Special Briefing: Can the Left Rebuild After Boris' British Triumph?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because British voters just sent a clear message to the left.
By Dan Peleschuk
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? British voters have spoken: Projected by exit polls to win 368 seats, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party appears to have secured a massive majority in Thursday’s general election. The opposition Labour Party will likely take 191 seats — which would be its worst result since 1935 — while the Scottish National Party will take 55. By late evening, counting showed Conservatives with a 39-seat majority. Having promised to “get Brexit done,” Johnson (pictured) now is in a position to end more than three years of political turmoil by pushing through his withdrawal deal to leave the European Union on Jan. 31.
Why does it matter? This election seals the fate of Brexit and the Labour Party too. If it wants to return to power anytime soon, it’ll be forced to seriously rethink its strategy. Many believe the historic loss lies at the feet of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who often waffled on his view of Brexit and struggled to hold on to party supporters amid revelations of anti-Semitic statements from some Labour politicians — a scandal to which Corbyn was slow to react. Polls showed Corbyn was the most unpopular leader of a party heading into an election since at least 1983.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Labour intensive. All eyes will likely turn to Corbyn’s political future and potential successors. Ahead of the election, Labour members had reportedly been planning leadership challenges, but Corbyn’s allies encouraged their comrades to focus on winning today’s vote. Now that it’s over, the country’s main opposition force may well descend into an intra-party clash over its future course: Stay radical, like Corbyn, or move toward the center? Many of the rumored leadership contenders, like Corbyn supporters and shadow secretaries Rebecca Long-Bailey and Emily Thornberry, are women, potentially signaling that Labour will look to establish a new image more than a new ideological direction.
Middle of the road? Both Johnson and Corbyn suffered from low approval ratings and accusations of radicalism: The latter is further left than most Labour leaders, while the former expelled nearly two dozen conservatives for veering from his hardline position on Brexit. But both were running on new ground, since the electoral map appears to have been redrawn around Brexit. Many Remain voters were uncomfortable with Corbyn’s equivocation over the issue, while old-school Labour supporters who voted Leave are likely to have shuffled over to Johnson’s camp in this vote. Meanwhile, an American-style divisiveness colored the campaign, with many supporters of either party unwilling, or unable, to see eye to eye. That raises another question: Could that spark fresh demand for centrism?
Not so fast. Despite the impressive results, conservatives shouldn’t hope to rest easy. Sure, Brexit now appears on track — but negative economic effects are anticipated, and the party will need to navigate the country through the challenges. Their overwhelming majority means they’ll have to take responsibility for it with voters. One recent analysis found that Johnson’s negotiated breakup deal with the E.U. would shrink the U.K.’s GDP per capita by 6.4 percent.
Meanwhile, across the pond … Given the similarity in voting trends between the U.S. and Britain since the 1980s, Labour’s stinging loss raises questions over the staying power of leftist Democratic presidential candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And on matters of business, 2020 candidates may find themselves increasingly thinking about how they’d approach a post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. trade deal with a Conservative-led British government.
WHAT TO READ
Forget Brexit: The New Battle Is Over Jeremy Corbyn’s Successor, by Zoe Williams in The Guardian
“This is no longer a question of where the party stands on membership of the EU: We know Labour’s destination. The question is who will survive the landing, and in what kind of shape.”
Our Politicians Have No Answers to the Greatest Challenges of Our Time, by Jeremy Warner in The Telegraph
“On how the government will tackle mass migration, ageing and AI, the voters were offered not a clue.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Watch Boris Johnson Drive Digger Through a Wall
“It’s time for the whole country symbolically to get in the cab of a JCB … and remove the current blockage.”
Watch on Bloomberg Politics on YouTube:
What Next For Labour? LBC’s Panel Look at the Way Forward
“Most of the Labour party has effectively been taken over by Corbyn in his politics.”
Watch on LBC on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Up north. Other potential effects of the election could include the breakup of the United Kingdom. While Johnson says there won’t be a second Scottish referendum, Scots have long rankled over being taken out of the EU against their will when a majority of residents there voted to remain. Today’s results reflect that: The SNP added 20 seats in Scotland this time, for a total of 55, and former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had promised to swim naked in Loch Ness if they even got 50.
- Dan Peleschuk