Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 1 March 2024

This exemplary speech by the British PM epitomizes and serves to elucidate how liberalism, as the pivotal ideology of capitalism, fails to understand its profound deficiencies as a fundamental pillar of Western advanced capitalist nation-states and societies.

We have often explored this vital topic theoretically in this Blog. Liberalism as a bourgeois ideology presupposes and postulates a neat hermetic separation between the Political and the Economic, between society, on one side, and industry and commerce, on the other. Yet, as we have repeatedly and emphatically and exhaustively sought to explain here, no such hermetic separation exists or is possible. The science of Political Economy, inaugurated if not entirely initiated by Adam Smith, is im-possible because, contrary to Lenin's erroneous aphorism, it is Economics that is "a concentrate" of Politics - and emphatically not the other way round!

It follows that the strenuous efforts by the capitalist bourgeoisie to separate capitalist enterprise from the sphere of politics and public opinion must fail miserably. The objective of these efforts was always to reduce the role of the State in capitalist society so as to preserve the bourgeois dominance over the production of material wealth. What we are finding now instead is that the retreat of the State occasions and engenders deleterious cleavages and cataclysmic schisms in social life and cohesion that threaten the very reproduction and the survival of societies and of global order.

Rishi Sunak’s speech in full: key takeaways from PM’s statement

“We are a country where we love our neighbours,” Rishi Sunak said outside No 10 Downing Street HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Here is Rishi Sunak’s speech outside Downing Street in full. The Times picks out six key passages and analyses what Sunak had to say.

In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.

What started as protests on our streets has descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence. Jewish children fearful to wear their school uniform lest it reveal their identity. Muslim women abused in the street for the actions of a terrorist group they have no connection with.

[Sunak is deliberately making clear that the Jewish community have not been the only victims of a serious increase in racist attacks in the wake of the Gaza attacks. Figures from both the Jewish Community Security Trust and Tell Mama, a group that records racist incidents against the Muslim community, both tell a similar depressing story: that the conflict in the Middle East is having an impact on both communities equally.]

Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed. MPs do not feel safe in their homes. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns.

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And it is beyond alarming that last night the Rochdale by-election returned a candidate who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7, who glorifies Hezbollah and is endorsed by Nick Griffin, the racist former leader of the BNP.

[Sunak sets out the rationale for his Downing Street intervention, drawing a direct link between the “intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence” during recent protests and the divisive by-election campaign in Rochdale. Sunak’s analysis is at once an attempt to be prime ministerial — the violence on the streets and Galloway’s victory “demands a response” — while also a piece of political positioning as he seeks to put himself on the side of “patriotic, liberal” Britain.]

I need to speak to you all this evening because this situation has gone on long enough and demands a response not just from government, but from all of us.

Britain is a patriotic, liberal democratic society with a proud past and a bright future. We’re a reasonable country and a decent people. Our story is one of progress, of great achievements and enduring values. Immigrants who have come here have integrated and contributed. They have helped write the latest chapter in our island story. They have done this without being required to give up their identity.

You can be a practising Hindu and a proud Briton, as I am. Or a devout Muslim and a patriotic citizen, as so many are. Or a committed Jewish person and the heart of your local community and all underpinned by the tolerance of our established, Christian church. We are a country where we love our neighbours. We are building Britain together.

But I fear that our great achievement in building the world’s most successful multiethnic, multifaith democracy is being deliberately undermined.

There are forces here at home trying to tear us apart. Since October 7 there have been those trying to take advantage of the very human angst that we all feel about the terrible suffering that war brings to the innocent, to women and children, to advance a divisive, hateful ideological agenda.

On too many occasions recently, our streets have been hijacked by small groups who are hostile to our values and have no respect for our democratic traditions. Membership of our society is contingent on some simple things — that you abide by the rule of law, and that change can only come through the peaceful, democratic process. Threats of violence or intimidation are alien to our way of doing things: they must be resisted at all times. Nearly everyone in Britain supports these basic values but there are small and vocal hostile groups who do not.

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Islamist extremists and the far right feed off and embolden each other. They are equally desperate to pretend that their violence is somehow justified when actually these groups are two sides of the same extremist coin. Neither group accept that change in our country can only come through the democratic process. Both loathe the pluralist, modern country we are. Both want to set Briton against Briton, to weaponise the evils of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred for their own ends.

The faith of Islam, peacefully practised by millions of our fellow citizens, is emphatically not the same thing as the extremist political ideology of Islamism which aims to separate Muslims from the rest of society.

Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison: that poison is extremism. It aims to drain us of our confidence in ourselves as a people, and in our shared future. They want us to doubt ourselves, to doubt each other, to doubt our country’s history and achievements.

[Critics of Sunak will attack this section of his speech as deliberately conflating people who have profound — and sometimes unpalatable views — about Gaza with those that want to undermine the United Kingdom. But the prime minister believes that the two are interlinked — and that many of those on the extreme end of the protesters have little love for the UK even though they call it their home. By also referencing far-right groups he is trying to make clear that he is not singling out Muslim groups but making a broader point.]

They want us to accept a moral equivalence between Britain and some of the most despicable regimes in the world. They want us to believe that our country, and the West more generally, is solely responsible for the world’s ills and that we, along with our allies, are the problem. In short, they want to destroy our confidence and hope.

We must not allow that to happen. When these groups claim that Britain is and has been on the wrong side of history, we should reject it, and reject it again.

No country is perfect, but I am enormously proud of the good that our country has done. Our place in history is defined by the sacrifices our people have made, in the service of their own freedom and that of others.

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When these groups tell children that they cannot — and will not succeed — because of who they are; when they tell children that the system is rigged against them or that Britain is a racist country — this is not only a lie, but a cynical attempt to crush young dreams, and turn impressionistic minds against their own society.

I stand here as our country’s first non-white prime minister, leading the most diverse government in our country’s history, to tell people of all races, all faiths and all backgrounds: it is not the colour of your skin, the God you believe in or where you were born, that will determine your success but just your own hard work and endeavour. We must be prepared to stand up for our shared values in all circumstances, no matter how difficult.

And I respect that the police have a tough job in policing the protests we have seen and that they are operationally independent. But we must draw a line.

And yes, you can march and protest with passion. You can demand the protection of civilian life. But no, you cannot call for violent jihad. There is no “context” in which it can be acceptable to beam antisemitic tropes onto Big Ben in the middle of a vote on Israel/Gaza. And there’s no cause you can use to justify the support of proscribed terrorist groups, such as Hamas.

Yes, you can freely criticise the actions of this government, or indeed any government: that is a fundamental democratic right. But no, you cannot use that as an excuse to call for the eradication of a state — or any kind of hatred or antisemitism.

This week I have met with senior police officers and made clear it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them. And I say this to the police: we will back you when you take action.

[After weeks of relative caution from the government, Sunak is making clear that he does not believe that their response to pro-Palestine protests has been good enough. While he notes that the police are operationally independent, he then proceeds to specify what he considers they should be taking action against — calling for violent jihad, beaming “antisemitic tropes” onto Big Ben and supporting Hamas. Sunak is sending a clear warning to the police. If they fail to intervene in future protests, he will be public in his criticism.]

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But if we are asking more of the police, we in government must also back up that call with action. To that end, this month the government will implement a new robust framework for how it deals with this issue, to ensure that we are dealing with the root causes of this problem and that no extremist organisations or individuals are being lent legitimacy by their actions and interactions with central government. You cannot be part of our civic life if your agenda is to tear it down.

We will redouble our support for the Prevent programme to stop young minds being poisoned by extremism. We will demand that universities stop extremist activity on campus. We will also act to prevent people from entering this country whose aim is to undermine it values. The home secretary has instructed that if those here on visas choose to spew hate on protests or seek to intimidate people, we will remove their right to be here.

[Sunak said the government would “redouble” support for the Prevent programme, demand that universities stop extremist activity on campus and remove the visas of those who “choose to spew hate on protests or seek to intimidate people”.

But in reality the home secretary already has those powers, universities have already been told to crack down on extremist activity and Prevent already had strong government support.
In fact for such a high-profile speech in front of Downing Street Sunak did not really appear to have anything particular to announce.]

Our Britain must not be a country in which we descend into polarised camps with some communities living parallel lives. It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country.

And I want to speak directly to those who choose to continue to protest: don’t let the extremists hijack your marches. You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens. Let us prove these extremists wrong and show them that even when we disagree, we will never be disunited from our common values of decency and respect.

[Sunak appears to be issuing an explicit warning to the groups behind the protests which have been marred by extremism — act now or face the consequences. He says that they have “the coming weeks” to prove themselves. Ministers are looking at broadening the definition of extremism and ensuring that those with extremist views are “rooted out of public life” and are denied funding or association with the government.]

I love this country. My family and I owe it so much. The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison. We must face down the extremists who would tear us apart.

There must be leadership, not pandering or appeasement.

When they tell their lies, we will tell the truth. When they try and sap our confidence, we will redouble our efforts. And when they try and make us doubt each other, we will dig deeper for that extra ounce of compassion and empathy that they want us to believe doesn’t exist, but that I know does.

If we can do that, we can build on our great achievement in creating today’s Britain, a country of kind, decent, tolerant people. We can make this a country in which we all feel a renewed sense of pride.

This is our home. So let us go forward together, confident in our values and confident in our future.

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