World

A Most Decisive Election

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during a BBC debate in London, England, December 6, 2019. (Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters)
In a matter of hours, the fate of Britain and Brexit will be decided.

The campaign message from Boris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom, has been consistent and straightforward. Earlier this week, while on a visit to a factory in Stafford, the prime minister drove a digger decorated with British flags through a fake white wall with the word “gridlock” written on it. The front of the digger read: “Get Brexit Done.”

It doesn’t get more obvious than that. At this writing, Brits are voting at polling stations across the U.K. In a matter of hours, we will know what they have chosen.

In order to get Brexit “done,” Johnson will need to win a parliamentary majority of at least 326 seats. In September, he controversially decided to expel 21 rebel Tory MPs who were not on board with Brexit. The upshot of the move is a Tory caucus loyal to Johnson and supportive of his Brexit deal. If the party secures a majority in today’s elections, the gridlock will almost certainly be over. This was Johnson’s logic for calling a general election in the first place.

Unlike Johnson’s, Theresa May’s Conservative government relied on appeasing not only the Tory rebels but also the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party, which has different priorities from the Tories, especially on the question of post-Brexit trade relations between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The DUP have made it clear that they disapprove of Johnson’s deal. But that won’t matter if he can win a Tory majority.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have made it clear that they favor another Brexit referendum. Johnson’s electoral goal, therefore, is to break the Labour “red wall,” winning seats that typically vote Labour. He must hope that his Brexit promises help him in such constituencies. Of the marginal Labour seats, as many as 39 voted for Leave in the 2016 referendum; in 16 of them, the Leave vote reached 60 percent.

In a sense, Brexit has thrown the traditional left–right divide in British politics for a loop. But there is a more significant cultural shift happening as well. Indeed, as Gerard Baker wrote in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal:

On the other side, the election represents perhaps a last stand for the liberal internationalists desperate to reverse the Brexit vote. Labour and the Liberal Democrats — parties of the left whose politics are now defined not by traditional economic issues that emphasize the plight of the working class voters but, in line with their Democratic cousins in the U.S., by personal identity, the rights of minorities and a globalist worldview — are hoping to win enough seats to work in collaboration with the Scottish National Party to block Brexit and force another referendum.

Johnson has described the election as a “crucial choice facing the country,” which it most certainly is. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked Britons to “vote for hope” and to “save the NHS,” but he has failed to convince even members of his own party. Indeed, 15 former Labour MPs have taken out an ad in newspapers in the North of England asking voters not to support Corbyn, not least because of concerns over his links with terrorists and his mishandling of anti-Semitism within the party.

The good news is that a Corbyn victory remains unlikely. But as YouGov noted yesterday, a hung Parliament is still possible. Can Conservatives win over working-class areas that have traditionally voted Labour? Will Johnson secure his majority and get Brexit done? Stay tuned.

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