Brexit’s Last Chance

A young Brexit supporter carries a British flag in central London, England, December 9, 2018. (Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

This excerpt is from Episode 180 of The Editors.

Rich: Charlie, we got a big British election coming up in two days. Thursday, right?

Charlie: Yes.

Rich: What’s your forecast?

Charlie: Well, I will start by saying I very much hope that this is won by the Conservatives, for two reasons. The first reason is that it is time for Brexit to be effected. The referendum was held three years ago. Parliament held the referendum because it knew it was out of step with the British public. That was proven. And it has, since that time, been out of step with the British public. The intention of the election, at least from Boris Johnson’s point of view, is to realign the constituencies and the parliamentary makeup with the Brexit electorate so that the British can talk about something else, debate something else, and move on.

The second reason I am hoping for a Conservative victory is that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit for office. I don’t have the same fear of Jeremy Corbyn as some others do on the grounds of the bigotry that has festered within his party. I think that is poor leadership on his part. I think he shares some rather unsavory views, but I don’t think the man is, himself, likely to target minorities or what you will.

I do think that he is an unreconstructed leftist, an admirer of some unpleasant people within history. I think that he is liable to equivocate on terrorism. And I think that he does not view the Labour Party of the late 1960s and the 1970s as the disaster that it was. It is telling that older British voters are horrified by Jeremy Corbyn, where younger British voters are not. I think that is primarily because older British voters remember what happened when a Jeremy Corbyn-like figure became prime minister last time, when his ideology was allowed to dominate British public policy.

What do I think is going to happen? I think this is a fluid election. I don’t think that it is, by any means, guaranteed that the Conservative Party will secure a majority. I do think it is likely that it will secure a majority. The question then is, how big will that majority be? Really, in order to guarantee that Brexit is effected, you’re going to need a majority of 30, 40, 50. If Boris Johnson secures a majority of eight or ten, he may end up in the same position he started in, unable to push Brexit through, and essentially a lame duck. I’m going to go out on a limb—usual caveat that I never know what’s going to happen—and suggest a majority of 20 to 25 for the Conservatives.

Rich: MBD?

Michael: Charlie began his answer with a big sigh. I think it is because he is nervous, as I am nervous. I think Brexit is the most important event and debate in Western politics since the Berlin Wall fell. I think this is an epic event.

It is an electorate that said that they are going to defy the predetermined course of history, the consensus of its elite in its major parties; and if it is defeated, I think that is bad for the cause of democracy, small D, everywhere in the West. I think if the Remain cause triumphs in the end, because of foot-dragging, because of the unconstitutional usurpation of power of the new Supreme Court, I think it just provides a model for would-be oligarchs in all Western nations on how to subvert the public.

Boris Johnson has aligned his party to the cause of Brexit, though I am worried that there are several people standing as Tories in their constituencies and lying about their manifesto commitment. So I worry, just as Charlie does, that a majority of three or four or eight or ten is not enough.

I am very worried about Johnson’s theory of the election, which is that the Tories can hold enough of their traditional seats and break into enough of traditional Labour seats. I think we are very likely to wake up find out that Dominic Raab was defeated in Esher in his constituency and they’ve lost their foreign secretary, and that Jeremy Corbyn is going to be prime minister, because enough traditional Labour voters—

Rich: What?

Michael: . . . could not—

Rich: What?

Michael: . . . bring themselves to vote for their historic enemy, the Tories. They’re interviewing Labour voters who say, “I don’t like Jeremy Corbyn. I believe in Brexit. My great-grandfather would kill me if I voted Tory.” So I worry that these Labour leavers who maybe even are polling and saying, “I’m going to vote Conservative . . .”

Rich: I’m sputtering here, Michael.

Michael: “I’m going to vote Conservative,” I’m worried that they are not going to vote at all or they’re going to get to the polling station and vote red anyway.

Rich: I know nothing, really, about British politics, but I’ve been told by people who know about British politics: “Well, don’t worry. Even if the election goes the wrong way, Corbyn will have to be part of a coalition.” Are you saying that?

Michael: Yeah, I’m saying—

Rich: And he’ll end up being prime minister—

Charlie: Because the Liberal Democrats are so vehemently, so monomaniacally anti-Brexit, that they would, if they thought it would thwart the referendum, ally with Jeremy Corbyn and make him prime minister.

Michael: Right, and with the Scottish nationalists who will want their referendum.

Charlie: While rejecting Brexit.

Michael: Right.

Charlie: It’s one of the great ironies of modern British politics.

Michael: I am worried that on Friday, Boris Johnson is going to be one of the great failures and that this will be an astonishing setback for democracy in the West. I am hopeful that the polls hold and that they hold enough seats. I am worried that an Etonian, toffish, Bullingdon Club guy cannot win these Labour seats in the north, in Scotland, in Wales.

Rich: Jim Geraghty?

Jim: I’m going to be the comparative optimist amongst this crowd, and that’s partially just to lighten everybody’s spirits. I would say up until a couple of days ago, I felt like, okay, the Conservatives have the better of the argument. The country is tired of basically being in neutral for three years.

I just got to say, I absolutely adored the Love Actually parody that Boris Johnson made. It is the best political ad I have seen in a long time. It is the only political . . . It’s a three-minute ad, and you find yourself leaning forward and wondering what each one of those little placards is going to say that he does.

And the slogan. Boy, talk about a simple slogan: “Enough.” We have had enough of this endless Brexit debate over there. I think the country will vote for resolution, and they know that the Conservatives are the one way forward, because it’s not like . . . Once the Brexit side won the referendum, way back in summer 2016, there is no way that the pro-Brexit side is just going to give up one of these days. So my suspicion is you do get enough of a Conservative majority to go forward, that there will be not a large majority, but enough to say, okay, this is the way it’s going to get done.

I also think that enough people… I’m hoping enough people are freaked out by the possibility of Corbyn, because we’ve had left-of-center and frustrating leaders of allied countries before, but we’ve never had anybody quite like Corbyn in a long time in the Western alliance. Corbyn is vehemently anti-American, down to the marrow of his bones, in a way that makes Angela Merkel look like the best buddy this country has ever had.

I think it’ll be a happy ending. This may be a little bit of denial of this. I think the worst possible scenario is one of those situations we get a hung Parliament and nobody gets enough of a majority, you can’t put together a coalition, and that kind of stuff. I think it’ll be a happy ending to this, but—

Michael: I want to say, my predictions—

Jim: . . . I’ve been wrong plenty of times before.

Michael: My predictions should be taken with a grain of salt because I thought May was going to win a 60-seat majority in this last snap election and she nearly lost it all, so I may be overcorrecting with pessimism. Hopefully, we’ll have a good result on Friday.

Rich: Exit question to you, Charlie Cooke. Yes or no, Boris Johnson is a man of destiny?

Charlie: Well, he’s certainly a man of destiny. The question is, of what destiny?

Rich: Good destiny.

Michael: Cheated. He cheated.

Rich: Yes or no?

Charlie: Yes, I think he is.

Rich: Jim?

Jim: On any given day, a whole lot of destinies are coming at us really fast. The question is, which one gets to us first?

Yeah, Boris Johnson is a man of a pretty good destiny. If I could just go back to that ad, any other leader would probably look ridiculous doing that, and there was something quirky and charming and perfectly . . . it fit Boris Johnson to be imitating Love Actually. I think it worked.

Rich: MBD?

Michael: The Love Actually ad will repulse a key number of voters he needs in Labour districts, Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister, the United Kingdom breaks up, democracy destroyed.

Rich: I’m going to say a hesitant yes. I have tended to be pessimistic about Brexit for a long stretch, but I kind of think he’s going to get it done. But we’ll know more soon.


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