A rapidly changing political landscape, leadership failures, and the most categorical verdict on Brexit yet, Thursday’s UK general election was most definitely the political event of the year, with many lessons to learn.
Labour’s identity crisis
Suffering their worst defeat since 1935, losing a total of 60 seats, and receiving their fourth successive loss in a general election, the party of Jeremy Corbyn is in need of profound deep reflection.
To truly ascertain the damage inflicted on Labour’s electoral performance, it simply cannot be concluded that there was only a single element that lead to the party’s downfall.
Running on the high of their 2017 electoral increase, Labour propelled themselves on the electorate, aiming to speak to every sector of UK voters. Reports from door-to-door canvassing however, cast a negative on this strategy. Complaints from party members were overwhelming, but largely the same; there is too much content in the Labour manifesto. Some last-minute policies, including free broadband, failed to gain merit among voters. Voters were left confused and overloaded, drowning any possible inspiration for a potential Labour government.
Resources and support were predominantly allocated to urban areas, while limited attention was given to those seats in England’s midlands and the North.
The party’s stance on Brexit is also credited for the loss in the midlands and north. While the Labour leadership has blamed Brexit for overshadowing other issues the party felt were just as critical in this election, working class constituencies still voted with leaving the EU as their top hot button issue. Many of the previously Labour stronghold seats in the midlands were also overwhelmingly leave regions. Voters felt insulted that Labour was not adhering to the will of the people from the 2016 referendum.
The prospect of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister startled many Britons. Working-class voters felt that Corbyn, a middle class Londoner, was out of touch with their concerns, despite campaigning on policies such as taxing billionaires and adequately funding public services such NHS – issues one would think would undoubtedly have some appeal with low-income voters. This manifested in long-held Labour seats such as Bolsover, Rother Valley, Blyth Valley, Darlington and Redcar swinging to the Tories. Some of these seats had been in Labour’s corner for almost 100 years.
Shifting political landscape, greatly determined by Brexit
While there were losses for some, there were notable gains for others. The Scottish National Party (SNP) came out victorious, scoring 48 out of the 59 House of Commons seats in Scotland. SNP Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, feeling empowered by this result, is adamant to push ahead for another referendum on Scottish independence, more than ever driven by the reality that the UK will leave the EU, while much of Scotland wishes to remain a member state. Scotland was categorically a remain region in the 2016 referendum.
The Northern Ireland nationalist party, Sinn Fein maintained from the previous election, their rival, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost 2 seats. The matter of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has been a contentious issue on Brexit. Many nationalist voters in Northern Ireland want to see a united Ireland removed from the UK, in order to remain a member of the EU. If a Brexit deal is passed without any clarity on the Irish border, it will leave the two Irelands in a predicament of how an open border can exist between an EU member and a non-EU state. The inability of Northern Ireland’s two contemporary parties to get the Irish Parliament operational again has been a contributing factor to their electoral performance.
The Tory gains in the midlands from long-held Labour seats also signals a dramatic shift of working-class voters towards anti-globalist policies and parties. This growing trend was finally realised in the 2016 Brexit referendum as well as Donald Trump’s victory later the same year and now emboldened in this year’s election. This is a horrifying indictment on Labour, considering the origins of the party’s formation comes from their name, working-class communities are now acknowledging Boris Johnson’s conservative party as their home.
British politics is highly volatile
Previous elections have proven over and over that British politics is always turbulent. Snap elections are called out of the blue, leaders resign due party’s poor performance and long-time MPs can suddenly find themselves without a job after losing their seat.
We saw such instances in this election.
Having been elected as the Leader of her party just some 5 months ago, Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats campaigned tirelessly on a platform of preventing Brexit. Despite the efforts from Britain’s centrist party, the Lib Dems lost ground, including their seat of East Dunbartonshire, which was held by Swinson. The first female to head the party, Swinson resigned as leader following the election result.
Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner, lost his seat of Bolsover, another midlands constituency that went to the Tories. Skinner had occupied this seat since 1970.
All about Brexit
While anti-Brexit parties pushed hard to campaign around other issues such as healthcare, education, police and crime, the 2019 general election remained very-much centralised around Brexit. Johnson and Conservatives campaigned fearlessly for a Brexit deal and received an outright majority. The voters expressed their choice and they want to leave the EU, as they had previously articulated in the 2016 referendum. Despite what some might feel, this was democracy in action.
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