The members of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, who rule the nation at this point of time, are also called 'Tories'. The etymological root of the term 'Tory' is said to lie in the Irish word toruidhe. Actually it is an unflattering one, often associated in mediaeval ages with 'outlaws' and 'brigands'. Once upon a time they were dispossessed landowners, their condition owed to adverse political circumstances. Hence they were given to breaking laws for the sake of sustenance. During the modern era, however, most party adherents are understandably more comfortable with the idea of the origin being linked to another Irish word toir, which translates into 'bestowing'. They believe that among political groupings they were the best suited to deliver 'good things' to the nation, which again could be best done by championing traditionalism. Also, by shoring up "God, King, and Country". In doing so they appear to reflect the predilections of the upper-class mindset. Many of them also view themselves as more patriotic in character than those of other parties, including the liberal Whigs of yore and Labour Party. This is not necessarily substantiated by empirical evidence. It should not at all be surprising that till recent times a favourite hymn of the Tories was:
Land of hope and glory
Mother of the Free,
How can we extol thee
Who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider
Shall they bounds be set.
God who made thee mighty
Make thee mightier yet!
But the nature of British politics has undergone substantial changes. Earlier Britain's significant migrant population from the empire chose to favour Labour, while votaries of pristine British privileges leaned towards the Tories. Over time, contrary to notions proffered by the likes of Enoch Powell, hard work in a capitalist ambience caused many migrants to switch sides and adopt Conservative values and Party. At the same time the working classes, who earlier philosophically were supportive of the newer British, began to rally together on the opposite side. The process has been imperceptible, yet inexorable. Now it is now beginning to show. The changes notwithstanding, irrespective of differences of political persuasion, the business of governing continues to be largely marked by tolerance and restraint. The historian Peter Hennessy had called it "the Good Chaps" model of government. However, the catchment areas of recruitment for party memberships are no longer solely determined by either race or wealth. The pace of change may be slow, but the phenomenon is constant.
Wisely or unwisely depending on which side one is on, the country has exited the European Union, a body whose creation they it was not a party to and with whom its relations were more fraught than friendly. Boris Johnson of the Tory party presided over the process as Prime Minister. A combination of forces since then, exacerbated by the Pandemic and the war in Ukraine, posed for the nation immense political, social and economic challenges. Johnson's scandal-stained reputation caused his downfall. Thereafter a new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was chosen, not through an election by the people but in a voting among Tories (as they comprised the ruling party). In the contest for Prime Ministership the principal challenger was a man of colour, Indian- born Rishi Sunak. This is the first time one of such ilk vied for the position in Britain's Socio-political history. When Truss was installed in power, she chose a cabinet in which not a single 'Great Office of State' was held by a whiteman. The empire had well and truly, at long last, come home to roost.
Who are these history -making high officials from among Britain's minority or normally marginalized demographics, wielding such enormous responsibility at such a critical time of British annals? Their race notwithstanding, by their beliefs and breeding, they are text-book Tories. The most senior of them, the traditionally No 2 position in the Cabinet which is that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), is Kwasi Kharteng, born of Ghanaian parents. Educated in Eton and Oxford, pastures of the privileged, Kharteng is an advocate of free market economics and low taxes. The politician put in charge of law and order, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, is a daughter of emigres of Indian origin from Kenya and Mauritius. Among other things, she will also have to handle intricate questions so pertinent to people of her background, immigration. The external face of Britain, which is usually the Foreign Secretary, will henceforth be James Cleverly, whose mother comes from Sierra Leone.
Walter Bagehot in his brilliant 1867 classic The English Constitution had analyzed how politics in his country was conducted through an unwritten framework of governance. He argued that there were basically two sets of institutions: the "dignified" parts to impress the many, and the "efficient" parts to govern them. By the former he meant principally the monarchy and the House of Lords, and by the latter, the cabinet and the House of Commons. He argued that the "real rulers" of his nation "are secreted in the second class carriages, but are obeyed because of the splendour of the waxwork rulers in the first class carriages".
In recent weeks the United Kingdom witnessed febrile developments in both these segments of governance. In the "dignified parts" there occurred a succession in the monarchy. There was the sad demise of Queen Elizabeth 11 after a seven-decade long reign, seamlessly followed by the enthronement of her successor, King Charles 111. The ceremonies marking these events were dazzlingly splendid in terms of pomp and circumstance. They seemed to evoke the kind of reverence that Bagehot had noted, which helps the wheel of governance. At the same time change also came to the "efficient" part, with accompanying events taking place almost behind the scenes, observed in the public eye mainly by moving vans parked in front of the residences at the Downing Street. But now the less visually evident features of change in the "efficient" part would have to deliver for Britain in the challenging times, using the aura of extravaganza emanating from the "dignified" part as only a tool, albeit a useful one. The developments in Britain radiate a lesson to the wider world that also cherish democratic ideals that the essence of liberty is not necessarily enshrined in any sacrosanct document, but lies in the spirit in which governance is conducted.
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