By Robert A. Vella
To be a leader, one must lead.
Over the issue of Brexit, at least, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did not lead. Instead, he chose the middle ground between rival Leave and Remain factions with an ambiguous and at times incoherent message. In such a polarized environment as which overshadowed Thursday’s parliamentary elections in the U.K., his noncommittal approach was like trying to survive in a World War I no man’s land between opposing armies. It should’ve been no surprise then, and it wasn’t to this observer, that Corbyn became a casualty of the vote. Controversial prime minister Boris Johnson rode a Tory (i.e. Conservative Party) wave of victories to remain at 10 Downing Street. Labour was crushed (the centrist Liberal Democrats also lost), and Corbyn subsequently announced his resignation (see: Conservatives Win Commanding Majority in U.K. Vote: ‘Brexit Will Happen and Jeremy Corbyn to step down as Labour Party leader after crushing defeat in U.K. election).
The issue of Brexit has been so divisive over the last 3 ½ years, much like the presidency of Donald Trump in the U.S., that I suspect Britons wanted most of all a definitive resolution one way or the other. To watch one’s country being torn apart from within is terribly disturbing for prideful citizens. Relieving the agony becomes their highest priority regardless of how shortsighted it might be. During the American Civil War, it was known as “war-weariness” and it nearly forced the Union to concede defeat. Had it done so, the secessionist Confederacy might have endured to the present day along with its slavery-based socioeconomic system.
On Thursday, Britons – those who voted, anyway – sent a clear message: we want to leave the European Union. However, this election resulted from other factors as well – some of which have parallels to American politics and next year’s presidential election:
- The Tories didn’t come close to a popular majority, garnering only about 43.5% of the vote which is equivalent to the support of the Republican Party in the U.S.
- The political Left in the U.K. is fractured into three main parties – Labour, the aforementioned Lib Dems, and the regional Scottish National Party (which made significant gains, and probably increased the likelihood of another independence referendum).
- Labour suffered surprising losses among its traditional base of white, working class voters in the Midlands much like Democrat Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 (particularly in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) which swung the Electoral College to Trump.
- Voter turnout declined by about 1.5% from 2017. Generally, lower turnout favors conservative candidates, and higher turnout favors liberal candidates. The 65+ demographic (which has the highest turnout figure) voted heavily for the Tories. The 18-35 demographic (which has the lowest turnout figure) largely supported Labour.
- The smear campaigns against Corbyn as an “anti-Semite” and “radical socialist” were also applicable, but my analysis indicates these were secondary factors.
- Centrist animosity towards the left-wing is more palpable than its practical opposition to the right-wing. This is the biggest reason why the Left is so fractured in the U.K. and U.S.
The U.K. election
The Labour leadership quickly blamed Brexit for overshadowing their radical domestic agenda, but others within the shadow cabinet believe their own approach to the EU was extremely unclear. The party’s chair, Ian Lavery’s frank assessment was telling of the rift that has existed within the shadow cabinet over its policy to renegotiate a Brexit deal with the EU within three months and put it to a public vote within six months should Labour have won a majority. Lavery told the BBC: “What we are seeing in the Labour heartlands is people very aggrieved at the fact the party basically has taken a stance on Brexit the way they have.” He said ignoring the wishes of 17.4 million voters was “not a good recipe”. “Ignore democracy and to be quite honest the consequences will come back and bite you up the backside,” he said. Caroline Flint, who lost her seat in Don Valley, said the party had not taken the right approach considering the number of leave-voting seats it represented in the country.
The collapse of the ‘red wall’
A regular line trotted out by opposition parties, particularly by the Conservatives and the Brexit party during the election was that Labour had taken its traditional working-class support base for granted. Despite promises to tax billionaires to fund investment in public services that would have helped those on lower incomes, Labour’s offer failed to convince voters in old coal, steel and manufacturing towns. The so-called “red wall”, made up of seats such as Bolsover, Rother Valley, Blyth Valley, Darlington and Redcar turning Tory indicated a severing of Labour allegiances that in some cases span back 100 years. There has been criticism that Corbyn, as a middle-class north Londoner, was unable to appeal to working-class communities personally despite his policies, and many of his shadow cabinet colleagues, including the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer and the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, were drawn from neighbouring constituencies.
Two-thirds of the electorate – 47,587,254 in total – showed up to cast there vote on Thursday.
This equated to a turnout of 67.4 per cent.
That’s down -1.49 per cent from 2017.
Meanwhile, Scotland saw a spike in voters with 68.1 per cent of the electorate voting compared to 66.5 per cent in 2017.
Wales had a significant drop in turnout – with a 2 per cent turnout dip from the last general election.
The turnout in 2017 after all the votes had been counted stood at 69 per cent with 46.8 million people voting.
BRUSSELS —European leaders on Friday were toasting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s thumping election victory, embracing the decisive result for a man who campaigned for Brexit and against much of what they stand for.
The counterintuitive celebration stemmed from Europe’s resignation that Britain’s split from the European Union was inevitable, and from E.U. frustrations with more than three years of dealing with British leaders who were barely in control of their own Parliament.
Now Britain is expected to leave on Jan. 31 and enter an 11-month limbo state, in which little will change in the day-to-day lives of U.K. and E.U. citizens. Britain will still be subject to E.U. rules and will be able to trade with Europe as if it were a full-fledged member.
But leaders will have to make a furious dash to reach a trade deal and work out their post-Brexit relationship before Dec. 31, 2020, when the transition period is set to end. Failure could mean the same jump-off-the-cliff breakup that both sides have said they dearly want to avoid.