The Brexit Election- Or Was It?
Polls were showing a pretty consistent 10 point lead for the Conservatives through the campaign, but in recent days some polls seemed to be showing a surge for Labour and most every media outlet over there had it as too close to call when voting started. Then, the Exit Poll came out and showed a prediction of a majority of 86 for the Conservatives. I was somewhat stunned and somewhat dubious at the same time, as America's experience with Exit Polls has been somewhat... mixed to say the least. (It does seem that all platforms/media from across the ideological spectrum over there had agreed on a shared methodology because there was ONE Exit Poll and not multiple ones with conflicting views- which was nice and it'd be interesting to know how much one unified Exit Poll had on accuracy of data collection and reporting.)
Turns out the Exit Poll was right, so Boris, he's back. And he's got a workable majority this time around.
So what does it all mean?
Well, I don't think you can put Boris in one corner or another. To try and compare him to President Trump is... silly. Boris has better political instincts that Trump does and while the President may be a provacateur par excellence when it comes to his use of Twitter, his social media outrages risk exhausting his base and alienating independent voters. (Even the most hardcore of Trumpists will probably admit that they wish he worked more and Tweeted less.) Boris isn't angry. He's upbeat, he's optimistic and more importantly, he's clear: he wanted a majority to get this done and that's what he got. I don't know if there's hard data on it, but I'm willing to posit that voters respond to clarity and optimism and tend to reward politicians for it.
I watched a lot of the election coverage on Twitter last night. (Another bit of ridiculousness of the age we live in: I got a Sky News feed of UK Election returns on my phone. Would have seemed utterly ludicrous saying that ten years ago.) Many commentators on Sky were keen to point out that the size of the majority means that Boris has options now. He's neatly neutered the right wing and the threat from the Brexit Party and he's not as beholden to the ERG/Reese-Mogg wing of the party as people think. The counter argument to that of course is that now he might be able to go for Brexit harder and faster than people think, though the general consensus seemed to be that a softer more reasonable Brexit was probably on the table. But, he's done it. Brexit in one flavor or another is going to happen- and to me, that's actually the least interesting thing about this election.
What are the interesting things about this election? Well, first off, the traditional fault lines of British politics (working class vs. capital 'E' Establishment) have sort of flip-flopped. One of the many things that Labour was hampered with (imo) was a similar conundrum Democrats have: they're no longer the party of the working class. They've become the party of the technocratic elites. And if voters love anything, it's voting for elites- right? But here's the kicker: I'm not sure the Conservatives in the UK have necessarily sealed the deal with Labour's former working class constituencies either. They've started a potential realignment and if they deliver the goods (investment/jobs/prosperity/ending austerity) it could well be an actual realignment. The size of this political earthquake should not be underestimated: Labour lost seats that it had held for decades- in some cases as far back as 1918, which is ludicrous.
How does Labour respond to this? I don't know. As reviled as Tony Blair might be these days, I think had he been Leader instead of Corbyn-- hell, had Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband been leader instead of Corbyn I think the political picture would look very different. But again, this is the conundrum for Labour and for the Democrats over here. If you're a party of well-educated (over-educated), upper middle class to upper class people talking about the working class, there's a cognitive dissonance there that almost impossible to overlook. There's a suspicion lurking in the minds of voters that socialism has become the province of the rich and all this talk about the working class and doing right by them is just that: talk. This isn't to say that the Conservatives (or Republicans) necessarily do right by them either-- but so far, saying "you gonna believe those guys or us?" *sips small batch craft brandy, adjusts cruelty free hemp dressing gown* doesn't seem to be a winning strategy.
Neither does blaming everyone and everything else. "Well, it's not us, it's the system" just makes people think you want to change the rules so you win ad naseum. And for sure, first-past-the-post as a system has it's drawbacks, but you've also got the knotty problem of the House of Lords hanging out up there. Convert it to a PR upper chamber? Maybe? (I know the whole issue of the Law Lords makes this more complicated than it seems, but not impossible.)
We'll see where Labour goes from here. Corbyn is done. That's all we know.
What about the predictions of the break-up of the UK? Right now, I think they're premature, but possible. The SNP may want another independence referendum but with a Conservative majority of 80+, I don't think they're going to get one. (Had a Remainer Coalition emerged last night they would have been in a far stronger position to ask for one than they are now.) Northern Ireland also saw a Nationalist resurgence at the expense of the DUP.
Here's the thing though: Brexit's gotta work. If the free trade agreements and promised investments come through and it genuinely becomes a hard choice between post-Brexit Britain and the EU then I think the Nationalist tide will recede somewhat. Northern Ireland is the tricky bit tho: if whatever deal emerges allows them to taste the best of both worlds, then I think it'll be okay for a generation, if not longer. Scotland is more straight forward, I think: if they get more jobs, more money and more prosperity, it blunts the Nationalist message that they'd be better off leaving.
But, I was curious: so after a thoroughly scientific and rigorous session of pointing and clicking and scribbling on a notepad, I discovered the following: the SNP won at least 27 seats last night with majorities of less than 10,000 with at least three seats with majorities of under 1,000. I don't know enough about how Parliamentary swings impact vote totals, but it seems to me that 27 seats with majorities under 10,000 suggest that it wouldn't take a huge swing to move the SNP's seat totals in one seat or another. However, it's also worth noting that Scottish political dynamics are a totally different kettle of chips at this point and I don't know enough about how it all works up there to really make a prediction on how it's all gonna work out.
Love it or hate it, Brexit is going to happen. What happens afterwards might be more consequential and far-reaching than people imagine.