There some eerily familiar aspects of the recent British general election. First, as I understand it much of the mainstream media was opposed to Boris Johnson and all he stood for, and sledged him and the Conservatives throughout. Second, the British elites, located both in southeast England and wherever there is a higher education institution, simply ignored the traditional working-class regions, notably northern England, and plumped for Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of socialism. The northern workers wanted jobs and an end to immigration, not socialism, and they swung in an extraordinary way to the Conservatives. Third, and connected to the second, Brexit, and ‘doing the job’ of achieving it, was what the majority wanted. Had there been a second referendum, it would most probably have reinforced the result of the first referendum. Fourth, there’s a lot of injured dignity and real affront on the part of those who thought Boris Johnson and his Tories were beyond the pale, and that those who voted for them must be pig-ignorant.
Here’s a lovely little example of the last, from The Conversation, our own go-to source for the values of the academic Left. The emphasis is mine.
Boris Johnson’s crushing win over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has delivered him an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons and means Brexit will now, as Johnson promised, “get done”. As Simon Tormey writes, one of the tricks the Conservative Party’s leader managed to pull offwas to paint himself as a saviour of public services and as a leader untarnished by ten years of Tory austerity. Britons may be in for a rude awakening, though, when they realise his agenda is tougher and more conservative than many believe.
Okay, Boris managed to convince enough of the ignorant to give him an 80-seat majority, all done by tricks. This is pretty sleazy stuff, in my opinion, but there is a lot of it in the UK, as there continues to be in the USA about President Trump. What was the cause of the big majority, especially given that the exit polls put him only 28 seats ahead in the House of Commons? Well, Brexit and the need to end the futile squabbling about it, one way or the other, has to be one major factor. A second was the lack of general appeal of the Labour leader and his policies, however attractive they were to some of the young. In contrast, Boris Johnson’s flamboyance seems to have been appealing. A third was the growing anger about uncontrolled immigration, which of course is connected to the Brexit issue, but makes Brexit a means, not an end. A fourth? Maybe there were a lot of Brits who kept quiet about how they voted, or decided to vote rather than not vote (Britain not having compulsory voting).
What was not an issue, given the Australian context, was climate change, where the Conservatives, at least publicly, are as ‘woke’ as the Labour Party. The main climate-change outcome, in electoral terms, is that the Greens won one per cent of the vote and one seat in the House of Commons, whereas here their share of the vote hovers around ten per cent, giving them nine Senators and one MP. Now, will Prime Minister Boris Johnson do anything to change his party’s policies, which seem to have been ignored by the voters in northern England though the same policies didn’t help the Labour Party? Not immediately, anyway. His current partner, labelled ‘the first squeeze’, is an ardent climate change activist, while his father seems to have joined the XR (Extinction Rebellion), which I think is about as loony an organisation as you can find anywhere.
But electricity prices are going up in the UK, as they are going up wherever alternative energy sources are being used, Australia being no exception, and the economic outlook for the UK is not one of boom, even if it is not one of bust. In Australia the ALP seems to have understood that climate change is not a vote-winner except in inner metropolitan seats where there are no droughts, no floods and no bushfires. Whether that will lead to a change in Labor policies over time is one of those wait-and-see issues. Frankly, I doubt it: too many Labor MPs are scared of losing votes to the Greens, as indeed are too many Liberals.
What interests me most is the emerging, or now real, division between two groups of citizens. The first is the group that is being called the ‘elites’ — people who are university educated, have rather or strongly Left views about the world, tend to work for publicly funded organisations, and have a large foothold in the mainstream media. The second is the rest of the electorate, people who have less education, work in the private sector, are more conservative in their social and economic views, and operate farms, small businesses and other somewhat marginal enterprises.
It is the first group that is exercised about ‘climate change’, and while there are doubtless many in the larger group who worry about it from time to time, their preoccupations are more mundane, whether or not people will still come to their little shop now that Coles or Woolies has opened up nearby, what are they going to do about child-care, how they are going to afford a second car so that the wife can get to work, and so on.
Now if all this sounds like a reprise of Labor and anti-Labor, it’s not, because it is the well-educated who are the Labor voters, not the little Aussie battlers, or the quiet Australians (or quiet Brits — the same adjective has been used in both countries). I’ve written about this before, but the UK elections have given this division an extra dimension. Where will it all end? I have no answer. I do not think that ‘socialism’ will attract British or Australian voters, let alone American ones. We have all become much wealthier, in comparison with the 1930s, the last decade when socialism and communism made real sense to a lot of people, both rich and both poor. Yes, we still have poor people and homeless people, and I’ve written about their plight before, too. But the notion that we can sort of do without private enterprise, and that the wise people in government can make better decisions about how we might spend whatever discretionary money we have, I think that message doesn’t resonate with ‘ordinary’ people, who know that they are better off than they used to be, and would like to be better off still.
I wasn’t there, but I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn sold his socialist message very well, and no doubt he was surrounded by people of his own persuasion, just as Bill Shorten was during our own election campaign earlier this year. We are beginning to hear that ‘democracy just doesn’t work’, from people who can’t understand why the common people don’t understand the message that the elites are putting to them, whether it’s about capitalism or climate change.
In my view democracy is showing its strength, and as Winston Churchill said, it’s much better than the alternatives, even if it is slow to wake up (or something like that).