For far too long Britain has acted with a deeply naive attitude towards India. Labour’s conduct towards the emerging super-power has not only done much to damage our relations at a governmental level – I.K. Gujral, Indian Prime minster from 1997 to 1998, once described Britain as ‘a third-rate power’ – but has also been detrimental to the image that the average Indian holds of us. I had ample chance for debate with Indian students whilst being shown round Mumbai University. Political students, with an insightful understanding of diplomacy between Britain and India, often told me that the former was often perceived as subordinating the latter, through some complacent arrogance that had somehow imbedded itself in the policies of successive governments after 1947.
The British ruled in India for over 200 years, the images of English gentlemen riding elephants and the stories of Kipling are a deep-set part of our culture, and to older generations India will always be that jewel in the British empire. However, we are deeply mistaken if we assume that this shared history gives us any prestige in the eyes of Indians. To Indians, this is little more than a period of history best forgotten.
Right from the outset mistakes were made by Labour about the ‘shared history’ that Britain and India were, quite wrongly, assumed to posses. During the Queen’s 1997 visit, a Band of Royal Marines was forbidden from playing due to its ‘imperial connotations’ and the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, put his foot in it by offering to mediate between India and Pakistan.
In its final years, Labour was far too occupied in its snuggling-up to China to turn its attentions to the quietly flourishing India and recognise its increasing importance as both a military and trading ally. Once again, embarrassing mistakes were made; notably, David Miliband lecturing Indian Ministers on human rights issues whilst addressing them by their first names. All of which has only served to push Britain to the peripheries of India’s political consciousness.
Thankfully, It seems that Cameron’s delegation of cabinet ministers and business leaders – the largest British delegation to visit the country since independence – can be taken as a direct contrast to labour’s prior indifference, and putting in its place an appreciation and reverence for a state that could do just as well without our support.
That is not to say that this new ‘special relationship’ is completely without benefits for India. The £700m deal between BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Hindustan Aeronautics will provide a multitude of jobs to the masses of unemployed within India (a problem that is currently being remedied by assigning three of four workers to do the job of one).
Furthermore, though we cannot rely on a shared sense of history and nostalgia to support relations between our two countries, we can appeal to the deep personal ties that are not hard to find. Britain has a 1.5 million Indian diaspora and there are 34,000 Indian nationals studying in Britain, and despite the growing allure of America as a place to study, Britain is still held as the highest in terms of repute (in all the Indian cities I visited, I saw billboards advertising agencies that would – perhaps misleadingly- ‘guarantee’ you a student visa to Britain). All of which instantly brings Britain and India closer together.
Let’s hope that David Cameron’s pledges to place a cap on non-EU migration and restrictions on student visas doesn’t end up being irrevocably detrimental towards these personal ties.
Although the budget and it’s details have drawn a divide between many politicians within and without government, there is something of a consensus that Labour were reckless with the public purse. David Cameron said of Labour’s ‘”Sorry there’s no money left” note’ that it was "13 words that sum up 13 years of complete cavalier arrogance with the taxpayers’ money". Newspapers told us in May how even the government’s own “Top civil servants made formal protests over Labour spending”. And Labour’s so called ‘Scorched earth policies’ and the “Financial ‘stink bombs’ left in Whitehall” upon the accession of the new Lab-Con government have made Labour look not only irresponsible but also like sore losers at a school sports-day.
A ‘We’re all in this together’ sort of mentality has been emanating from Mr Osborne, and that the June emergency budget is a tough but fair approach. Though, it doesn’t take a political philosopher to realise that an equal application of the law does not necessarily have an equal affect upon the population. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted that 1.3 million jobs would be lost as a result of spending cuts over the next five years. The IFS also found that, George Osborne’s plan to reduce spending by 25% in almost all areas of government and public services except healthcare and overseas aid, will disproportionately affect the poor; in fact, it will hit the poorest six times harder than it will hit the richest. Said the Observer, “The Tories’ shock tactics threaten to send us back into recession, and to condemn millions of young people to a life of unemployment”, and the slashing off 10% of the jobseekers allowance may become the lib-con’s equivalent to Gordon Brown’s 10p tax rate abolition (that, coupled with Labour’s bailing-out of troubled banks, made it look like the first socialist government to take money from the poor and give it to the rich).
Though Labour’s job creation schemes were expensive, they did at least work; but they are being scraped, along with 250,000 university places and literacy lessons for those adult ‘low-achievers’ who left school early.
There is a certain underclass in Britain which the conservatives like to call ‘Broken Britain’, but they would do well to remember that Broken Britain is one of Thatcher’s many legacies. Broken Britain was created by millions of young people tumbling out of school and onto the dole in the 1980s, never managing to right themselves and having children who in turn have known no model of work. What with the disproportionately negative affects of the emergency budget on the poor, this cycle looks set to repeat itself.
If you have been following the financial press as of late, you’re probably well aware that there is a contentious debate between deficit reduction hawks and those who call for the more state spending to boost global demand. At the latest juncture of this debate, Toronto’s G20 summit, the international community sided with the deficit hawks and committed to halve deficits by 2013. One would imagine this hysteria over public debt is a response to market pressure. Not so, say the bond markets. The latest calls for debt reduction, far from a reasoned response to economic reality, are products of an ideological opposition to a strong state sector:
Instead of bond market fears, the US has an intense political debate about deficits and whether to spend more on fiscal stimulus. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, has talked of “spending fatigue”. His Republican opponents have set up “YouCut” – a weekly public vote on which spending to cut, American Idol-style.