Sunday, December 15, 2019

Tory Tide

“The trouble with socialism is that it would take too many evenings.”
 —Oscar Wilde, on the potential time drain of central planning
Way back in 2013 (that’s six years ago, for those not completely awake) some lazy blogger chanced his arm by bringing up an article in The Economist magazine about political trends among young people in Britain.

“The writer concludes,” wrote this blogger, “by describing how he spoke to young people of varying backgrounds, regions and levels of political engagement and asked if there were any politicians that appealed to them. ‘The reaction was strikingly uniform,’ he writes, ‘silence, then contemplation, then a one-word answer—“Boris”—before a flood of agreement: “Oh yeah, I’d vote for Boris Johnson.” The chaotic, colourful mayor of London, a rare politician who transcends his Tory identity by melding social and economic liberalism, appears to have Britain’s libertarian youth in the bag. The 2020 election beckons.’ ”

Did I mention that was written six years ago? Well, fair play to the staff writer who penned that prescient Economist piece and, especially, to the insightful blogger who highlighted it. (Yes, ’twas I.)

In fairness, it was not a perfect forecast. The election was held in December of 2019, not 2020. More importantly, while Johnson’s brand of classic (as opposed to modern) liberalism was undoubtedly a factor, it was not the main thing about him that propelled his party to one of the most decisive and unanticipated victories in UK politics for quite some time.

What the magazine writer and the blogger could not have anticipated was that the almost-2020 election would be dominated by something called Brexit. In another country under other circumstances, the election could well have been a second referendum on whether Britain should really be leaving the European Union. Because of the quirkiness of the UK political system, the choices felt more like a carnival con man’s shell game than a straightforward binary choice. The two major parties were each internally divided between Remainers and Brexiteers. The one viable and unambiguously pro-Remain party (the Liberal Democrats) should have been positioned to replace one of the major parties, but somehow it was led by a seemingly nice Scottish woman, who not only managed to alienate voters in general but who ended up losing her own seat in Parliament.

If you were a Remainer who couldn’t stomach the Lib Dems, then your logical choice should have been Labour, whose position was to promise a second referendum and thus a chance to reverse the 2016 referendum that kicked off the Brexit process in the first place. Yet Labour’s vote fell way, way below the number of Remain votes three years ago, and in fact, Labour was routed worse than has happened for decades. Had that many people been won over to the Brexit side? Doubtful.

For his part Johnson, upon taking over Conservative Party leadership from the hapless Theresa May in July, was bedeviled by divisions in his own party. That plus successful machinations by other parties meant that his only hope of achieving an orderly Brexit was to win a decisive Tory majority. He succeeded smashingly.

How did he do it? For one thing, he went head-to-head with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in promising to spend shed-loads of government money. More importantly, though, he relentlessly and tirelessly repeated one single, simple message over and over and over: Get Brexit Done.

Unlike Labour, whose leader did his best to avoid talking about Brexit or to even take a personal position on it (he voted to leave the EU in 2016), voters had a clear idea what they were voting for with the Conservatives. The “Get Brexit Done” mantra was inspired in that, while obviously sitting well with Brexit supporters, it also had an appeal for the mass of voters who, after three years, just wanted the whole mess finally ended, one way or another.

There is another major contributing factor to Labour’s disastrous performance—one which Joe Biden was quick to seize upon in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in the States. Since the departure of Ed Miliband as Labour leader four years ago, the party has been permeated and controlled by the far left. Corbyn’s life and career have been devoted to socialism and left-wing causes, including violent insurgents such as the Irish Republican Army. Despite the state of lawlessness and extra-constitutional rule in Venezuela, he has yet to denounce or even criticize Nicol├ís Maduro’s regime. If he had become prime minister, the country could have looked forward to a wave of high taxes and wholescale nationalizations.

Particularly troubling have been the defections and internal criticism within the party itself having to do with Corbyn’s tolerance for a growing anti-Semite element. The situation got so bad that Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis took the unusual step of publicly speaking out.

We seem to be in an age where political parties strive to cast their opponents as not just wrong on policy but as illegitimate and disqualified from even holding office. We see this approach in the U.S. with the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings and in the Republican response. Dems say it is not safe to leave the president in office for the eleven months until the next election. The GOP suggests that one-party partisan impeachment is a sign that Democrats themselves are anti-democratic.

In Boris Johnson’s case, he did not have to invent an opposition that was virtually disqualified from governing. Could one or other of the American parties next year find itself in a similar situation?