Having British citizenship as well means I have periodically voted in UK elections and so I keep a very close eye on UK politics hence this guest blog post.
On the eve of the 2019 British General Election, the poll of polls put Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party just under 10 points ahead of Labour which would translate to an approximate majority of 40. But several polls just before Election Day showed a tightening to 5% which was getting close to hung Parliament territory. The left and left leaning media fantasised that Jeremy Corbyn would head a coalition of Labour, the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party), Plaid Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist party) and the likely sole Green MP. In the end, Boris won what he called a “stonking” majority of 80, the largest Conservative majority since 1983 and Labour’s lowest number of seats in the House of Commons since 1935! How did Boris pull off this landslide victory?
Brexit was the whole reason for this election. In the last 3 years, British voters have endured probably the most extraordinary sequence of political dramas in several generations. Firstly, the Brexit referendum produced a 52/48 [EDIT: earlier typo had 58/48[ Leave result that was almost the reverse of pre-referendum opinion polls shocking the political establishment and liberal elites who had universally waged a campaign of fear in favour of Remain. This campaign continued after the clear result and after a strong turnout with the chattering classes and elites doing all they could to block Brexit.
The ambivalence even hostility to implementing the will of the people was most apparent in the House of Commons where all attempts to pass legislation empowering Brexit, both by Teresa May then Boris Johnson, were not only voted down but was the subject of a raft of distracting amendments and arcane Parliamentary procedures primarily allowed by bellicose Remain supporting House Speaker John Bercow. After the feeble Brino (Brexit in Name Only) agreements negotiated by Teresa May were repeatedly rejected by the Commons and after the dismal showing of the Conservatives in the May 2019 European Parliament elections and the dramatic rise of Nigel Farage’s second pro-Leave Brexit Party, Teresa May stood down and paved the way for Boris Johnson’s elevation to the Tory leadership.
The seeds of Boris’ victory were sown by the extraordinary attempts that he made to pass Brexit and the abject failure of the majority of MPs (more who supported Remain than Leave) to do anything of substance to pass legislation to give legal sanction to the Brexit referendum result. The extent to which the Leave majority thwarted the will of the people was beyond belief:
- The Speaker blocking key votes but then allowing pro-Remain amendments,
- The defection of prominent Tory Remainers first crossing the floor to vote with Brexit opponents to defeat Brexit legislation then being subject to a withdrawal of the Conservative whip and ending in expulsion and standing as Independents and a few defecting to the most pro Remain party, the Liberal Democrats,
- In an action almost without precedent in centuries of the UK Parliament, MPs seized control of the legislative agenda from the Cabinet and Government of the day and passed a series of laws completely constraining the ability of the PM and his government to give effect to the will of the people. This included: making it illegal to crash out on the then Brexit deadline date of 31 October without a deal, forcing Boris Johnson to negotiate a new deal and when Boris tried to break the deadlock by calling a General Election (prior fixed term legislation took the power of calling a snap election from the hands of a PM and made it subject to a 2/3rd vote of Parliament), blocking a new election. Despite Jeremy Corbyn taunting the Conservatives to call an election in previous years after his surprise showing in the 2017 election, when Boris tried to get a new election legislated for, Labour blocked it repeatedly.
Boris had to thread a very complex needle to get to the point where even a General Election was callable. Corbyn, assuming that Boris would petulantly defy Parliament and try and crash out without deal, said Labour would vote for a new election only if Boris came back with a new deal. With the Irish backstop the major intractable sticking point for May’s team, Boris proceeded in the shortest of time frames to negotiate a new deal that almost all major players agreed to (the EU, the Eurosceptics in his own party and crucially, the Republic of Ireland). Corbyn could no longer prevaricate and moderates in his party persuaded Labour’s front bench to allow a fresh election to be called.
Blocking the will of the people as expressed in a democratic vote is a fool’s errand. Leave won because Brits wanted their country back. Yes – fear of untrammeled immigration (best personified by the floodgates of new migrants entering Germany and other continental western European nations) was a potent factor but in reality, THE most potent issue behind the Brexit vote was the loss of sovereignty manifested by more and more court cases decided by the European Court of Justice and more and more legislation passed by the UK Parliament rubber stamping laws required to be passed by the EU Commission that was simultaneously unelected, unaccountable, bloated and corrupt. Here was the cradle of democracy being told what to do, here was the great island nation that was first to tame the absolute power of the monarch, the first to pass the power of taxation to an elected representative body, the first to empower a neutral civil service to administer laws, the first to properly protect property rights, patents and enable the swift and enforceable transfer of assets through a relatively uncorrupt legal system slowly losing its sovereignty. Here was the mother of all Parliaments being emasculated by bureaucrats in Brussels. Britain had fought and defeated the Spanish Armada, numerous French monarchs over the centuries, Napoleon twice and headed off Nazi Germany when all of Europe fell to Hitler’s advances, but was seeing its once vaunted fishing industry decimated by edicts from Strasbourg. And when Britain’s very own legislators became a party to this democracy destroying travesty, when the opportunity came to put an end to this chicanery of thwarting the will of the people, people were happy to back Boris in his effort to Get Brexit Done because he not only was one of the most public faces of the original Brexit referendum campaign but he resigned his position as No. 2 in May’s Cabinet as her Foreign Secretary and risked being ousted by voters as the shortest serving Prime Minister by submitting his plan for Brexit to the will of the people.
Johnson’s task with respect to Brexit was made easier by the incoherence of the policy of his primary opponent. Labour morphed from trying to have a quid each way during the actual Brexit vote (to appease its Remain favouring urban elites and its Leave favouring industrial heartland). By the time Boris became PM, Corbyn confusingly advocated for a new deal that he could somehow magically negotiate that was Brexit but preserving a Customs Union and this new pseudo-Brexit deal would be pitted against Remain in a second referendum and mysteriously, he would stand back and not campaign for the very deal he said he’d negotiate and then somehow, he would implement this mess. On this issue during the campaign, Johnson hammered home his simple mantra of getting Brexit done and his attacks on Corbyn’s mish mash of confusion was like shooting fish in a barrel.
2 – Jeremy Corbyn was a uniquely awful opponent
A subtitle of this section should read: UK Labour’s 2015 membership criteria changes enabled a Marxist leaning ginger group inside the Party called Momentum to hijack the election of the party leadership. Once Labour’s leaders were decided by its caucus and the large trade unions. Now young Millennials who could spare ₤3 could join the Labour party on Monday and vote for its new leader on Tuesday. When David Cameron easily defeated dilettante Labour leader Ed Miliband, the centrists of the Labour Party assumed electable faces like Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Hillary Benn (son of Labour left wing firebrand Tony Benn) would win the leadership. Jeremy Corbyn was a fringe radical who had never been anywhere near even the Front Bench of previous Labour governments or Oppositions and yet he not only was catapulted to the party leadership by the modern day equivalent of the Militant Tendency (the Trotskyite left faction that ensured the election of left wing Michael Foot to the Labour leadership in 1982) but when Corbyn’s hard left credentials and questionable past became more reported on and Labour moderates tried to oust him, the takeover of the radical left of the party had become entrenched by the mass recruitment of Corbynista youthful members who ensured it was next to impossible for the party to get rid of Corbyn.
This is the backdrop to why such a poor candidate remained Labour’s leader. Corbyn got lucky in that his initial Tory opponent was the hapless Teresa May, a weak Home Secretary who was always a Remainer and was only ever half hearted in her support for Brexit. May called an election in 2017 to cement support for her initial exit agreement negotiations and blew a huge Tory lead and ended up being able to govern only with the support of the quirky, obscure single-issue Ulster Unionist Party. Corbyn was new, his past had received little mainstream media scrutiny and his opponent was an awful campaigner. Coming after years of unpopular austerity instituted by David Cameron on the back of the GFC, Corbyn promised a more regular suite of centre left policies in 2017 around canning austerity and, combined with an army of young new Corbynista activists, almost defeated a PM who once was 20 points ahead in the polls. Corbyn’s 2017 election performance inoculated him and his radical inner circle from any serious attempt at removal because he almost beat Teresa May.
It was not just that Boris Johnson was a more formidable opponent than May but that Corbyn’s questionable past progressively became more front and centre. Corbyn’s ties to terrorists became a regular feature of exposes. The list was long and inglorious: Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, his weak opposition to ISIS and justifying the actions of the loathed Irish Republican Army are but a few. Add this to his long held sympathy for Soviet Russia, Cuba and glowing support of first Chavez then Maduro, the socialist strongmen come dictators who turned Venezuela, once South America’s wealthiest nation, into an economic basket case. Corbyn expressed his loathing for the US and any alliances involving the US such as NATO but also disdain for trusted institutions such as the Royal Navy, Britain’s nuclear deterrent and its much vaunted Security Service MI5.
But the most obnoxious and, in the end, most damaging personality trait of Jeremy Corbyn and the one (of many) that came to personify his toxicity, was his anti-Semitism. His hatred of Israel knew no bounds and he supported every Arab opponent of the Israeli State from the seemingly moderate Fatah to the most radical and extreme in repeated public ways. Anti-Semitism has become a problem for the left and parties of the left all over the western world but in UK Labour under Corbyn, it became an open suppurating wound. Time after time incendiary and blatant anti-Jewish comments were made by a raft of even senior activists and administrators in the party who faced minimal to no sanction usually hidden behind opaque ‘reviews’ that dragged on endlessly and resulted in anti-Semitic offenders being hit with wet bus ticket sanctions. Corbyn personified this whole toxic attitude as he not only did little to stop it, but his actions, antics and public pronouncements were a green light to the worse instincts of the hard left activists increasingly controlling the party.
Two seminal moments concerning this matter occurred during the campaign: Corbyn’s repeated refusal to apologise for his anti-Semitism when persistently pressed on this in his interview with the doyen of the British political interviewers Andrew Neil. The second came when Britain’s chief Rabbi not only urged all UK Jews to vote for Johnson but spoke openly of the visceral fear that British Jews felt for their own livelihoods even physical safety were Corbyn to become Prime Minister. Brits aren’t overtly pro-Jewish and are somewhat mixed in their support for Israel, but they pride themselves at allowing people to worship their God and practice their religion unmolested by persecution. When high profile Labour MPs and party functionaries resigned from the party over Corbyn’s anti-Semitism and then urged people to vote for Boris, a Rubicon on this issue had been crossed. Jews had been voting Conservative at a ratio of 2:1 for several elections prior. Even if this changed to 90/10 in 2019, it does not explain Boris’ margin of victory. But Jeremy Corbyn’s odiousness as a candidate surely does. When he became confusing bordering on incoherent about Brexit, he became politically a dead man working.
Not only did polls show him to be the most unpopular Leader of the Opposition since polling began, but anecdotal reports of Labour and Conservative canvassing in Labour’s northern heartland seats were of a universal loathing of Corbyn as a candidate. Working class lifelong Labour supporters said they were voting Tory for the first time not just to get Brexit done but, incredibly, to keep the leader of the party they had supported all their lives from winning the election! Such a circumstance is almost unprecedented in the western world – perhaps Nixon v McGovern in 1972 or Muldoon v Rowling in 1975. McGovern and Rowling were wiped out but neither man had anything remotely close to Corbyn’s awful off putting baggage.
3 – Hard left policies aren’t popular
When the Marxist left takes over your party, you can almost guarantee a radical manifesto. Labour in the UK had been there before when the Militant Tendency saw to the election of radical leftist Michael Foot to the leadership in 1982 who presented British voters fresh off Margaret Thatcher’s Falkland’s War success with mass re-nationalisations and unilateral disarmament. Foot’s manifesto was dubbed the longest suicide note in British political history and he suffered a huge drubbing at the polls. Corbyn’s radical lieutenent, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, is a fellow traveler with Corbyn and thought the Corbyn lightening might strike twice and they went for broke with Labour’s 2019 manifesto. They offered a smorgasbord of giveaways: free university fees, 33% reduction in train fares and free bus fares, even more money to the NHS than the bucket loads Boris was promising, a complex pension anomaly bailout costing ₤65 Billion and the building of 100,000 council homes. If that was it then it could be dismissed as widely expensive and hard to fund but they went way beyond even this familiar Labour territory and proposed the most radical socialisation of the UK economy beyond even that contemplated by Clement Atlee in 1945. Re-nationalisation of rail, nationalisation of the national electricity grid, water supply, the Royal Mail and BT’s broadband network. On top of this the power of trade unions would be unleashed by again allowing wildcat strikes and secondary strikes, things that crippled the UK in the 70’s epitomized by the strike prone Winter of Discontent in 1979 that paved the way for Thatcher’s election. McDonnell and Corbyn went even further into what could be called Zimbabwe and Venezuela territory proposing compulsory worker councils owning 10% of companies and being on boards, a punitive financial transactions tax, big hikes in personal and business taxes (currently competitive in the UK versus other European countries), abolition of private schools AND forced appropriation of their assets, leniency on jail sentences, new taxes to fund huge expansion on unpopular wind farms and all other aspects of green energy, imposition of estate and punitive death duties, taxes on second homes and VAT on private school fees. The list was long and ignominious and was a recipe for a plunging share market and pound, mass capital flight and an exodus of high income earners as happened in France when they tried to over tax millionaires.
It was the politics of envy on steroids and its was simultaneously so generous that even working class core Labour voters knew it was riddled with unrealistic giveaways but also brought back the spectre of an era of widespread strikes and sclerotic government owned industries that would stifle the great gains in productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship especially in financial serives that have been at the heart of Britain’s modern growth. Greatly needed road expansion and upgrades would be foregone to favour the rail commuters and all the university fee giveaways would favour the educated London elites of the Varsity common room and did absolutely nothing for the moribund and dying towns of the north. Boris’ promise of Brexit, revitalisation of an independent fishing industry and having free trade agreements benefit the north as much as possible was a real contrast
Voters also knew that with a Labour government comes even more nanny state interference and PC moral preening and ever more intrusive SJW policed speech codes that would be held more in check by the irreverent and un-PC Boris Johnson. These understated policy differences helped boost Boris’ image in the industrial north.
4 – The Conservatives were very focused
May had tried in 2017 to portray herself as strong and stable but few believed her. When Boris said he’d get Brexit done, voters knew he’d done all that was humanly possible with the current Parliament to implement the results of the referendum so there was an authenticity to this election motto and Boris hammered it relentlessly. It was front and centre in all his speeches, ads, social media and the same was true of all the Tory candidates and MPs. Then he tied getting Brexit done to freeing up Parliamentary time and Budget allocations to populist things like 20,000 more Police to cut crime, an Australian style points system to better regulate immigration and more money for health via the much beloved NHS. And he adequately neutralised Labour’s scare tactics over a possible ‘sell off’ of the NHS to US interests under a proposed US-UK Free Trade Agreement, a much touted benefit of Brexit.
Boris also worked hard to keep complacency out of his and his party’s campaign urging voters to support him even as he saw the polls seemingly tighten. This gave rise to one of the greatest political ads one will ever see anywhere in the world – his tongue in cheek parody of Love Actually with a deadly serious message, I need every vote I can get. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj-YK3JJCIU
5 – Modern UK Labour no longer represents the working class
This trend has been going on for two decades, but the chickens of this trend finally came home to roost in this election. Labour has become the party of the urban, tertiary credentialled London (and Home Counties) elite. In this world, Brexit is crude racist xenophobia especially as London’s financial markets have uniquely prospered from the effects of EU membership. Labour has also become infused with woke social justice warrior types who worry more about the rights of the 0.01% of the population who are trans gender than mainstream British family values. Corbyn and his inner circle came increasingly to look like smug isolated academics holed up in university common rooms and supported by like-minded and like-thinking reporters in the mainstream media. The aspirations and realities of life in the grim rust belt of Labour’s Midland, northern and Scottish working class heartlands and how whole towns and communities has been decimated by the EU project, moved further and further from the priorities of Corbyn’s pampered progressive elitist inner circle.
It took Corbyn’s toxicity, Labour’s seeming complicity with the ruling elites to block the will of the overwhelmingly Leave northern Labour constituencies wedded to a radical hard left agenda that promised everything but that couldn’t be delivered without destroying the productive sector of the British economy driving its rapidly growing numbers of job creating entrepreneurs off shore, to finally break down Labour’s seeming impregnable red wall. Labour lost constituencies that it had held for 50, 60 even 70 or more years. It lost the Bolsover seat in Birmingham held by the ‘Father of the House’ Dennis Skinner for almost 50 years!
6 – Twitter and the world of celebrities is not the real world
This axiom applies across the democracies of the west but was dramatically on display in this election. Labour out-Tweeted and out–Retweeted the Conservatives 2 to 1 and yet they forgot that only 10% of voters are on Twitter and only 10% of that 10% are engaged and active. Furthermore, no one really cares what Hugh Grant or Bob Geldof think about Brexit or politics anymore. They are increasingly seen as pampered, indulged progressives who are disconnected from the lives of ordinary Brits.
7- The BBC and other mainstream media outlets no longer dominate public opinion
With the rise of alternate often internet based media, conservative voices globally have ways to circumvent the increasingly more liberal biased leanings of mainstream media outlets. Britain sports one of the most vibrant and competitive print media environments with a long tradition of dueling political leanings of its major newspapers. But the massively funded state broadcaster, the BBC, for decades was seen as a more neutral arbiter and used to play a pretty straight political bat. That is no longer the case. The BBC’s partisan leanings have become more pronounced over the years and were dramatically on display during the Brexit referendum debate where its reporting, coverage, panel discussions and interviews were very heavily skewered in favour of Remain points of view, Remain supporters and Remain backing expert commentators and talking heads. Given that all British households pay an annual TV license fee of £155, this results in billions of pounds of funding for an organization that all British taxpayers fund even those who lean to the right. The manifest bias of the Beeb has become an increasing sticking point for those who don’t support the views of the London elites, those of Labour and those who oppose Brexit.
Voters in the UK can not only can get alternative views from blogs and the active and quite boisterous centre right media, but they are less likely to trust the impartiality of an institution that was once the hallmark of trust in British society. The waning impact of the BBC and broadcast media was most dramatically illustrated when Boris Johnson became enmeshed in clashes with the BBC and even more dramatically with the very left leaning Channel 4. In the case of the BBC, he was repeatedly talked over by Andrew Marr the more openly left leaning BBC political commentator famous for his interviews but even more dramatic was Boris’ decision to not be interviewed by the most powerful, influential and respected TV interviewer, the esteemed Andrew Neil. Neil’s reputation for aggressive but respectful probing interviews of politicians is legendary and he certainly exposed several weak spots of Jeremy Corbyn, the most telling being the anti-Semitism discussed earlier. Johnson’s decision to forgo a Neil interview underscores in a very public way the waning influence of both the BBC and mainstream broadcast media generally. 10 years ago, such a snubbing would be unthinkable as the political damage would outweigh the effect of a bad interview. This is no longer the case. The media’s bias is now so all pervasive and obvious that Boris could refuse to even discuss politics with anyone from Channel 4, refuse to not only be interviewed by any of their presenters and even ban their reporters from his press conferences. Boris was comfortable enough that knowledge of partisan leanings was so widespread that ignoring outlets and presenters likely to be hostile to him rebounded in his favour and not against him. The obvious bias of the mainstream media in favour of leftist policies and parties itself has become mainstream and so the influence of once powerful media on the voting intentions of people is a fraction of what it once was allowing someone like Boris Johnson to take more control over his media image and appearances to accentuate his positives and reduce his negatives.