Boris Johnson, who will inevitably be tagged as BoJo by the tabloids, won a huge victory in Thursday’s snap elections. When the dust settled the Tories wound up with a 78 seat majority in Parliament. Also, the Scottish Nationalist Party bested Labour there, and the Tories grabbed many constituencies that have voted Labour for decades, in the process relegating Labour to its weakest position since right after World War II. What happened?
It would probably be more accurate to refer to a huge Labour loss than a big Tory win, for reasons I will get into shortly. First though, let’s consider the most likely causes for Labour’s defeat. Three are especially salient. They are: Brexit, Socialism and the rise of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
In the summer of 2016 Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). Then the political establishment spent the better part of 3 years trying to sabotage the vote—all allegedly in the interests of “saving democracy”. The strategy was to delay withdrawal from the EU until a second referendum could be held to nullify the first. In response, Johnson kicked “Remain” Tories out of the Party, called snap elections and promised to “Get Brexit Done”. For its part, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour stayed neutral on Brexit, promising a second referendum. This obvious ploy backfired. Voters who backed Brexit meant it, and they responded to Labour’s sabotage effort by abandoning the Party in droves in the December 12 vote.
The second reason for Labour’s dismal showing was its return to a hard edge Socialism not seen in Britain since the 1970s when Arthur Scargill went to to war with, and was crushed by, Margaret Thatcher. The Labour Party in its election manifesto promised a whole slew of economic policies that would crush the British economy, currently 6th largest in the world, and return it to the dark days if the 1970s—or worse.
For instance, Labour proposed its version of a Green New Deal, branded as Labour’s Green Industrial Revolution. They promised to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. They would adopt command and control policies to direct investment toward that end. They would “…rewrite the Treasury’s investment rules to guaranty that every penny spent is compatible with our climate and environmental targets”. The would regulate the country’s financial sector by giving financial authorities “…powers to manage the risk to financial stability posed by short-sighted investment in polluting assets.” They would change the listing criteria for the London Stock Exchange so that “any company that fails to contribute to tackling the climate and environmental emergency is delisted”. They proposed to “…put people and planet before profit by bringing our energy and water systems into democratic public ownership”. This is to say that they intend to nationalize utilities and energy firms and control financial firms by regulation.
And that power grab is only the beginning. Virtually every sector of the British economy would be subject to bureaucratic control through panels, commissions and the usual assortment of political arrangements. The Labour 2019 Manifesto, drawn up for the election can be found here. The British populace, sensibly enough, rejected the whole lot.
But it would be a mistake to over interpret the results. The British people simply voted against economic lunacy; they most emphatically did not endorse a retrenchment of the welfare state or radical de-regulation. On the contrary, Boris Johns promised a spending blowout on the National Health Service, public schools and other state agencies. Conservative leaning libertarians dodged a bullet, but it was not a philosophical victory—not by a long shot.
The final element in the result was the rise of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The pollsters were virtually unanimous in describing how the voters expressed dismay, if not loathing, of Jeremy Corbyn. But his policy proposals, while delusional, were nothing new. We have seen it all before. But the response to them was decidedly not expressed as a desire for freeing up markets or a reduction in the welfare state; if anything the opposite applies. Opposition to Labour tended to be expressed with respect to Jeremy Corbyn, the individual. Couple that with the rise of anti-Semitism on the political left generally, and it suggests that the British people, who have a reputation for fair play, were disgusted with Corbyn’s well-publicized flirtation with Hamas and various other anti-Semites.
It would be wise for liberals in the United States to look at the results in the UK and ponder what it may mean for politics in the U.S.