The elections in Britain, which were dubbed as completely unpredictable, will have predictable implications for Russia – and here is why.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, left, leaves 10 Downing Street in London with a soldier. Cameron's Conservative Party swept to power Friday in Britain's Parliamentary elections winning an unexpected majority. Photo: AP
A few weeks before the elections to the Lower House of the British Parliament, Luc March, a political scientist at the University of Edinburgh, described the upcoming elections as possibly the most unpredictable in the history of the United Kingdom.
Until yesterday, the majority of British analysts shared this view – all opinion polls showed that the two leading political forces of the kingdom – the Conservatives and Labour - were running neck and neck.
However, on May 7, the British electorate surprised the political scientists, and as they say, suddenly removed all intrigue. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party won a landslide victory, winning almost 37 percent of the votes, finishing significantly ahead of the leading opposition force – the Labour Party.
The Conservatives thus remain the most influential party in the United Kingdom, and as of this moment, have an absolute majority – 331 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. This means that even with the bitter defeat suffered by their allies in the previous government coalition – the Liberal Democrats (in the 2010 elections they won 57 seats, but now managed to elect only 8 MPs) – the Tories have kept a hold on their power, and this time all alone.
Cameron’s main rival, the Labour leader Ed Miliband, did not hide his disappointment – his party lost more than 20 seats, managing to elect only 232 MPs. It is now likely that the leader of the opposition will soon resign. The Labour Party suffered a historic defeat in Scotland, losing almost the entire “Scottish District” to the Scottish National Party (SNP). With 56 deputies, the SNP, for the first time in its history, became the third-largest party in the United Kingdom.
We should note that in recent years, the British economy has shown – on the background of an economic crisis in the rest of the European Union (EU) – quite decent results. Since 2011, there has been economic growth, though often minimal, yet nevertheless growth. Last year, growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) reached almost 3 percent.
When Cameron’s center-right cabinet came to power, the unemployment rate surpassed 8 percent of the British workforce, and now it is very low, on the scale of the EU level – 5.8 percent of the population. In the end, all of these indicators worked in favor of the British “ruling party.”
Implications of British elections for Russia
What does the Conservatives’ victory mean in terms of foreign policy? First and most obviously, the foreign policy of Downing Street will not change. Britain remains the most loyal ally of the United States in Western Europe, and will continue to closely coordinate its policy in the Middle East and North Africa with that of the U.S. when it comes to terrorist threats.
However, the results of the general elections in the United Kingdom are unlikely to please the Brussels elite. Cameron had made a pre-election commitment to hold, no later than in 2017, a referendum on the attitude of British society towards EU membership.
“The British people really do deserve a referendum on whether to stay in a reformed European Union or leave," he said during the campaign. "I will not lead a government that doesn’t honour that pledge. That’s a red line.”
By the way, the 2013 surveys show that, as of today, 46 percent of UK residents wish that the kingdom would leave the EU.
Unfortunately, the re-election of the Conservatives most likely means that the cold attitude of London to Moscow, in the near term, will remain in place. Although a victory of the Labour Party would hardly have changed anything. Shortly before the elections, Miliband called for tougher anti-Russian sanctions, if Russia, in his opinion, would continue its actions in aggravating the situation in eastern Ukraine. However, it is obvious that the Conservatives are toughest when it comes to evaluation of the Kremlin’s “Ukrainian policy.” In this case, these are exclusively geopolitical motives.
Hard figures show that last year Russian-British trade turnover had decreased by 21 percent, compared to 2013, with Russian energy exports to the United Kingdom having decreased by 22 percent over the past year, according to Boris Abramov, Russia's Trade Representative in UK.
At London’s initiative, suspended were the activities of important joint institutions such as the Intergovernmental Steering Committee on Trade and Investment, as well as the High-Level Energy Dialogue.
At the same time, about 600 British companies currently operate in Russia, with the United Kingdom ranked fifth in terms of volume of accumulated capital investment in Russia. Then there are the Russian investments in the UK, even if in the last few years they obviously have declined, these do remain significant. (It suffices to mention just one soccer club – Chelsea.)
Therefore, there are plenty of prospects for further development of financial and economic relations. And now it is clear that during the next five years, this will happen while the Conservative Cabinet is running Britain.
The opinion of the authors may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.