ELECTIONS IN THE UK


With the Conservative Party polling at 42 percent and the Labour Party at 32 percent, the results on December 12 appear to be a likely Conservative Party victory. Although the race appears to be tightening, Labour seems to have exhausted its capacity to draw down more of the Liberal Democrats’ remain (in the European Union) support, having already reduced that party from 18 to 13 percent, aided by its leader’s poor performance at a recent question and answer session. With Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union) as the dominant issue, Labour is also in danger of losing to the Conservatives some of its marginal seats with majority leave support. Leave voters remain solidly behind the Conservatives while remain supporters are split between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists.

In order to avoid alienating Labour supporters, who also support leaving the European Union, the Labour Party was forced into a three-pronged strategy – renegotiation of the Brexit deal followed by a referendum, Jeremy Corbin’s neutrality, and an emphasis in the election campaign on social and economic issues. This was only partially successful. The manifesto of the Labour Party attracted wide attention and support for its radical proposals on nationalization, tax increases for the wealthy, social benefits, increased funding for the health service, a shorter working week, elimination of austerity and many others. The Conservative Party’s manifesto proposals on social and economic issues were far more modest and attracted comment only in so far as they were unfavourably compared to Labour’s.

There are some suggestions that the polls should not be relied on. At the last elections in 2017, despite a lead in the polls, the Conservative majority was wiped out and Prime Minister Theresa May struggled through with the support of twelve Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist MPs. Jeremy Corbin became a star attraction on the campaign trail and youth and students came out in large numbers in support of the Labour Party. Corbin has not caught fire this time around but the voter registration campaign among students and youth have been extensive and it is hoped by Labour supporters that this will impact the Labour vote more positively than the polls are suggesting.

In the UK and other developed countries, large sections of the electorate can change their minds shortly before the elections to impact the results such as in the US on November 9, 2016. Experts suggest that Hillary Clinton’s support sagged from the time James Comey, the director of the FBI, wrote to the US Congress on October 28 informing it that the FBI had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent in the investigation” into the private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state. The FBI had cleared Clinton of any wrongdoing shortly before. It is estimated that the letter resulted in a swing to Trump of about 4 percent resulting in his victory. In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has steadfastly refused to be interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, known for his penetrating and aggressive questioning. Johnson’s vulnerabilities – based on allegations of lying and racism – are numerous and it is no doubt feared that a disastrous performance at such an interview can wipe out the Conservative Party lead.

Manifestos mean something outside of Guyana. Called the “platform” in the US, President Obama apologized when challenged about his failure to reform immigration laws. He made no excuses even though he was not at fault. The Republicans had defeated the Democrats in congressional elections and immigration legislation was an impossibility. Contrast that with Guyana where the government is in the majority but Prime Minister Nagamootoo continues to make excuses for the failure of his government to proceed with constitutional reform to implement shared governance as promised within 90 days in its 2015 manifesto. But in Guyana such a major failure means absolutely nothing at election time. With ethnic voting patterns of 80 to 90 percent of the population, voting is not based on election promises reflected in manifestos, or whether or not a party fulfilled its manifesto promises.

General Secretary of the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP), Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, did not quite capture the position when he said as his party launched a synopsis of the PPP’s manifesto last week that “…. people are very skeptical about promises made in manifestos.” He would have been more accurate if he had said that the electorate is not influenced by manifestos.

Recent President of the Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk, remarked that Brexit was “one of the most spectacular mistakes in this history of the European Union” followed by a campaign marked by an “unprecedented readiness to lie.” But the UK, like the US and much of Europe, conservative politics, which are generally alien to our political environments, dominate. In the UK in particular, the history of empire and colonial domination have bequeathed a strong sense of insularity which has sustained support for Brexit, notwithstanding the negative consequences that will ensue.

It is to be noted that Jeremy Corbin, described as a ‘curmudgeon’ of the left, in his early seventies, like Bernie Sanders of the US, in his late seventies, continue to attract wide support from youth and students.

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