NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, December 29th, 2019

Labour’s snap election loss will have profound implications for the United Kingdom’s future

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.

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