AGARWAL: The UK Heads for a General Election on December 12


Monday, November 18, 2019

When I last wrote in these pages, I stated that a general election in the UK looked unlikely. I turned out to be wrong, thanks to the aphorism that with Brexit, the only certainty is that nothing is ever certain. Last month, the House of Commons voted 438-20 to end the Brexit impasse and head for a general election on December 12 after failing to pass Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union. 

Many pundits are referring to this election as the “Brexit election” as parties are already making Brexit the central issue of their campaigns; Mr. Johnson pledged to “Get Brexit Done” while the pro-EU Liberal Democrats vowed to “Stop Brexit” should things go their way. 

In its aftermath, Brexit has left British politics ruptured with a collapse of the traditional center-left and center-right parties owing to the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. Traditional electoral predictions fail as parties are targeting voters based on how they voted in the 2016 referendum. The Liberal Democrats are hoping to be the “reasonable” alternative for the remain voters disaffected by the Tories and Labour, and the Scottish Nationalists are set to hurt Tory chances in the Highlands. The greater the number of choices, though, the higher the probability of a hung parliament—the very thing this election is seeking to avoid.

While sentiments from 2016 linger on, this election is not entirely about Brexit. Labour has unveiled a plan to nationalize British Telecom and provide “free broadband” to every household by 2030, expand social healthcare, and also undo all the privatization which occurred during the Thatcher years. These vast spending pledges and anti-billionaire rhetoric resonates with working-class voters loyal to the party. The lack of a coherent Brexit policy appeals to the ultra-populist voters fed up of Brexit. No longer is this the party of Neil Kinnock or Tony Blair; it has been hijacked by bona fide Marxists and marred with serious accusations of anti-Semitism.

The Tories are no longer courting urban educated voters flocking to the Liberal Democrats. Instead, they are planning on “breaking the red wall” by trying to win over blue-collar voters in working-class towns which traditionally vote Labour, but also voted to leave the European Union. For these voters, Toryism has been anathema and a symbol of elitism at least since the days of Margaret Thatcher. Former Prime Minister Theresa May went for the same strategy in 2017 but failed miserably, and the Tories seem determined not to repeat the same mistakes. 

So how can an Old Etonian Bullingdon named Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson convince them to keep him on the job? The answer seems to be a redefined “blue-collar Toryism” that involves extra funding for the NHS, more police officers, and increased focus on public education. The Tories have also postponed their proposed corporate tax cuts in favor of increased public spending. The current Tory fiscal playbook is a far cry from the low tax and low regulation post-Brexit vision promised during the referendum campaign, and unusual for the party of fiscal responsibility and Thatcherism.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage gave the Tories a huge boost by withdrawing candidates from Tory held seats. However, this isn’t exactly Christmas come early for the Tories, as Mr. Farage has refused to stand down candidates in the Labor-held seats crucial for the Tories to capture a clear majority; the threat of splitting the vote looms large. Yet, we live in times which seek to defy all conventional wisdom and according to Professor Matthew Goodwin, the Brexit Party might just help the Tories by attracting Labour voters who cannot emotionally vote for the Tories. 

The Tory lead in the polls has been widening and there are reasons for them to be cautiously confident, but anything could happen between now and December 12. The last time Britain held a general election in December was in 1923. The Conservatives had won the largest number of seats, but the Labour Party formed the government by cobbling a coalition with the Liberals. If history repeats itself and produces another hung Parliament, a Marxist may very well be in Downing Street. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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