Rishi Sunak exposed: the British Prime Minister's turn to the extreme right | International

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Sorrows hurt less soaked in wine. Last Thursday, just 40 people gathered at the offices of a public relations firm, in the city Financial institution of London, to attend, between glasses of white and red, the presentation of the book The Case For The Center Right (In Defense of the Center Right), a collection of 11 essays – 11 laments – written by former British Conservative MPs who were relevant in their party until the wave of far-right populism that Brexit brought with it threw them into the gutter. David Gauke, Rory Stewart, Amber Rudd and Dominic Grieve, among others: all of them ministers from a time before the Boris Johnson era, continued and accentuated by his successors.

Political despair leads those who suffer from it to take refuge in extremes. Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, faces polls that show a Conservative Party in ruins, after almost 13 years in Government, and has opted to ignite his electoral base with decisions and rhetoric very similar to those of the far-right parties in Europe: a heavy hand against irregular immigration and crime, regression and denialism in the fight against climate change. When you only have a hammer, all problems look like nails, formulated the psychologist Abraham Maslow. Sunak's hammer, who came to the political front line with a mantle of moderate and pragmatist - the ideal man to solve the damage caused by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss - has ended up being even more reactionary than that of his predecessors.

Sunak is tenacious and acts driven by the latent threat of electoral defeat. Well at the end of 2024, when the British are scheduled to go to the polls; or before, if the rumor that has been running through the political rumor mills of London since the return of summer ends up materializing and points to early elections in May.

“All this comes from a double combination: the desperate situation in which the Conservative Party finds itself and its tendency to turn politics into a cultural war,” Gary Younge, professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester and winner, explains to EL PAÍS this year's prestigious Orwell Prize for Journalism. “You just have to take a look at the polls [la media otorga una ventaja de 20 puntos porcentuales a la oposición laborista] or to all the scandals that have arisen in recent years to understand that desperation. The announced setback in the fight against climate change, this idea of ​​​​presenting environmental objectives as economic obstacles for British families during an already difficult time, is nothing more than the result of having clung for so long to the mandate Johnson's obscene,” Younge concludes.

Goodbye to the consensus on global warming

The problem, a few conservative deputies lament, is that electoral necessity has ended up overriding the only issue that had raised the consensus of the two major parties: the fight against global warming. “It is very important that we prevent the climate issue, and energy issues in general, from ending up being used as weapons in cultural wars,” Amber Rudd, who was Minister of Energy and Climate Change, warns EL PAÍS, with a tone of regret. during David Cameron's government. “We agreed on the Climate Change Act of 2008 and now it runs the risk of being the subject of electoral debate, as has already happened in the United States,” she says.

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None of the decisions or strategies launched by Downing Street in recent weeks have had a direct or practical effect on the lives of British people, but they announce the decision of the Conservatives to cling to a populist and far-right discourse to try to retain power .

Sunak has supported, either with his words or with his silence, the war unleashed by his Minister of the Interior, Suella Braverman, against irregular immigration and the arrival of boats to the coasts of southern England, after crossing at mortal risk the English Channel. If months ago Braverman spoke of “invasion”, this week she has come to define the increase in arrivals as “a threat to national security.” “Senior officials of the United Kingdom police have already warned me of an increase in crime rates connected with the arrival of small boats to our coasts, especially in everything related to drugs and prostitution,” the minister stated in Washington before the ultraconservative American Enterprise Institute forum.

The concern that has arisen among the electorate—Conservative and Labor—over the increase in irregular immigration on British soil is fueled by the same xenophobic aroma that fueled Brexit. The slogan Stop the Boats (Let's stop the boats), who accompanies Sunak In each of his interventions to talk about this matter, he will be part of the annual conservative conference that will be held starting this Sunday in Manchester. It will be the platform with which tories They will set out to conquer their own survival, and will see the loneliness of the few moderates who survive in a party increasingly leaning to the right.

“Racism and immigration, not only here, but all over the world,” responds the historic Michael Heseltine (Swansea, 90 years old), one of the most brilliant politicians of the Margaret Thatcher era — his candidacy in the primaries against the Lady of Hierro ended up causing the prime minister to resign—when asked about the causes of the resurgence of populism in her party. “Tribalism, racism, immigration… All fueled by that deep human instinct to protect what one has,” he reflects for EL PAÍS.

Heseltine, however, believes that Sunak has brought a little more sanity after the Johnson scandals and the Truss economic catastrophe. But he does not join the fanatical applause generated by his latest decisions.

As an example, the applause garnered among deniers by Sunak after his decision to reverse some of the Government's environmental commitments, including the objective of eliminating the sale of gasoline or diesel vehicles by 2030. “I always knew Sunak was smart, that he wasn't going to destroy and bankrupt his nation because of fake climate change alarmists who have no idea what they're talking about,” the number one denier wrote on X (formerly Twitter). one, former US President Donald Trump.

Because the problem, and the embarrassment, of Sunak's decision is not only in the questionable savings for citizens' pockets that it promises - by delaying the transition in both vehicles and domestic heaters - but in the fact that it was invented and announced the elimination, for the sake of a new cultural war, of measures that no one had proposed. Among them, the seven recycling bins in each house, the prohibition of eating meat or the restriction of the number of travelers in each car. “They have nowhere left to turn, because the Labor opposition has stolen a large part of the center vote. Their trick is to raise the volume of far-right rhetoric, although in practice they have been raising taxes on citizens for a few years now, something that in theory left-wing governments usually do,” Younge ironically says.

The camouflaged far right

Climate denialism, the harshness of the anti-immigration discourse or even his strategy regarding public security suggest that Sunak wants to appeal to a few million voters far to the right who, for years, allowed themselves to be captivated by anti-nationalism. EU from Nigel Farage's UKIP party. This week's decision by Sunak and his minister Braverman to support police officers who handed over their weapons, in protest at the trial of a colleague accused of killing an unarmed black man, has raised the hairs of jurists and human rights organizations. . But it sounds good among a group of voters who, as in other European countries, do not have alternative political formations to fall under.

“An important difference with other places, such as Spain, is that in the United Kingdom the electoral system makes it very difficult for the extreme right to win seats in a general election, although it has been able to obtain almost four million votes,” explains Martin Shaw, Emeritus Professor of International Relations and Politics at the University of Sussex. “That is why the influence of Farage and his UKIP on the Conservative Party is always indirect,” he points out.

The politician, who even his toughest rivals recognize as having great communication skills, is still present in the British public debate through his program on the conservative channel GB News, where he is one of its main stars. Farage has always had the ability to re-emerge on the political front line every time an election approaches, but on this occasion he has encountered the surprise of a rival, Sunak, who has proven capable of handling populism, if not the same skill, yes with similar efficiency.

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