerly colonized.

A third crowd tittered in open schadenfreude (if it is even that) that a proud Christian nation of white people would be governed by a brown ‘Hindoo’ who worships cows (with some of those jibes directed at our desi Beef Brigade as well).

And a fourth went to town that a son of Indian immigrants becoming Prime Minister was sweet revenge for Suella Braverman’s unconscionable comments on Indian immigrants into Britain.

(Ironically, Braverman is of Indian origin, and lost her job as Home Secretary soon after she was appointed to that post, making her tenure the shortest since 1834).

A slightly less juvenile spectrum of the commentariat declaimed that Sunak would need to be more British than the British to make up for his ethnicity (somewhat like the senseless comments about Barack Obama needing to be whiter than whites), for which, he would overcompensate and be tougher on India than a white British Prime Minister.

But the truth is that while everyone is entitled to their opinions, meaningless comments like those listed above will be forgotten soon, simply because the problems Sunak must solve have nothing to do with the colour of his skin, his religion, or his ethnicity.

Britain is in a mess. Political instability is rife. Inflation is through the roof. Businesses are having to shut down. Widespread energy shortages are looming along with winter. And they are, along with America and Europe, at the forefront of an unwinnable proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.

So, it boils down to a simple question: Can Sunak do it? The answer is equally simple: Yes, he can, but only if he makes peace with Russia.

Look at the logic: Britain is in a mess because its political leadership has failed. No one has been able to bring inflation under control because the causes are extraneous and impervious to standard solutions of monetary or fiscal policy.

Inflation (especially energy prices) has risen sharply this year because Britain, along with the rest of Europe, followed America’s lead to senselessly sanction Russia —Europe’s principal source of cheap energy—without ensuring alternative sources of equally cheap supplies.

It is the same with energy shortages, especially for heating homes and offices during winter. So, no matter how earnest he is, Sunak will not be able to revive a floundering British economy without removing the root cause of the crisis.

And therein lie Sunak’s myriad conundrums.

He needs to increasing spending capacity to revive demand and growth, but he can’t do that because inflation has tightened his citizenry’s purse strings.

He could make tax cuts or announce household subsidies to ease the public’s burden, like his predecessor Liz Truss tried to disastrous effect with her ‘mini-budget’, but he can’t do that because he would then need to print more money, and that, in turn, would only worsen the inflation problem.

He can’t rein in prices —especially energy prices—because this is a supply problem which originates in Russia, beyond Britain’s borders, and he has no control over those prices.

He could, however, solve his country’s problems if he makes some sort of peace with Russia, stops participating in the proxy war in Ukraine, accepts the outcome of the conflict, eschews NATO’s plans to expand eastwards, closer to Russia, and realizes that Russia will always be Europe’s neighbour.

Prices would come down and shortages would vanish.

But he can’t do that without rupturing Britain’s special relationship with America.

In fact, it is extremely doubtful if he would be permitted to try such a radical move even if he wanted to. As Swarajyas R Jagannathan writes, for multiple cogent reasons, Sunak “will be Prime Minister, but his power will be circumscribed ”.

And even if he did try, his political fate would probably be similar to Romanian Defence Minister Vasile Dincu, who was forced to resign after he implied in public that Ukraine might have to cede territory to Russia if peace talks were to happen.

The reason is that American President Joe Biden’s administration has gone so far out on a limb that it might accept a perpetuation of the proxy conflict, and the heaping of further suffering on the people of Ukraine, but it will not countenance dissonance within Europe.

Where does that leave Sunak? He can’t meddle with the British-American ‘special relationship’ without risking his job. He can’t deal independently with Russia. He can’t speak against the proxy war in Ukraine (at least not until a few voices of similar stature in mainland Europe do so).

At best, all he can do for now is to hope and pray that the American electorate hands President Biden’s Democratic party a nasty wakeup call in their provincial midterm elections due on 8 November.

Now, there is a term for this sort of governance in India which Sunak might have heard of. We call it “Ram Bharose”, and that is where Britain is at, presently.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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