The Conservative Party remains the political force that determines the prevailing Russia rhetoric in London. But new inroads made by Labour in recent elections could push UK politicians to reconsider the worsening relationship with Russia.
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) meets with newly elected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at Mr Corbyn's office in the House of Commons, London. Photo: AP
The regional elections in Great Britain that took place last week brought mixed results for the leading political forces in the country. While the Conservative Party is still the ruling party, it is clear that the Labour Party achieved some significant results, mostly triggered by dissatisfaction with Britain’s economic fortunes.
For example, Labour candidate Sadiq Khan won the election for the Mayor of London, easily surpassing the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, who received only 43 percent of the votes. Labor also succeeded in taking first place in the London Assembly’s elections, gaining 12 out of 24 mandates. What is more, the party won local elections in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Coventry, Bolton and other cities, while maintaining control over the National Assembly for Wales.
However, the party’s performance in Scotland, its historic bastion, was quite poor. For a third time again, this Northern region saw the victory of the Scottish National Party that pushes for independence of the region. Against this background, Conservatives have doubled their representation in the legislative body of Scotland and for the first time received the status of a second party of the region while the Labour Party was pushed down to third place.
Since the balance of power in UK politics has not changed significantly and the place of the ruling party is still controlled by the Conservatives, the situation in Russia-UK relations is unlikely to change. Even though there are some voices, including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and UK Independence Party foreign affairs spokesperson Diane James, who praise Russian President Vladimir Putin for “standing up for his country,” the main rhetoric comes from the representatives of the Conservative Party, which is highly critical of Moscow’s foreign policy ambitions.
Recommended: "NATO, the Baltic States and a new arms race in Europe"
For instance, in February Prime Minister David Cameron stated that Russia is one of the main threats facing Europe. “In a world where Russia is invading Ukraine and a rogue nation like North Korea is testing nuclear weapons, we need to stand up to this aggression together – and bring our economic might to bear on those who rip up the rulebook and threaten the safety of our people,” he said.
UK Minister of Defense Michael Fallon has supported this view, often suggesting that Moscow is seriously threatening the security of Britain’s allies in the Baltic region. Speaking to journalists in February, Fallon said that it was not a new Cold War with Russia because the situation is already “pretty warm.”
In line with such an approach, all cooperation between Russian and British representatives and institutions remains suspended in all spheres, such as energy, trade and investment, science and technology, security and defense.
The deterioration of political ties brought a decline in bilateral economic cooperation. During the first half of 2015 the trade turnover between Russia and the UK decreased by 45 percent: Russian exports of oil and mineral fuel and British exports of vehicles, mechanical equipment and electric machines fell significantly.
On the plus side, trade relations are still present: There are around 600 British companies that continue to work in the Russian market and the London Stock Exchange remains the largest international financing platform for Russia’s leading corporations. Mutual investments are happening in finance, energy, machine building and pharmaceuticals.
Clearly, it will be difficult for the ruling conservative elites in both countries to make steps to find a compromise with each other. Hence, the possibility for an immediate “breakthrough” in Russia-UK relations is highly unlikely. However, the new political reality triggered by changing economic fortunes in both countries might offer a good chance of pushing the decision-makers in London and Moscow to reactivate bilateral ties.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.