Labour’s Brexit Strategy Backfires as UK Votes to Leave EU at Any Cost

While Labour hemorrhaged votes across the board, it was in “leave” constituencies the party faired the worst, where their vote share decreased by over ten percent on average.

The Conservative Party is celebrating a resounding victory in yesterday’s General Elections in the United Kingdom. With all but one of the 650 constituencies counted, the public has elected 364 Tory Members to Parliament, on a night that saw great losses for the Labour Party. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared the moment a “new dawn” for the country and has promised to fulfill the trust placed in him by voters. He has already met with the Queen at Buckingham Palace to negotiate a new government. Turnout on a wet and cold December day was 67 percent, lower than previous votes.

Johnson campaigned on a singular message: “Get Brexit Done.” Despite the fact that the Tories have been in power in the United Kingdom since 2010, they have not been able to push through the exit from the European Union that the public voted for by 52 to 48 percent in June 2016. Living standards in the UK have been falling for decades, most notably in the post-industrial north of England. This has led to a growing resentment of official institutions, including the EU and the narrow decision to leave it, based on the hope that Brexit could revive a flagging economy. Yet the withdrawal has been blocked at every turn by an establishment who warned that any departure would prove close to economic suicide. 

Brexit is a notion primarily associated with the far-right, although people from across the spectrum decided to vote leave. In fact, around one-third of those who voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party did so. It was Corbyn who was last night’s biggest loser, as Labour suffered their worst defeat in decades. Under pressure from the centrist establishment and the media, Corbyn, an EU critic himself, had backed a second referendum on the issue, effectively calling for the annulation of the previous vote. This, for Labour Party Chairman and former coalminer Ian Lavery, was an enormous mistake:

“What we are seeing in the Labour heartlands is people very aggrieved at the fact that the party has taken a stance on Brexit in the way they have. 17.4 million people voting for Brexit and basically being ignored is not a good recipe…ignore democracy and the consequences will come back and bite you,” he said.

Lavery managed to hold on to his seat in the far north of England but felt that the London elite had forgotten about those in the north, claiming Labour had become a purely “remain” party.

While Labour hemorrhaged votes across the board, it was in “leave” constituencies the party faired the worst, where their vote share decreased by 10.4 percent on average. The party’s famous “Red Wall” across the Midlands and north of England fell, as the Conservatives, the only major party (rhetorically) backing Brexit, achieved a score of election victories. 

It was a particularly embarrassing night for the centrist Liberal Democrats, who portrayed themselves as the party of “remain”: campaigning on little else but stopping Brexit. Their leader, Jo Swinson, suffered the ignominy of losing her East Dunbartonshire seat to a resurgent Scottish National Party (SNP), who will surely call another referendum on leaving the UK themselves

The SNP were dominant north of the border, winning 48 of a possible 59 Scottish seats. This is added to the 69 of 129 representatives they won in the local Scottish elections in 2016, a remarkable achievement in a proportional representation system.

 

Right-wing leaders rejoice

Johnson has floated the possibility of leaving the EU without any deal whatsoever in place, the “hardest” of all possible Brexits. This would leave Britain in the orbit of the United States. Donald Trump signaled his pleasure at the result, hinting that Britons should celebrate an imminent “massive new trade deal” with his government, increasing fears of privatization of the country’s National Healthcare Service. Other far-right leaders like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, India’s Narendra Modi and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu also tweeted their approval of a politician they saw as part of the same global right-wing wave.

https://twitter.com/netanyahu/status/1205418525311012867

Johnson has floated the possibility of leaving the EU without any deal whatsoever in place, the “hardest” of all possible Brexits. This would leave Britain in the orbit of the United States. Donald Trump signaled his pleasure at the result, hinting that Britons should celebrate an imminent “massive new trade deal” with his government, increasing fears of privatization of the country’s National Healthcare Service. Other far-right leaders like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, India’s Narendra Modi and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu also tweeted their approval of a politician they saw as part of the same global right-wing wave.

Johnson, like Trump, presents himself as a straight-talking outsider. And like Trump, he has a long history of stoking racism. Writing in the Daily Telegraph in 2002, he described Africans as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and as last year compared burqa-wearing Muslims to letterboxes and bank robbers. Islamophobic incidents in the United Kingdom spiked by 375% after his comment. Just minutes after the polls were closed and the forecast announced, his father went on television to demand that those wearing the burqa be barred from certain professions.

On the results, British journalist Mehdi Hasan claimed that it marked a “dark day for minorities in the UK.” Nevertheless, the result will be seen on all sides as handing the Conservatives a mandate to remove Britain from the EU at all costs. Johnson will now have five years to shape Britain in whatever way he pleases.

Feature photo | Bobby Smith, a political and fathers’ rights activist and founder and leader of the ‘Give Me Back Elmo’ party, left, and Independent candidate Count Binface stand either side of Britain’s Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson wait for the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency count declaration at Brunel University in Uxbridge, London, Dec. 13, 2019. Kirsty Wigglesworth | AP

Alan MacLeod is a MintPress Staff Writer as well as an academic and writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting was published in April.