While each election may feel like “The Big One,” this is all too often a hyperbolic reaction to the issues of the day. However, in the case of today’s United Kingdom general election, it would not be an overstatement to suggest that the political future and ultimate question of sovereignty for the country rests heavily on how Britons choose to cast their votes.
The nation’s political parties are firmly divided over Brexit, and whether or not the earthquake vote of 2016 should be honored. Supporters of continued European Union membership will see this as their one last chance to overturn the referendum result, while fervent Brexiteers are heading to the polls wondering if British democracy has become a sad and broken thing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is touting his “oven-ready” Brexit deal as the only method of successfully leaving the E.U. Currently holding 298 seats out of 650, he will be pushing hard to get more than 325 to gain a working majority. With this majority, BoJo would be able to apply the party whip and secure Brexit under his Withdrawal Agreement either on or before January 31, 2020.
Challenges for the Conservative Party will include internal issues. If the party gets a majority, it may still face dissent over the Brexit deal from Tory Europhiles. Over the last 12 months, the party has hemorrhaged members of parliament (MPs) defecting to more strident anti-Brexit groups. Johnson cannot bring together the country if he fails to unite his own party.
The latest polling has the Conservative Party winning 43% of the vote.
The Labour Party under leader Jeremy Corbyn will struggle in this election. Despite explaining numerous times that the party position “is very clear on Brexit,” Corbyn has presented voters with a leap-of-faith option. The party’s policy and position regarding Brexit are as follows: It will renegotiate a deal, other than the one Boris has already arranged, and then present that agreement to the electorate. Then it will call for a referendum with a binary choice of either the Labour deal or remaining in the E.U., at which point, the party will campaign against the pact it has negotiated. Crystal clear, right?
Mr. Corbyn’s party faces numerous challenges during this election:
- The Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves as the party of Remain.
- The Conservatives have labeled themselves the party of Brexit.
- Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is targeting mostly Labour-held seats that voted for Brexit.
The latest polling has the Labour Party winning 33% of the vote.
The Liberal Democrats are the third party in British politics. Having been junior partners in former Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2010 Parliament, they are looking to obscure the ties of the past and rebrand as the party of the Second Referendum. By being open about their attitude to the Brexit vote and their wish to repeal it completely, they have captured the public attention and are stripping support away from parties that at least nominally back Brexit.
At present, the LibDems have 21 MPs and are hoping to make significant gains. If they can retain the existing seats and gain a few more, they might end up as kingmakers … their price? A second referendum.
The latest polling has the Liberal Democrat Party winning 13% of the vote.
Brexit Party Position
The reality is that Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party, despite winning the recent European elections, does not stand much chance of winning seats under the First Past the Post voting system used in parliamentary elections. His party originally planned to campaign in every constituency, but a realization that standing against other concerted Brexiteers would split the vote and allow a Remainer to win caused him to pull out of over 300 contests.
Mr. Farage’s strategy is to target seats currently held by the Labour Party where the constituency voted in a majority to leave during the 2016 referendum; these are mostly in the north of England. For historical and cultural reasons, voters in the north have a visceral dislike for the Conservative Party, making the region one of “safe seats” for Labour. Until now. Presented with an alternative to the much-loathed Tories and the anti-Brexit Labour Party, voters may well cast their vote for Nigel Farage and his band of Brexiteers.
The latest polling has the Brexit Party winning 3% of the vote.
Politicians’ policy platforms and party manifestos the world over are little more than words in the wind. Elected officials are not legally obliged to follow through with their promises, and in many cases, are not even expected to try. Britain is locked into tribal voting that has led to an election that shouldn’t be happening.
The British public chose to leave the European Union; three and a half years later, people are wondering why they even bothered to vote. The contest for power will be over and done within just one day, but the ramifications of ignoring a democratic vote, and of a political establishment attempting to thwart the wishes of its employers, will echo well into the future.
Read more from Mark Angelides.