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Britain's 'hunger' and the dangers of populism to the world

October 7, 2021 at 8:09 pm

Empty fuel pumps at an Esso petrol station on October 5, 2021 in Maidstone, United Kingdom [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

Britain, of course, has not reached the stage of starvation yet but, for the first time since the October/Ramadan War of 1973, it is witnessing a great rush for gas stations.  This prompted the government to ask the army to send several thousands of its soldiers to drive large transport vehicles to provide the stations with the fuel needed for the long queues in the streets of London and other large cities in Britain.

Although  “hunger” has not yet occurred, using this word in the title is not for the sake of sensationalism, but because it is likely to happen if the government does not make quick decisions to solve the employment crisis resulting from the adverse immigration of EU citizens, especially from relatively poor eastern European countries.

There is a lot of news about the crisis that the labour shortage is causing, which—if put together—will give a bleak picture of the situation in Britain less than a year after the beginning of the transitional phase to leave the European Union (Brexit).

Part of this news is that the owners of pig farms, which form part of the menu for the vast majority of the British people, may have to kill 150,000 animals due to the lack of labour required to work in this field, while warnings of a crisis in the delivery of orders began to increase with Christmas approaching. It also became clear that there will be not be enough turkeys, which is traditional Christmas fare, to secure the high demand at this time.

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Apart from food and fuel, the health care sector is also suffering from an employment crisis, which includes hospitals, family clinics and nursing homes, which exceeded 17,600 homes last year (2020), where about half a million people reside.

The current situation is certainly not a catastrophe or collapse, but it does represent a real danger to the foundations of the welfare state that was formed in Western Europe after World War II.

The welfare state is based on an unwritten contract between peoples and their governments. Elected governments, according to this contract, provide services that secure an average life for the vast majority of citizens, even if they are not able to work. In return, citizens have to pay taxes and adhere to the law.

This social contract was able to put the countries of Western Europe at the forefront of the world in terms of wealth, democracy, freedoms and accountability of rulers, in addition to making them advanced countries in social peace, as well-being improves the quality of life and, consequently, achieves social peace for citizens of countries where people do their best to get a minimum decent life.

If the British government fails to solve the shortage of workers in key areas such as health care, food and fuel, the current scramble for gas stations may become part of the daily life of Britons, in supermarkets, hospitals and the streets which, in time, may turn into daily altercations and disputes that will compromise the social peace that the British have enjoyed for decades, thanks to the ‘welfare state’.

The labour crisis in Britain would not have happened had the majority of Britons (about 52 percent) voted in favour of leaving the European Union in 2017. The result of the vote was influenced by the populist slogans of political leaders, one of whom left politics after “Brexit” and started making millions in ads! While the Conservative party’s Brexit campaign leader, Boris Johnson, took advantage of the political chaos created by the Brexit negotiations to become prime minister with an unprecedented majority for eight decades, citizens began reaping the bad fruits of this vote, whether they said “yes” or “no”.

Britain’s exit from the European Union is not the only example of the dangers of populism, as the Coronavirus epidemic crisis was a stark example of these dangers. “Populist” leaders such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson were reluctant to deal with the crisis, which delayed partial recovery, while other leaders continued to raise populist slogans about the epidemic being a conspiracy, as happened in Brazil which, due to its president’s slogans and populist approach, became the third country in the world in terms of number of the Covid-19 infections and deaths.

Many—including us—may have many faults with the international system, globalisation and even democracy, but this system that has been stable since the end of the Second World War has become rooted in life and, therefore, its reform must take place gradually and not overturned completely and suddenly.

Such an erratic step will lead to major imbalances that simple citizens will pay the price for. This applies to leaving the European Union, the way to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic and other populist slogans that undermine the concept of the State, as is the case with Tunisian President Kais Saied, for instance.

There are major criticisms and question marks about the global system and management of modern states, but the answer to them cannot be “populism”, which poses a threat to states and peoples alike!

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 4 October 2021

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.