If you follow international politics, you’ve probably noticed that the Conservative Party, headed by Boris Johnson, won a big majority in the United Kingdom’s most recent parliamentary election on December 12th.
What might this mean for Britain?
I think the first and foremost question mark now concerns the future of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom and England in particular.
People are going to go with a simple idea over a complicated discussion more often than not, and Labour was too cute by half regarding Brexit.
They should have simply said that they would fight for British jobs for British people, then gone into their details only if asked.
Saying that they would stop employers from allowing only non-British European Union citizens to apply for certain jobs in Britain, which was being allowed most especially in the very constituencies of northern England that have been hurt the most by Tory austerity since 2008, and many of which voted Conservative in 2019, would have helped significantly. Instead, it was all a muddle versus the simple but deceitful “Get Brexit Done” by the Conservatives, which implied relief regarding an issue exhausting to the British public.
It’s quite easy to blame Jeremy Corbyn for their results – he had horrible approval numbers before and throughout the campaign.
His views on Israel and Hamas amplified the existence of his handful of anti-Semitic candidates and MPs and muted the existence of Conservative anti-Semitic and Islamophobic counterparts, which were slightly more numerous.
No one quite trusted him on Northern Ireland or NATO given comments he had made regarding each topic in previous years. Many voters despised and still don’t trust Boris Johnson, but voted for the Conservatives anyway because they were never given convincing reasons to turn to Corbyn as a viable alternative.
It also didn’t help that Labour ran their snap election campaign with incredibly poor follow-through – they had plenty of time to prepare for a December election, funding was available and infrastructure in place, and time and again Labour candidates complained about a lack of organization or support from above once the campaign started. By all accounts this was Corbyn’s campaign to do with as he and his core staff saw fit. And they blew it terribly.
And Momentum, to some extent Britain’s version of the Indivisible movement, which has supported Corbyn to the hilt, has to take some of the blame for this – hundreds of thousands of paid Labour Party members through Momentum, and, repeatedly, not enough volunteers in constituencies the party leadership knew were going to require extraordinary effort?
Presently, the two most likely replacements for Corbyn as Labour leader are Sir Keir Stammer, who was shadow Brexit secretary under Corbyn, and Rebecca Long-Bailey, who has close ties to Corbyn and his leadership, who was shadow Business secretary, and, as someone from Manchester instead of London, might be seen as someone who can reach out more effectively to the communities in northern England lost to the Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats are pretty much done. They sorta-kinda wanted to be the new voice of the One Nation Conservatives (they tend to be a bit to the left for Conservatives, or “wet,” and very Europhile), they were adamantly anti-Brexit, and they were slaughtered. Again. If Labour replaces Corbyn or top leadership with someone who can appeal vocally and consistently to what these voters seem to desire most – retaining Britain’s economic focus on Europe and their strong desire for civil and human rights — I would try to bring them home to Labour.
Johnson is also a big question mark, because he is, after all, Boris Johnson.
Even with a solid majority, his best bet is to take the Brexit he has been able to get through Parliament, finish it as is, and call it done.
That alone would have a lot of people ready to vote for him in the next election, simply because the issue of Brexit would be over. (For about a year at most, realistically, once the aftereffects take hold, but hey, whatever….)
But I suspect he will be told that he needs to take his new majority and push for a harder Brexit, and possibly as close to a no-deal Brexit as possible.
That in turn comes down to just how much he believes he controls his own fate. He has ensured along with the past Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, that the Conservative Party become, in British terms, an economically radical and increasingly authoritarian party of the right.
This victory might make him want more.
And Northern Ireland is still an issue.
No matter what Boris says, the present Brexit plan harms most of Northern Ireland’s business community unless they focus ever so more intently upon business with both Ireland and the European Union.
If they can profit more with minimal friction from the EU and profit less with a lot more friction from the United Kingdom, no amount of noise-making from Boris or the strongest pro-UK party in Northern Ireland, the DUP (which lost Parliamentary seats this cycle) will deflect the inevitable result.
Their situation is bound to get worse as specifics of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal become public. And that in turn means a united Ireland, as both a political and economic entity, within my lifetime.
And that likelihood will make Boris and others consider changing the terms of Brexit with respect to Northern Ireland in 2020.
However, the European Union will not bend for him any further, and if he’s seen as providing a way to trade goods through Northern Ireland as a latter-day smugglers’ den, the EU will simply abrogate the agreement, which will accelerate both the return of The Troubles and the likelihood of Irish unification.
Yes, the UVF, the Protestant version of the Irish Republican Army, and others might violently oppose Irish unification – and they will likely lose.
It may be after too long a while and too many more unnecessary deaths, but it may also be quietly and sooner than we think – for the moment, their leadership has made it clear that their followers are to stay stood down.
It would be ironic if they were to stay stood down because what was once the major industrial firm Short Brothers, where Irish Catholics began their civil rights campaign in the 1960s with demands for equal access to their jobs, now owned by Spirit Aerospace, keeps Protestants employed by catering more so to international sales than by remaining in Britain.
The United Kingdom has oriented itself around developing stronger ties with the European Union for over forty years. Many right wing voters say there are “too many Poles” – but any trade policy with, say, India would also require an equally friendly immigration policy, all the more likely with the passage of their Citizenship Amendment Act, which is very anti-Muslim and likely to lead to some combination of expulsions and immigration from India and neighboring Bangladesh, and this incoming British government won’t let that happen.
That is why I think the Conservatives will pivot toward a much more direct, and eventually submissive, trade policy with the United States.
How far would it go? Would it mean the end of the BBC and the NHS? Would Orwell’s Airstrip #1 and Oceania become a reality? No one knows.
And then there is Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) wants another independence referendum so that they can stay within the EU.
Boris, who is cynically using “One Nation Conservative” rhetoric to publicly refuse this option, may end up with more than he wants to handle over time.
There are more question marks.
The Conservatives ran on two items – settling Brexit and ending austerity spending. What happens if a worldwide recession hits Britain as the Tories are pushing through Brexit? What happens if they just don’t have the funds after Brexit?
What happens if the public wants increased social spending and not just increased infrastructure spending, and the Conservatives refuse?
What happens when the currently suppressed report on Russian interference in the politics of Britain is finally made public?
Time will reveal the answers to these questions. One thing we do know: how Labour responds to its electoral drubbing — the worst it has suffered since the 1930s — will matter enormously for the United Kingdom’s future.