The historic “Brexit” issue UK elections

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By Shahid Dastgir Khan

The day before the Christmas 2019 election, PM Boris Johnson warned about the possibility of a hung parliament and urged the voters to “get Brexit done”. That message resonated throughout his campaign. When the exit poll predicted a Conservative majority of 365 to labour191 not only Boris Johnson, but most of the nation got a very unexpected surprise.

During the campaign Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn targeted the NHS reforms as his party’s strongest electioncampaign issue.There is no doubt that the NHS, the envy of the world and the most precious gift to the British people soon after World War II by Labour PM Clement Attlee, is not in a good state, with patients waiting for very long hours in trolleys in hospital corridors, to find a bed and GP appointments are often difficult to get on time, increasing the risks, particularly to the older patients.

There are presently 4.4 million patients on hospital waiting lists, the highest number ever. As the campaign progressed it became increasingly obvious that the two issues that could decide the outcome of the election were going to be the Brexit vote and the NHS. Both these issues were strongly argued in the televised Prime Ministerial debates. On the other hand, Conservative leader PM Boris Johnson kept reminding the electorate of the importance of Brexit and a one nation government. After being returned to Westminster with 365 seats, he declared this would give him a mandate to “get Brexit done” and take the UK out of the EU next month. Mr Corbyn said labour had a “very disappointing night” and he would be stepping down as the leader. This election gives the Conservatives their biggest majority at Westminster since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 election victory and this for Labour is its worst defeat since 1935. Mr Johnson also spoke about a people’s government and that he will work round the clock “to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities.” He spoke of a new partnership as friends and sovereign equals with the European Union, tackling climate change and terrorism, building academic and scientific cooperation and “redoubling our trading relationship”. He has promised 50 000 more jobs in the NHS and to build 40 new hospitals, better schools and safer streets. He says 2020 should be the year of prosperity, growth and hope and that he would like to deliver a Parliament that works for the people. He has also stated that he would like to unitethe whole of United Kingdom under the “one nation government”. This is a tall order in political terms and Mr Johnson’s record on his promises is not something to be trusted. He was a “remainer” but then changed to “leave” seeing an opportunity to be the Prime Minister.

Turning to the historic Labour defeat and its reasons and going back just over two decades, no one could have imagined the divisions within the Labour party would cause the leadership to be so divided, unconvincing and distanced from the ground realities resulting in failure to win an election since 2010. Previous to that, under Tony Blair’s“new labour” won three elections and the Labour party enjoyed 13 years of uninterrupted rule from 1997 to 2010. The centre right of the party gave Jeremy Corbyn a very tough time as it’s new leader from 2015 onwards and although he secured a comfortable majority as the party leader, the divisions continued with several of Labour MP’s leaving Labour feeling unhappy or dejected by its policies and some felt anti-semitism had not been properly dealt with. It would be easy to blame Mr Corbyn, but that would be unfair because it was the labour party conference that adopted the resolution regarding the UK’s position in relation to the EU and a public vote. There was no clarity which is what was required. A public vote after over three years of stalemate and confusion did not go down well with the voter and they opted for a  clear “leave”option, effectively asserting that there “leave” vote in the 2016 referendumshould have been respected and the UK should have left the EU without delay. To sit on the fence was rejected and the beneficiary of it was the Conservative party. Even Labour strong holds in the Midlands and the North, despite economic deprivation, opted to vote Conservative. Reading the mood of the people, PM Boris Johnson stalled the process of amendment of the withdrawal agreement, negotiated by his government by calling a general election and his repeated “get Brexit done” worked for him. On the other hand, despite round the clock Labour campaign by its dedicated party workers and byMr Corbyn himselfworking tirelessly, day and night, the people opted to prefer voting on Brexit and not on alternative welfare oriented policies presented by Labour on the NHS, housing and homelessness, longer maternity leave, students and the environment.

Labour party was born out of trade union and socialist movement in 1900 and is relatively much younger than its rival Conservative party which has a capitalist ideology. Traditionally and historically, Labour fights elections on issues surrounding the welfare of the people, most importantly the NHS and public services. It seems that looking at the results over the last three decades or more, people are not prepared to pay for social welfare a small increase in taxes.Striking the right balance will be required to lift the party and win over the confidence of the people in their leadership and policies. That is what needs to be discussed openly and frankly rather than infighting within the party which could further damage its image with the voter.

In Scotland, a completely different picture emerged with the SNP taking 80% of the Scottish vote and 48 seats at Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader immediately announced that the result “renews, reinforces and strengthens the mandate we have from previous elections to offer the people of Scotland a choice over their future” whilst Jo Swinsonthe Lib Dem leader lost narrowly by 149 votes to SNP acknowledging that she was devastated adding that millions would be. She termed the election a “nationalist surge” and that the people would have to work together to find new answers.

It is hard to see how PM Mr Johnson can win over Scotland and succeed in turning his government into a one nation government or a people’s government. On the contrary, the country is far more divided and polarised with London voting for Labour, the Midlands and the North opting for Brexit in large numbers, though these are the towns that arelikely to have been hit most because of the Conservative austerity and economic policies. The “remain” independent former MP who left the two majors political parties failed to be re-elected to Parliament. These included the former conservative MP Anna Schreiber and the former Labour MP Kevin Sucher, Chris Lesley and Mike Gapes. The losing parties will soon elector new leaders, but they will also have to find policies and the direction to win over voters who have deserted them in this election.

Apart from many domestic issues, it is puzzling why the majority of people in Britain could not find themselves friends aligned to Europe. One other factor reality remains the fact that the media and the financial establishment continue to combine favouring the conservative party andthus making it even more difficult uphill task to win an election.

This election shows that believing in the right values, such as global peace and social welfare, environment friendly policies is not going to win elections unless there are mechanisms in place to ensure that the electorate fully understand and support these policies and, indeed believe in the political leadership to deliver on those policies.

Brexit is now over and whilst it is true that a week is a long time in politics, a five-year term in power is a very short time in politics. Things can completely turn around now that Brexit is done and the next elections could be very different and exciting

The writer is solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, political analyst and ex-trustee/ council member of Anti Slavery International UK. E-mail: sdk184@gmail.comFacebook:  Shahid Dastgir Khan.Twitter: @Sdk184