It had been widely said that the British general election on December 12th was going to be an unpredictable and tight race. The final result wasn’t tight at all, with Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party winning a big lead.
They took most of their new seats from the Labour Party, cutting into the traditional Labour voter base in the former industrial and coal-mining heartlands of northern England and Wales.
Both the Conservative Party and Labour Party lost seats in Scotland to the Scottish National Party (SNP), which now holds 48 seats and has extended its coverage to most of Scotland.
We can expect to hear the SNP’s Ms. Nicola Sturgeon stepping up her demands for a second independence referendum in Scotland (the last one was in 2014).
Strengthened by his new majority, Mr. Boris Johnson will certainly refuse in the short-term, although he might possibly allow one after the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021, if he’s not obliged to concede before then. That’s a battle that will play out over the coming months.
In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost a couple of seats to the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), meaning that there is now a slight majority of Northern Irish Members of Parliament (MPs) supporting both/either union with Eire and/or membership of the European Union. The DUP has 8 seats, while Sinn Fein (the Irish republican movement) and the SDLP have 9 seats between them – 7 for the former and 2 for the latter.
So it would be reasonable to say that there’s now been a further slight upward shift in support for reunion between the north and south of the island of Ireland. It will be interesting so see whether “unionists” (who traditionally support remaining part of Britain) will start to lean towards an Irish reunion as well.
Eire has always been reassuring and conciliatory about the equal status of a hypothetical Protestant population within the majoritarily Catholic country that it is. Although many Irish have always traditionally been fervently Catholic, most people in Ireland believe strongly that it should be a secular State.
In Wales, Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalist party) held onto its four seats, but Labour lost seats to the Conservatives. That shows there has been a shift in support from Labour to Conservatives, but no rise in Welsh desire for independence is clearly discernible as yet.
Britain has a predominantly two-party political landscape: the Conservatives and Labour.
In line with politics in many other countries in the world, the election campaign in Britain was said by many people to have been heavily punctuated with personal attacks, misinformation, misrepresentation, outright factual inaccuracies (or lies, as some people say), and other forms of “dirty politics”.
Mr. Boris Johnson’s most-memorable key phrase was to “Get Brexit Done”. There were also promises to increase numbers of police and to build new hospitals. Obviously, the Conservative Party manifesto would have spoken about a whole bouquet of policies, but very few people will have read it, so we’re just talking about the sound-bytes we read and hear in the media.
In contrast, the Labour Party spoke vociferously about a great many specific policies and actions, with promises of very high levels of spending on public services. But, probably, many people wondered how they were all going to be paid for, or perhaps simply didn’t believe they would really happen. Again, the Labour Party also published a detailed manifesto, but very few people will actually have read it.
One thing that was notable about the election campaign was that neither Mr. Johnson nor Mr. Corbyn were positively perceived by many people. Frankly, many people considered them both to be extremely dislikable characters and totally unfit to be Prime Minister.
It might be fair to say that many people felt there wasn’t actually a good candidate for Prime Minister – unless it was Ms. Nicola Sturgeon for the Scottish.
Lots of people considered Mr. Johnson to be a liar and arrogant, and totally disconnected from the concerns of ordinary working people – just a “toff”from Eton.
Mr. Corbyn, on the other hand, was cited by numerous voters as being the principal reason why they would not be voting Labour. There was a widespread rejection of “Corbynism”, which could be broadly summed-up as meaning extremely left-wing, almost Marxist thinking.
Of course, Brexit was a big issue during this election, with Mr. Johnson promising a British exit from the EU on January 31st, no matter what, and with Mr. Corbyn promising a second referendum to verify if the British public still felt the same way as in 2016, now that they were more aware of the possible/probable economic consequences.
Labour lost quite a few seats that had been “historical Labour strongholds” for a long time – some of them for between 50 and a 100 years. The losses were notably in constituencies in northern England that were very strongly “EU leavers” in the 2016 referendum.
So Mr. Johnson’s promises to “Get Brexit Done” partially tipped the balance. Even so, the big factor was dislike for Mr. Corbyn, plus a feeling that the Labour movement had swung far too much to the left, and was making irresponsible promises it could only pay for by plunging the country into debt with the international lending institutions, and by increasing income taxation.
Ms. Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats failed to pull off the victory they had originally felt was in their grasp by attracting the votes of EU “remainers”. Ms. Swinson, the party leader, actually lost her seat to the SNP candidate, and is now no longer leader of her party, let alone not being the Prime Minister. The Liberal Democrats did make some headway, principally in constituencies in London and the south-east of England (areas with large numbers of “remainers”).
But one factor in the Conservative victory was Britain’s “first-past-the-post” electoral system. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, although they did attract quite a number of voters, the total count of those voters failed to exceed the score attained by a Conservative or Labour candidate.
Looking at things more globally, a loose almost-coalition of parties that had been in opposition before the election – notably Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and certain MPs having broken away from the Conservative Party – failed to closely and effectively cooperate about the constituencies they would compete for. In multiple cases, they competed against each other.
The result was that the votes they all received often counted against each other, so that none of them came out as winner.
If there were to be proportional representation in the British electoral system, parties such as the Brexit Party (zero seats) and the Greens (1 seat) would actually have a better representation in parliament. The Liberal Democrats would have a considerably bigger representation than at present.
In the 2015 election, the Brexit Party actually got some 4 million votes but ended up with no MP at all, because they failed to win an outright majority in any constituency whatsoever.
However, with Mr. Johnson’s win on Friday the 13th of December, 2019, there will be no prospect of electoral reform in that direction for years to come. The only sure prospect is Brexit. Maybe hard or maybe soft, we don’t know.
The Labour Party is now in total disarray. Mr. Jeremy Corbyn will stand down as leader. The party will have to totally review its politics, and will have to find a new head. But they’ve probably got years for that. It’s a pity that Ed and Dave Milliband left both their leadership positions in the Labour Party and political life in general. If they’d been standing, the result might have been different… perhaps.
The future for EU nationals in the United Kingdom and for UK nationals in European Union countries looks uncertain at best. At worst, they face the prospect of either applying for nationality in their country of residence or else packing their bags and “going back to where they came from”.
As you can imagine, Dave (a long-time ex-pat) is disappointed, and is now considering his options… This is not what he’d hoped for.