Is Britain ready for an Obama? From a Zimbabwean perspective

For all our understandable qualms over the prospects of Chuka Umunna’s ever getting popularly elected to the position of the British prime minister owing to his father’s non-European ancestry, we may be surprised by how ready to embrace this chap the British people are.

By Black Technocrat

Chuka Umunna

 

When I first came to the USA, just about everyone who was considered sane was saying that America was going to have a president who was non-Caucasian but it was going to take half a century. The basis of that argument was that the lack of inter-ethnic trust was so deeply ingrained in the American political psyche only a dramatic change in the demographic composition was going to overcome it.

It was a rather understandable condemnation of America’s sorry history on the issue of racial interactions not only of the black-and-white variety but encompassing all the other ethnic groups. However, this attempt to project the thinking of contemporary Americans based on the behaviour and tastes of their ancestors turned out to be very wrong. As a matter of fact, I think that the American people of Caucasian ancestry are owed a huge apology for being considered too chained to their past to the point of being irredeemable.

Indeed, you will encounter some pockets of people who are emotionally attached to that past but they do that for a variety of reasons such as shoring up their own flagging confidence and making money. The American people, the ordinary people, are actually a whole lot nicer than the images that are beamed across the world. I am saying this having spent a number of years in what are considered America’s havens of the most backward people of European ancestry. I have been to isolated communities of the mountain valleys of West Virginia.

For a number of years, the sweltering climes of the pinewoods of Mississippi were my home. The most hospitable people I encountered were not the educated and supposedly highly enlightened people I met in university corridors or the pious people I joined in prayer during Sunday church services, far from it. To my amazement, pleasant amazement, if I may add, it was the poor and ignorant people who turned out to be very welcoming. It is needless for me to say that there were initial signs of trepidations and peculiar curiosities on the first encounters.

Thereafter, the so-called backward people of West Virginia and Mississippi turned out to be the most loving and loyal friends I have ever made away from home. My point is that we need not underestimate the virtues that lay hidden in the people who we are told are too backward and, if truth be said, too racist to not see that a non-Caucasian can be as good a leader as anyone else. Poverty and a lack of formal education are not indicative of people’s sensibilities. Ordinary people are smarter and more discerning than we, the so-called educated people, are willing to openly acknowledge.

The fact that Barack Obama was elected not once but twice much earlier than anyone had projected is ample proof of what I just pointed out. Back in 1990, I heard people say that the kind of momentous change we saw in 2008 was only possible in 2040, a time when Americans of European ancestry were projected to constitute a minority and, therefore, a demographic group with fewer political or electoral teeth in its jaws. The change in 2008 defied all that. It took 18 years rather than the 50 years everyone was talking about. More significantly than this time frame, it did not take the significant demographic vasectomization of the majority to change America’s politics.

In the years that I spent in the United Kingdom, I can tell you that I witnessed more openness of mind within the British society than I had witnessed even in the most metropolitan communities of America. I am not saying that Chuka Umunna is definitely following the same path beaten by Obama, seeing that I am neither a prophet nor a seer of that which is in the future but, having said that, I am urging doubtful people to avoid being overly dependent on the stereotypes that are projected by stupid but overpaid journalists.

Let Chuka Umunna take his chances. He will get his fair share of detractors since that is part of our human interactions. Like we say, a lion is so confident of its power such that when it comes across a river occupied by protesting frogs, the protests will not stop the lion from quenching its thirst. By the way, Barack Obama has done very well. That is the reason he was re-elected to lead America into prosperity once he had rescued it from the clutches of ruinous wars and policies.

The British people had better hope that Chuka Umunna is Obama but from another set of parents. I bring this up in light of what may possibly happen now that David Cameron has not only retained his job but done away with the uncomfortable alliance he had forged with the Liberal Democrats (LibDems). It may be considered mere gainsay on my part to suggest that the Liberal Democrats may have kept the Tories on the leash, particularly with the changes to the social and economic services the Tories wanted to see.

The LibDems may have acted as a bulwark against the bulldozing of the healthcare system, by way of example. The Tories have not made any bones about their intentions to gut the National Health Service (NHS) under the clever guise of privatizing it. Now that they have sole control of the levers of power, and with the LibDems out of the way, short of street riots, the Tories are going to charge forward without any hindrance. I cite the so-called reform of the NHS as a prototype of the change that the Tories may push forward but, in so doing, cause themselves a lot of debilitating damage.

From the look of it, one gets the impression that the Tories played the ethnic card by scaring the bejesus out of the people of England by subtle intimations that the Labour Party was going to capitulate and cede on every demand by Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP. Fearful of domination by a vocal and passionate minority, the English people voted for what is essentially the counterpart of the SNP. In everything but its name, the party of the Tories is the de facto English Nationalist Party (ENP), never mind the awkward facts that David Cameron is a Scot by ancestry, and that the United Kingdom’s Teutonic — that being German — Royal Family’s only claim to its British genetic heritage is through Queen Elizabeth’s mother who was Scottish.

For sure there are some Scottish and Welsh Tories but these are just token smatterings that are not sufficient enough to conceal the fact that the Tories are a nationalist party in the mold of the SNP. If there is hope for the Labour Party to recover its footing, this may very well come from the high possibility that the ENP will use its mandate to go ahead and gut the NHS. That parliamentary majority may end up getting used as a convenient fig leaf to cover an agenda whose inception predated the poser that is the emergent political force, the SNP.

By all available accounts, the ENP seems to want to privatize the NHS so that the healthcare system is in line with the American system. This American system had been a financial boon for the pharmaceutical industries, providers of healthcare insurance and hospital institutions and personnel. By contrast, the American people have been left badly exposed to merciless depredations by the afore-mentioned entities.

The British people are going to have a “good” taste of this down the road. In America, the quickest way to impoverish people is to send them to hospitals. Every American knows this. When Bill Clinton made his initial foray into national politics that eventually led to his two-term presidency, one of the major items on his agenda was reforming the healthcare system with the express objective of protecting the vulnerable American people who were being mercilessly preyed upon. Clinton faced a very strong storm of resistance he had to abandon this item. Be that as it may, the issue remained very pressing, too pressing and ubiquituous to be ignored. When Barack Obama was re-elected, he finally pushed through this agenda. It took two solid decades.

The resistance never withered away but Obama persisted. There was a backlash from the people who did not want to change the system that was clearly driving the American people into a state of penury. The most surprising aspect about this much-needed but heavily demonized reform, since renamed as ObamaCare, is that some of the big businesses and states that had been against ObamaCare quickly realized that it was a better system than what they had been fighting so hard to retain. Companies and governments are primarily interested in saving and making more money than anything else, all public protestations notwithstanding. Companies, state governments and other social institutions like churches are saving money courtesy of Obamacare.

The key point tying this to the current and the near-future politics in the United Kingdom is that the Tories may barrel ahead towards the American system that the American people, both ordinary citizens and corporate leaders and political leaders are abandoning as costly and socially corrosive.

Adopting the model Americans are abandoning makes sense if the purpose is to enable pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and private hospitals to make profits hand over fist. However, the poor and those who are straddling the borderline between poverty and the middle class will face impoverishment sooner than they realize. Now, this may provide a glorious opportunity for Umunna to assume the Barack Obama mantle. Umunna had better start keeping track of what is happening in America, vis-à-vis the ObamaCare issue and its economic and social impact.

If he does that, he may realize that it is better to identify what is ailing the NHS and, thereafter, make solid and fact-based proposals that will take care of the needed changes once the Labour Party is back in power. Yes, the NHS needs to change but to gut it will prove to be singularly catastrophic. This is the reason Umunna, or whoever ends up leading the party, needs to quickly empanel a team of medical doctors and nurses to solicit for their feedback with respect to the identification of the problems that have bedraggled the NHS.

This panel will surely know what has gone wrong and how to fix the NHS. Being close to the NHS, I can tell anyone who cares to listen that this has been a subject of long discussions on my dinner table. The NHS can be made to work more efficiently and deliver better services than is happening right now. Using this issue, among others, Labour needs to start campaigning for the 2020 Elections right now. The NHS issue can be a very effective way to keep the people engaged. It is important to bear in mind that the SNP may be in parliament to protect Scottish interests from the chainsaws that are likely to be wielded by the Tories. The English people are going to be left badly exposed and without anyone to protect them. That reality is coming.

Labour needs to start putting its act together and show that it will protect the entire nation not just disparate provinces of the Union. Lastly, the Labour Party has to accept that it has a gargantuan burden that was left on its figurative shoulders by Tony Blair. After the Iraq War, Tony Blair and, by association, the Labour Party may be seen as warmongers. If not warmongers, they may be perceived to be too spineless in the event that they are faced with a situation that may lead to the British participation in wars such as in the forever-bubbling cauldron that is the Middle East.

By refusing to go after Syria when the warmongering British and American media were beating the drums of war, Cameron rightly earnt himself the credit for not leading the nation into what was going to be a stupid and costly war. Right now, there is the possibility that the Labour Party is looked upon as too supine to resist taking the nation into damaging wars if pushed. Umunna and company need to take that load off the shoulders of the Labour Party. 

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  • I think many more people are now focused on ideas rather than people or parties in the UK. I voted Tory for Westminster, and an independent for my town hall, but when it came to the council, I opted for independents and UKIP (yes, UKIP). In such a setting, if Ummuna becomes PM, it will not be because of the novelty of a Black Prime Minister, but because of his ideas and how they resonate with the people.