What do the changes brought about in the 2019 UK General election mean? It was an unusual election because the issue of Brexit dominated. Brexit now looks very likely to happen, as soon as next month and whatever happens will probably not be the main issue at the next election. What happens between now and then will continue to be interesting.
To understand this election it is perhaps worthy of considering how UK general elections usually work. The traditional view is that people self-interestedly vote based on their demographic grouping. In this very generalised model there were broadly two groups:
White-collar workers, people who generally work in offices are those who generally havd some spare money to save and invest, these generally vote Tory as the Tories offer reduced wealth taxes, making it easier to earn more from investments.
Blue-collar workers, people who generally work with their hands, tend not to have spare money to invest, are often unionised workers whom generally vote Labour as Labour offer improved working conditions and improved rates of pay.
Hence a traditional UK election is a battle for in-between voters; those who readily switch parties based on whom seems to have the better offer.
However this traditional model has broken down, arguably since the adoption of Thatcherism by the UK economy. This Thatcherism has led to reductions in investment in the wider UK economy, particularly in the ‘provincial’ nations nations and regions of England. Instead the focus has been on making the UK attractive to financial services, favouring capital, rentiers and leading to ever widening inequality, richer rich people and poorer poor people.
Politically this breaks the traditional model as the general economy isn’t invested in so there are ever fewer people with a little bit of money to invest, but those that do have ever larger amounts of capital. This has perhaps presented a problem for the Conservative party as their voter base is declining. Compounded by the housing crisis, where young people are disenfranchised by being unable to afford decent housing, while older generations sit in housing which has increased in value by doing nothing. Essentially Tory economics has destroyed it’s own voter base. The below chart illustrates this from the last election (I would suggest the 2019 data conforms to this pattern too)
The Tories have needed new stratagems to continue to be electorally successful. a popular strategy for struggling governments has been appeals to patriotism. For example the 1983 war with Argentina or involvements with the various conflicts in the Middle East. Arguably military spending is simply useful for keeping failing governments in power.
For the past 5 years, The Tories have used Brexit as a surrogate for war. It has a patriotic appeal, of Little Britain against the big bad EU, fuelled for decades by the right-wing media barons endlessly negatively reporting news about the EU. Frankly, it’s worked. Incidentally, looking at the results, it has been less effective in the Valleys and Merseyside, where the popularity of the UK right wing press, particularly the Sun “newspaper” is less and in these areas there popularity of Boris Johnson is a lot less pronounced, so it seems to hugely influenced by media spin, especially as Jeremy Corbyn was spun as a London metropolitan liberal. We had a campaign dominated by ‘Get Brexit Done’ when the whole Brexit saga was fabricated by the Tories themselves, there are much bigger issues facing the UK economy in actuality.
In any case FPTP has delivered Boris Johnson his majority to “Get Brexit Done” yet the percentage results if split by parties for Leave or Remain in the EU paint a different picture, Leave 46% Remain 54%. It can be viewed as a Brexit or the Union election, yet Boris Johnson seems to want both, to have his cake and eat it.
The 2019 UK general election has returned the UKs worst ever Prime Minister to majority rule (a 5 year effective dictatorship), largely on the back of what could be described as blue-collar workers in neglected provincial towns. With a compliant media demonising the EU and metropolitan liberals as the “enemies of democracy”.
Boris Johnson’s government now faces a quandary, it can take two paths, this is why the next month or so will be very interesting:
Path 1 acknowledges that the Tories have destroyed their own voter base, so need to find a new way to maintain their grip on power, and actually does all they have promised to do, to keep hold of their new working class voters. To invest in the country’s infrastructure in the provinces, to care for the Union rather than neglect it, to be become the party of the blue collar workers. This would be a huge policy U-turn for the Tory party, undoing thirty years of Tory policy, especially for one that has just expelled it’s moderate wing though, yet may be the new way for the party to retain power.
Path 2 is Tory business as usual, selling off the UKs assets like the NHS to Trump and making money for their already rich friends and allies, while continuing to work on finding a new scapegoat to attack for an appeal to patriotism in time for a future election. There is a ready enemy here, the pesky ‘Celts’. Brexit has been based on an appeal to British/English Nationalism. Such an appeal has never resonated as much in the Celtic nations, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (particularly as in this election the Unionist parties are no longer the majority in Northern Ireland). So much so, that Scottish Independence now looks very likely, though as in Spain, the UK state can stop it by force if necessary. Northern Ireland is heading seemingly inexorably towards re-unification with the Republic of Ireland and in Wales support for independence continues to grow and will continue to grow with a hostile UK government. So there is a very handy ‘enemy within’ to blame for any failure of Brexit to not make Britons poorer.
Essentially the future for the UK over the next five years is whether Boris will continue to dupe the politically uneducated or shift ground and become a stanch advocate of the UK economy. It will be interesting and probably depend on how clean or messy Brexit will be over the next year or two.