Dr. Thomas Peak. The Beginning of a New Era in Britain

Dr. Thomas Peak. The Beginning of a New Era in Britain

Today is the beginning of a new era in British politics and public life. The death of The Queen is a seminal event of great communal importance. Our people have lived under a single Head of State for seventy years, and this moment of transition, long prepared for, felt to many as if it would never arrive. Yet this transition comes during a period in which the British people were already living through intense change, a period of multiple political, social, and cultural transitions – many also experienced by the Commonwealth, and even globally.

Given this context, for many Britons today, the death of The Queen might seem to be entering us deeper into a crisis which has gradually been encroaching upon our lives for a number of years. Driven in large degree by the divisive and toxic campaigning around the 2016 Brexit referendum – a tendency arguably foreshadowed during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – coupled with an enormous economic catastrophe, a breakdown in under-funded public services, and a massive trade union revolt against a cost-of-living crisis unprecedented in recent memory and the growing impoverishment of their membership, the UK stands at a critical juncture.

Britain today is a sharply divided place. With G7-topping inflation levels at a 40-year high and the ongoing economic and political fallout of Brexit continuing to wreak havoc through the country’s institutions, trust in politics is and levels of social cohesion are sharply declining. It is easy to see why. Just days before her death, The Queen received the resignation of a Prime Minister forced out of office by his own party because of his profoundly dishonest conduct. The new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has campaigned on an economic and social platform that includes passing legislation to further restrict the rights of trades unions to freely operate, and which strongly favors a small state, tax-cutting regime that offers little prospect of immediate reprieve for those struggling the most. In foreign affairs, she was not prepared to say whether Emmanuel Macron – President of France, one of Britain’s closest geopolitical allies and partners – was a ‘friend or foe’. The case for Scottish independence, surely, has become all the easier to make in recent years, and the Conservative government’s disregard for international law in seeking to unilaterally revise the Northern Ireland protocol is more concerning still.

Yet The Queen represented one institution which truly united Britain, as Head of State her conduct and apparent devotion to duty was admired across the political and geographic spectrum. Even amid serious scandals around her immediate family – her son, Andrew Windsor’s allegations of sexual assault, most notoriously – the figure of The Queen has persevered in this unifying role. But today she is no more. Of course, the passing of the royal torch does not in itself directly worsen any of the multiple threats facing British democracy, the integrity of the island’s political union, or the growing impoverishment of the British people. But the forces of consolidation and ‘togetherness’ have become that much weaker.

On the other hand, this moment could equally present an opportunity for a re-set. We do have a new Prime Minister. Liz Truss has the opportunity to move away from the destructive and illegitimate practices of her predecessor. The country will pause for at least the next 10-days; strikes have been postponed, as The Queen’s life is honored, Britain will receive an enormous boost in international good will, and all sides of the domestic political spectrum are joined together in remembering and mourning. If the British political class can grasp this moment, and can begin to seek common ground away from the harmful ‘post-truth’ rhetoric that has been so damaging to our polity, then The Queen’s legacy as a unifying and decent force in public life can begin to correct the course.

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