A Pyrrhic Victory For The Tories
Britain goes to the polls tomorrow to determine who will lead the country through their exit from the European Union. Theresa May – leader of the Tories is expected to retain a majority for her party despite a poor campaign. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn are expected to perform much better than initially expected, but despite a strong campaign which has created genuine enthusiasm among Labour’s base, they faced insurmountable odds going into the election with polling showing a more than 20 point lead for the Tories at the beginning of the campaign.
The election comes almost a year after the British public voted to leave the EU in an historic referendum which shocked the world. Unsurprisingly much has changed following the outcome: Nigel Farage – leader of UKIP, the leading exponent of Brexit for many years resigned after his successful bid to end Britain’s membership of the EU. The outcome of the referendum also had the effect of consolidating the conservative vote because many UKIP voters flocked back to the Tories.
Prime minister David Cameron who called the referendum both as a ploy to get votes and to pacify the pro-Brexit members within his own party resigned the morning of the result after campaigning for remain; this triggered a leadership contest where Theresa May was overwhelmingly chosen by Tory MPs to succeed Cameron as PM.
On the Labour side, many MPs held Corbyn responsible for the result, blaming his lacklustre campaign and held a vote of no-confidence in which MPs overwhelmingly voted for him to go. Corbyn maintained that he still had the support of the Labour membership and that if he was go, that would have to be determined in another leadership election. Many Labour MPs wanted Corbyn removed from the ballot but the NEC declared he would be eligible to stand again. All throughout the summer Corbyn was pilloried and hounded by the press and those within his own party. His challenger Owen Smith floundered during his campaign suffering many gaffes which included making inappropriate jokes about two women politicians, and advocated negotiating with ISIS and could not create a message that resonated with the membership. Corbyn won the leadership election, but unlike his first victory this was no cause for celebration. The sabotage of his leadership had done irreversible damage to the party’s image and decreased the odds of winning a general election.
Brexit is a poisoned chalice, of that there’s little doubt. Article 50 was triggered on 29th of March and now Britain is in the process of exiting the EU. Despite the calls for a 2nd referendum from the most aggrieved of the remainers the British electorate has no enthusiasm for another divisive referendum.
Theresa May’s insistence that she wouldn’t call a snap election always seemed insincere because for one she lacked a mandate from the British electorate and two her poll ratings in contrast to Corbyn were too good to ignore. She called a referendum fully expecting to lead the party to a landslide victory and to humiliate Corbyn’s Labour. There is nothing politically unusual about that type of opportunism but Mrs May must take us for fools when she says she called it for ‘the good of the country’.
May has faltered since calling the election, she has displayed great antipathy for the British people by refusing to debate her policies and has generally tried to avoid interviews from the press. The manifesto launch was a disaster leading to questions on social care and a u-turn on the infamous dementia tax. Whatever the result May’s position has unquestionably weakened, both in the eyes of the electorate, but arguably more importantly in the eyes of EU negotiators.
In terms of Brexit negotiations she has repeatedly said no deal is better than a bad deal but that ignores the fact that no deal is disastrous in and of itself. May’s negotiating style is said to have angered EU negotiators and with her at the helm the chance of a good deal appears increasingly unlikely which is why she’s depicting a no deal as an acceptable outcome. In addition, May appears determined to implement a hard Brexit. Economic growth has already been quite dismal under the Tories, but with the instability involved in exciting the EU, Britain’s economy will weaken further.
Labour’s policies are costed unlike the Tories and would be conducive to a more successful Brexit, but much of the consequences that will arise because of Britain’s exit would be out of their control and they would be scapegoated for the mistakes made by the Tory government. Bearing that in mind, it may be preferable for their long-term prospects that they avoid government and allow the Tories to take full responsibility for the mess they have made.
Before the campaign the consensus among the British press was that Corbyn would lead Labour to its most catastrophic result in decades making the party unelectable for generations to come. It would also be seen as a major rejection of the left and the Labour right who sabotaged Corbyn’s leadership would feel vindicated and retake control of the party. There are signs the Labour right still intends to go on with their plans, but they’re unlikely to succeed as the membership bear plenty of animosity towards them. Corbyn has his faults but when it comes to the future of the party, he’s on the right side of history. For Labour to be a force in British politics they had to extricate themselves from the toxicity created by New Labour’s politicians, and Corbyn’s reign has helped further that process. It’s imperative that the next leader doesn’t reverse Labour’s turn leftwards, and appeals to the large membership which Corbyn has helped created.
Corbyn’s strength has always been campaigning. Indeed that’s what propelled him to leader in the first place and prevented the attempt of getting rid of him. Not only has he excelled throughout this campaign but he’s also won over some critics and skeptics because of his strong performance. Corbyn’s personal ratings have also significantly improved in part due to his impressive TV appearances, while May’s have tanked because of the wobbly campaign. While huge rallies and thousands of people cheering your name don’t translate to electoral success they can’t be dismissed either. For a future left-wing party to succeed there has to be a strong grassroots support for the party and under Corbyn that has returned. In addition Corbyn launched the most radical manifesto in years, far from resembling Michael Foot’s ‘suicide note’ which the media claimed it would, it generated huge enthusiasm among British people and received praise from a hostile media.
The media has generally been very hostile to Corbyn. Scrutiny of political leaders is perfectly reasonable but the degree of attacks against Corbyn and the way in which he’s been misrepresented is clearly disproportionate to the way the Tories are treated. Part of the reason Corbyn has done well in this election is because of the rules governing media coverage during an election which mandate that candidates are given equal coverage and that their speeches are reported. What this shows is that if the media were fairer to Corbyn throughout his leadership his chances of winning would have undoubtedly been greater. While the power of the traditional media has weakened, there’s little doubt that its coverage of parties and candidates still has an impact on how they’re perceived by the wider public.
Many on the left recognised that when Corbyn won the leadership contest, winning a general election was always an improbability, the sabotage which followed only furthered his odds. But for many on the left, Corbyn’s victory was in many ways more about the future direction of the party than Corbyn himself. A party in transition is always unlikely to fare well in an election where stability and unity are often valued, but if Corbyn and his supporters could win the argument on the direction the party should go, it would lay the groundwork for future electoral success. The hope is that in the coming years someone who has more leadership qualities, doesn’t have the weak spots that Corbyn does, and runs on a platform as left-wing as his wins.
If the Tories win a majority, Corbyn should resign sometime in the coming weeks but state passionately that the path he’s led the party on should continue. He’s shown that there’s a large enthusiasm among people and especially the young for an unapologetically left-wing party.
The Lib Dems who were tipped to have a great election have done quite poorly under the uninspiring leadership of Tim Farron. It was widely expected that their share of the vote would greatly increase because of their Pro-EU stance which would attract disillusioned Labour voters who wanted another referendum. Farron to his credit has made civil liberties and the decriminasaltion of cannabis a subject of this election. Despite taking a lot of flack from the technically illiterate press, Farron has maintained his stance that encryption should not be weakened and defended his rejection of the authoritarian snoopers charter. He deserves genuine credit for that.
For the SNP, this election is unlikely to change much. Nicola Sturgeon has come under increasing scrutiny over her leadership of the party but Scottish people still prefer the party to the Tories and the staunchly unionist Scottish Labour. There are signs that under Corbyn, Labour are recovering some ground in Scotland but the sense of betrayal many Scots hold for Labour over their project fear campaign during the 2014 independence referendum lingers. The SNP who have called for another referendum on Scottish independence have had to tone down the calls for another referendum because during this time it’s not popular. Sturgeon no doubt will expect that under a Tory government and the hard Brexit they promise, support for a 2nd referendum will increase especially considering the Scots voted overwhelming to remain a part of the EU.
The horrendous events in Manchester and London have overshadowed the elections. The attack in Manchester which was targeted at young people was particularly gruesome and sinister.
The timing of the attacks are unlikely to be coincidental. ISIS make no secret of wanting to influence politics. They have said in the past that their goal is to eliminate the grayzone of coexistence between Muslims and the West. These attacks are intended to engender a backlash against Muslims in the West, in the hopes that they’ll become more sympathetic to ISIS’ goals. A win for Corbyn would be a disaster for ISIS because it would show that contrary to their claims about everyone in the West hating Muslims, there is a significant number of people who don’t want to demonise Muslims and who don’t think bombing is the solution to the problems in the Middle-East. On the other hand Theresa May has pandered to xenophobic nationalism and threatened more authoritarianism in the wake of the attacks.
The Muslim community who are invariably blamed for not doing enough to stop the terrorists alerted the authorities over their concerns regarding them. One of the London attackers was also banned from his mosque for his extremist views.
The attacks inevitably turned the discussion to security which Corbyn is perceived as being weak on despite being vindicated on a number of security issues. Security also became a bit of headache for May because of her time as home secretary when she cut some 20,000 police officers despite warnings that it would risk the security of Britain. The Tories also received some criticism for their cosy relationship with the Saudi government, but this is an issue that the average British person just doesn’t care about.
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London came under vicious attacks from US president Donald Trump. Trump deliberately took Khan’s comments out of context at a time when he should be showing solidarity towards London. His remarks were rebuked by people within his own government and political leaders of Britain. Conspicuously absent in denunciations of his comments was Theresa May, who also refused to public denounce him for his decision to exit the Paris agreement.
The response to the attacks have been a lesson in the proper way to respond to terrorism. Instead of playing into the terrorists’ hands people within Manchester have shown unity and displayed courage. The One Manchester Concert was poignant and inspiring and the perfect way to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks and also a defiant reminder to the terrorists that people will not be cowered by terror. Credit must go to Ariana Grande for returning so soon after the attack, visiting the wounded in hospital and relatives of the victims and putting on a concert which uplifted the city.
The Tories now have the task of leading the country through a tough period. They’re an unpopular party and their regressive and anachronistic ideology is ill-equipped to deal with modern challenges. Under Brexit the perils and failures of their policies will be laid bare to the British public. Tories’ weaknesses will be exposed and the party will likely incur major long term damage because of Brexit. The electorate – especially the youth will feel betrayed and turn to someone else for solutions. The Labour Party and the Left should be prepared for when that day arrives.