19.12.2019

UK Election 2019

Brexit was at first only a Tory internal obsession and a Mad Max capitalists' wet dream. Most Britons didn't much care or know about the EU except as a newspaper spectre "taking our freedoms". But then "ham C-3PO" David Cameron put it to a popular referendum. Cunning populist operators like toff blond mop Boris Johnson discovered, to their own surprise, that it could be much more: a cipher and vehicle for discontent about the modern globalised world, frustration about being left behind, anxiety about immigration, and much else. So Brexit won and has been the elephant in Westminster ever since.

Nine months before the referendum, but connected to the issues that drove its result, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader on a "classic" left-wing platform. Of course the right-wing media demonised him as they had mild-mannered Ed Miliband, but he made it easy for them and hard for his supporters by never finding a terrorist group he didn't like, exacerbating Labour's antisemitism crisis and not having the most winning personality or leader's profile for today's politics. Whatever you think about Johnson, he at least seems affable enough so you wouldn't mind being stuck in an elevator with him (briefly). It's an act, but who said politicians don't need to be actors nowadays? Good actors give us satisfaction, joy and a feeling of peace, no small feats.

But there is also considerable value in the analysis that a great realignment is happening in electorates around the world, away from traditional left-right views on economics towards a more complex model including views on openness ("Citizens of Nowhere", pro globalisation and immigration, better educated, woke etc.) and closedness ("Somewheres", anti globalisation and immigration, less educated, anti PC etc.) With this new axis, you could then sort UK voters into four quadrants:
  1. "National socialists" - "Benefits for us first", distrustful of elites, live in small towns etc.; Leave
  2. "International socialists" - Young people disillusioned with capitalism by precarious jobs, sky-high rents and tuition fees, climate change activists etc.; Remain
  3. "International liberals" - Londoners, people who worked e.g. in Dubai, highly educated, employ a nanny etc.; Remain
  4. "National liberals" - A bit contradictory, but "classic" small-c conservatives, "Buy British", pensioners in Surrey, "No one handed me anything"; lean Leave.
The Tories used to have a lock on 4 and many 3 voters, but had no chance with 1 and most 2 people; Labour would be guaranteed most 1, many 2 and some 3 votes. But now, and at least for the past two elections, many 1 voters are moving to the Conservatives. The Tories are repositioning themselves as their advocates, consciously so since Johnson became Prime Minister. In effect, the Conservatives seem to be moving away from the traditional model of European continental christian democratic parties towards a more populist mould similar to France's Rassemblement National or Poland's Law and Justice parties. Labour, however, is shrinking to group 2 and gaining 3 voters, but not nearly enough to counter the loss of group 1. Many social democratic parties globally are having the same existential problem. They are desperately searching for solutions allowing them to square the circle of being both for and against globalisation, immigration, political correctness, Brexit and other salient issues. Apparently, a return to 70s-style nationalisation and campaign tactics isn't one.

This realignment analysis can help explain why the smaller the town, the fewer Labour votes this time; the more Leave votes, the more Tory votes; the higher the education level, the more Labour votes; the more deprivation, the more Tory votes(!); and the younger, the more Labour. Otherwise, it would be baffling how the Tories could gain any majority, particularly in deprived constituencies, after a decade of crippling austerity under their watch. But not least the American Republicans who are now not only fully populist like the Rassemblement National, but heavily flirting with fascism like the Italian Lega or the German Alternative für Deutschland, have shown that you can make people vote against their economic interests literally for decades if you only get and exploit their cultural, social and political fears and worries. And the more desperate communities become due to right-wing economic policies Republicans and Tories actually execute once in power, the more receptive they become to populist messaging about foreign scapegoats and scary reds who want to distribute your meager belongings to THEM. Left-wing parties who say they care about "the many" therefore need to find answers to all these conundrums soon, or else we will face dark times once ever more people get left behind, climate change ramps up even more and economic crises, automation and globalisation lead to mass layoffs.

For after all, closed national populism was already once perfected in the country that likes to perfect things, Germany, by a party. And that party made very clear in its name which quadrant it pretended to work for.