For politicians, stance is important, but “how to do politics” is also important – regarding social disputes, should we be serious and balanced and seek concrete solutions, or should we go wild and use incitement and labeling? When facing the system, should we respect the rule of law and norms, or should we ignore the system or even attack it?
This spectrum is the key to understanding this British cabinet reshuffle. On November 13, current British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a cabinet reshuffle, and former Prime Minister David Cameron returned as Foreign Secretary, sparking discussion. But in this reorganization, we must also pay attention to the dismissal of Suella Braverman by the Prime Minister, a representative of the “culture war faction” in the Conservative Party. This politician fully embodies the logic of “anti-system” and stands at the most extreme position on the aforementioned spectrum. He often uses American “culture war” vocabulary and reduces all debates to “common people” versus “politically correct liberal elites” of opposition.
At first glance, the culture wars appear to be just the age-old debate between conservatives and progressives, only more intensified. In fact, the politicians of the culture war faction not only have a position, but actively seek out issues that may divide society. In the debate, they declare that they stand on the side of “common sense” and represent the “silent majority”. They criticize those who raise other considerations. It’s a “so-and-so glue” that’s not down to earth.
It is also because the focus of the culture war faction is to distinguish between ourselves and the enemy rather than to promote policies, and they often put forward clear-cut propositions that are not specific or impossible to implement. In other words, the real trouble is not in one’s stance, but in “whether one takes the issue seriously” as a politician. The same phenomenon exists in the American Republican Party. After the culture war faction seized power, it has shown a strong anti-system tendency. Although it has the reputation of being a majority party, it is difficult to discuss bills properly. By comparison, it can be said that the British Conservative Party is currently facing a battle for its soul. , should not be too much.
The culture war faction emerged much later in Britain than in the United States. The American right began to discuss the culture war in the 1990s, and the most important turning point in the UK occurred during the 2016 Brexit referendum. When some politicians and the media discovered that “looking good to the elite” can grab the spotlight, they got a taste of the benefits and intensified their efforts. There are also many members at the grassroots level of the Conservative Party who are called upon by this rhetoric, and then opinion leaders and even new members of the conservative party emerge. In fact, according to polls, the majority of the people, including the “general working class” that this faction claims to represent, are generally less concerned about progress and are more concerned about livelihood and public services.
On the contrary, within the Conservative Party, politicians and grassroots party members have formed a stratosphere that pulls each other up, and has formed an alliance with the original free market right wing of the party. With the support of right-wing newspapers, it has become the mainstream within the party group and has seriously affected the party. The quality of discussion of policy and political values.
▌Challenging the authority of the Prime Minister and stepping on the red line
Prime Minister Sunak has always wanted to maintain good relations with the culture war faction. On issues such as immigration, culture, finance and taxation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Brexit, Sunak and Braverman have similar preferences. The trigger for this reshuffle was not differences in stance, but Braverman’s political approach that went too far, leaving the prime minister with no choice.
Over the past month, Braverman has not only claimed that homeless people living on the streets are just a “lifestyle choice” and that they should not be tolerated to continue to “occupy the streets”, but he has also further created confrontation at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has already caused serious conflict. Accusations of solidarity with Palestinian protests are “hate marches” and a display of “Islamist” firepower.
In addition, as the Home Secretary in charge of police affairs (as well as immigration and national security), she actually wrote to the media, accusing the police of being “left-wing”. The evidence is that the police did not ban demonstrations in support of Palestine. The culture war faction has long attacked institutions such as the media, universities and even the courts for favoring progressives. Now even the police have become their targets. But there is no legal basis for the police to ban the parade. Braverman, who is a lawyer, must know it well; she must also know that the “operational independence” of the police is an important principle of British law. Because of this, this move even made the right-wing Senior lawmakers also expressed dissatisfaction.
In the same letter, she also mentioned that such “hate marches” should only occur in Northern Ireland. Not only is he extremely contemptuous of Northern Ireland, but he is also completely ignorant – most of the parades in Northern Ireland’s history were organized by the British government faction, which is a long-term ally of the Conservative Party; as for the Irish faction, which did hold a few parades, In the most famous march, the military opened fire, killing 14 marchers, and the social trauma has not yet been healed.
What is even more surprising is that although Braverman reported this letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, she did not comply with the Prime Minister’s Office’s request for amendments, which was tantamount to disobeying the Prime Minister. The matter has reached this point, and the Prime Minister must fire her, otherwise he will lose all his prestige.
▌Signal of cabinet reshuffle
After deposing Braverman, the Prime Minister transferred the steady style James Cleverly from foreign affairs to domestic affairs, leaving the post to former Prime Minister Cameron, who had retired from politics for seven years. In British politics, the prime minister, finance minister, foreign secretary and home secretary are the four recognized positions, so this is a major change in the party and government leadership.
But from the perspective of popularity and policies, the appointment of Cameron is not ideal. During Cameron’s tenure, he drastically cut budgets, and the negative consequences gradually emerged in the fields of health care, education, security, transportation, etc., coupled with the controversy over the Brexit referendum, not to mention his involvement in illegal lobbying scandals after leaving office, all of which made his reputation extremely low. . In addition, Cameron’s diplomatic achievements are really limited: he was often isolated among EU leaders back then. After leaving office, he served as a lobbyist for the Belt and Road Initiative. He seems very out of touch today when the mainstream of the party favors “suspiciousness”. As for the dangerous situation in the Middle East and North Africa, his policies towards Libya and Syria were serious failures.
However, Cameron’s appointment can be interpreted as a signal that the prime minister will no longer be beholden to the culture war faction. Cameron is especially the “elite” hated by the culture war faction. Although he is also on the right on issues such as finance and taxation, he not only advocated remaining in the European Union, but he is also a liberal in terms of social values. During his term, he promoted minority Ethnicity and women. In addition to Cameron, Sunak has also promoted several young MPs who are calm and have liberal social values in this reshuffle, all reinforcing this message.
However, at the same time, Sunak is unwilling to “break clean” with the culture war faction. After allocating all first-level positions on the same day, he promoted Esther McVey, a member of the party who came from the television industry, and appointed her as Minister without Portfolio. He also invented the informal title of “Minister of Knowledge” to Catering to the vocabulary of the culture war faction – elites insisting on political correctness and violating “common sense”.
▌The Prime Minister’s Swing Dance
In fact, the Prime Minister has had a dangerous relationship with the culture war faction from the beginning. When he was running for prime minister, he was very worried that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson would challenge him. Since Johnson had good relations with this faction, Sunak especially roped in Braverman and successfully poached him, which directly caused Johnson to withdraw from the re-election.
After taking office, Sunak also moved closer to this faction on many issues. The environmental protection aspect is the most shocking. After all, the two parties in the UK have already reached a consensus on fighting climate change. Sunak is the first leader in 30 years to attack this consensus. On issues such as gender and immigration, the Sunak government also has many rhetorics that follow the same trend as this group.
In terms of policy, the biggest impact of the culture war party on Sunak is the “Rwandan refugee deportation plan”. This case happened to be detonated in the same week as the cabinet reshuffle. This plan is a policy of the Johnson era: in order to reduce the incentives for refugee applicants to cross the border, the government signed an agreement with Rwanda to deport the applicants to the latter. The problem is that Rwanda has a poor human rights record and has even repatriated refugees to their home countries for punishment, which is a serious violation of international law. For this reason, the Supreme Court ruled that the policy was illegal, and the judgment came just two days after the cabinet reshuffle.
▌Extended reading: “Send all refugees to Rwanda?” UK Supreme Court rules immigration policy illegal>
Sunak could actually abandon this plan when he took office. After all, it was not his policy, and many legal experts had already warned that he would lose the case. However, the culture war faction has regarded this policy as its main demand, and Sunak has also catered to it. This group also accused the opponents of being elites and “human rights advocates” who condone immigration. They especially vigorously attacked the European Court of Human Rights, which had blocked this policy, and shouted that the UK should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). .
It is worth adding that the ECHR has nothing to do with the EU, and all European countries except Russia and Belarus are members; in addition, the relevant agreements signed by the British government to ensure peace in Northern Ireland are also based on the ECHR and it is impossible to withdraw from it. . What’s more, the Supreme Court’s judgment makes it very clear that the “refugee non-refoulement principle” has appeared in many domestic and international laws, and this policy will still be illegal even without the ECHR.
At this point, Sunak is still unwilling to admit his compensation and go out. It was clear that the Home Secretary only stated on the afternoon of November 15 that withdrawing from the ECHR was “not necessary”; at a press conference on the evening of the same day, the Prime Minister also said that if “foreign courts” continued to block the policy, he would “take all necessary measures” – he knew that It is not feasible to withdraw from the ECHR, and we know that the crux lies with the courts of our country, but we choose to continue to show favor to the culture war faction.
In addition, before the press conference, Party Vice Chairman Lee Anderson, who also belongs to the culture war faction, publicly stated: “What law? We should ignore the law and send them back the day they (refugee applicants) come in!” But When reporters asked Sunak whether he accepted the suggestion of such lawlessness, the Prime Minister defended it, saying the deputy chairman was simply expressing his “strong feelings”.
Sunak also announced at the same time that he would propose amendments to the law, continuing to tangle with the culture war faction. On the one hand, he did veto the “proposal” of the culture war faction and had no intention of adding “the relevant Bill of Rights does not apply” to the law – this is tantamount to a blatant violation of law. But on the other hand, he announced that he would directly define Rwanda as a “safe country” in the law. Even the former Supreme Court judge said this was ridiculous: whether it is safe depends on the court’s judgment of the facts. How can it be solved by amending the law? ? Such statements have no real meaning, and there is no time to implement them before the election. In fact, they are just flirting with the culture war.
▌”Anti-system” discusses expelling good money
Sunak’s actual mood when facing the culture war faction is currently difficult to determine, but it can be inferred that as a “details-oriented” person, he cannot really appreciate the faction: Sunak is said to often hold spreadsheets and confirm with civil servants Value of each cell. He may be wary of the strength of the faction’s lawmakers and media allies, and adopts the attitude that “it’s better to do less than to do more” and not to make enemies. Or perhaps, he really thinks that he can form an alliance with them: anyway, his own position is very right-wing, so it is a way for the cultural right to be responsible for declaring war, while he leads the substantive policies.
Returning to the Rwandan policy, the irony is that from the perspective of policy and Sunak himself, all this may not be important at all─if nothing unexpected happens, the next election will be held next year, and the Conservative Party is about to be defeated. According to As usual, Sunak must also resign, and the Rwandan project will inevitably come to an end.
At the same time, Braverman also got off to a bad start. Her controversial words and deeds are undoubtedly based on the post-election leadership change: her real enemy is not Sunak, but uses a tougher stance and rhetoric than the current prime minister to position herself as a member of the culture war faction and even the wider right. “The first brand”, especially to squeeze out the rising star of the same faction, Kemi Badenoch and others. She was preparing to tell a story about “the elites with impure positions betraying us” to portray herself as a martyr after being fired by the prime minister.
It’s a pity that Braverman’s performance was too poor despite all her efforts. Polls show that 70% of the people think Sunak should fire her. In addition, her supporters once threatened the Prime Minister to launch a civil war within the party, claimed to have the strength of at least 50 members of parliament, and even used the vocabulary of the Mafia to describe themselves as the “Five Families.” On the evening of the day she was deposed, her allies held an emergency meeting, but only about 10 congressmen attended.
So is this all just short-term noise with no consequences? In fact, this is not the case, because politics is not only about policies and personnel matters. “Methods of doing politics” such as attitudes and words will also have long-term effects.
Next year, neither Sunak nor Braverman may be the leader of the Conservative Party, but the former caters to the swing and the latter dominates the agenda, but the party’s discourse continues to be subject to the main theme of the culture war. Although a few voices challenge it, the results are It is really limited. In addition, in recent years, the number of culture war factions among grassroots party members has increased significantly. We can fully imagine that every politician who intends to compete for the party leadership may shout to withdraw from the ECHR after the election, and even challenge the police, judges, and media. Declaring war and breaking all sorts of laws they didn’t like to build grassroots support. After all, when being irresponsible and anti-system becomes the new normal for discussion within the party, serious discussions on policies will not benefit, and bad money will naturally drive out good money.
Fortunately, the situation is not completely pessimistic. After all, British society is different from the United States. There is not such a strong background of racial conflicts and Christian nationalism, and there is already a social consensus on issues such as gay rights, abortion, and environmental protection. There is still a whole group of socially liberal politicians in the Conservative Party, as well as another group of lawful traditional conservatives who have not fully retreated. In addition, although the free market right has temporarily cooperated with the culture war faction, both sides have different views on the role of government and immigration. They also have different opinions and may not be able to form a long-term alliance.
Therefore, the outcome of the battle for the soul of the British Conservative Party is still uncertain – but no matter what, when we look at this battle, we may not be too kind in our assessment of Sunak’s hesitation and pandering.