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How populism downed Labour’s Red Wall in the UK

Toaha Qureshi (MBE), London

The results of UK’s General Elections were astounding. In what was a surprising shock to the entire nation – from the North Sea to the Irish Sea – the red wall of the Labour turned in to rubble. Since the BREXIT referendum in 2016, Remainers and Brexiteers had wrestled for the control of Parliament. The relentless Brexit conundrum consumed two Prime Ministers and many senior ministers in the process.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron had to resign as the referendum did not go in his favour. Theresa May lost control of her party as well as the Party’s majority in Parliament and caused severe die-hard party stalwarts like John Major (ex-Prime Minister), Sir Nicholas Soames Kenneth Clark, Michael Heseltine to either leave the party or become independent. The conservatives, now led by Boris Johnson, just won the electoral battle by a decisive 81 seats’ majority. The election was overshadowed by the Brexit debate, with Boris Johnson achieving his strapline “get Brexit done”.

Populism taking its toll

The shock outcome underscored an unfortunate reality; whether UK or the United States, populism and nationalism is taking its toll. Both states have had similar leadership hopefuls and the winners share very identical routes to success; both have focused on international issues and lunged into many wars in the Middle East, turning a blind eye to internal problems such as clean water in Detroit, the British National Health Services and police departments in both countries. Though Labour and others tried to highlight national issues including security, the NHS, university education and more, the exit from the EU dominated the entire discourse.

Costly External Wars

The external wars seem to have pushed the US and UK into heavy debts; the U.S. government’s public debt is almost 23 trillion dollars- the highest ever, tax revenue has fallen, yet federal spending continues to rise. The new debt level reflects a rise of more than $2 trillion from the day President Trump took office in 2017. The UK government’s debt is £1,821.3 billion, equivalent to 85.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP). As a result, 14.3 million people in the UK are in poverty, 4.5 million are in deep poverty – a third of all those on the breadline, and 7% of the population. Austerity measures and welfare changes drive rising poverty and food bank users found most were in extreme poverty.

Another depressing fact looming large is the large disenfranchised swathes in both countries. These marginalised citizens are fed up with conventional politicians and the political system, and looking for persons who resonate their lingo.

Shift to the Right

Across the world, we have seen a shift to the far-right ideology; ironically, both Trump and Johnson have been challenged as liars, misogynists and racists, yet it has not blocked their success. The world knows how Mr. Trump attracted the populist votes by amplifying fear and hate, harped on false narratives on immigration and demonised Muslim countries by banning seven countries which eventually was stopped by the US courts.

Although Mr.Trump has been impeached by the Congress, if there is an election in America today, Mr. Trump would probably win with an even bigger majority than before.

Boris Jonson has had his share of “accolades” ;  derided as Trump junior by many, he has also been called the party clown and buffoon but  he carried the day – riding on populism and with open support from Trump – the first time a US president directly intervened in British politics by supporting Boris Johnson and criticizing Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition leader. Nobody took Mr. Johnson seriously when he wanted to contest the leadership of his own party but he has proved many pundits and gurus wrong.

Some other similarities between the Trump and Johnson campaign were also visible; the “Trumpian” tactics betrayed strains of dictatorship, not of a man leading the modern free world country. Ducking accountability, avoiding certain media, banning individual news outlets from the Conservative campaign, spreading fake news and misleading the public were some of the Trumpian tactics that Mr. Johnson deployed too.

No surprise, therefore, that this election marked new lows in the British politics.

Boris the giant-slayer?

Mr. Johnson used the slogan “Get Brexit Done” which worked very well with the masses in the Northern areas as well as in the North East. For several years, the British media and politicians have been demonising European non-EEA citizens by accusing them of taking over British jobs and making use of services intended for the indigenous. Unfortunately, this narrative, especially over the last four years has become very toxic, despite many calling for the conversation and language to be toned down. Members of Parliament who voted on bills resisting a hard Brexit have been called traitors and sell outs whilst others have had offices attacked by the public.

Labour the Loser

Labour had a strong stance on a number of important issues, particularly the National Health Service. They showed that the Conservatives had lied about their deals with the American government on NHS privatisation and the increase of drugs. The Supreme Court also found Boris Johnson having lied to the Queen. The Conservative election campaign was marred by accusations of fake news and misleading pledges: stating 50,000 more nurses will be hired and 40 new hospitals.  Big promises but low delivery.

But what the Labour failed to understand that the disenchanted voters have made up their mind to exit Europe. The Labour party leader Corbyn had always supported the Palestinian plight, supported an end to illegal Israeli settlements but carried the baggage of being anti-Semitic. Sadly, right before the election the Chief Rabbi condemned Mr. Corbyn for being anti-Semitic and endorsed Mr. Johnson. The British- Indian community was also annoyed with the Labour leadership for their support to the plight of Kashmiris to the backdrop of India’s August 5 literal annexation of Kashmir. Both factors clearly worked against the Labour.

Fears

Many people are fearful that the election victories of both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have emboldened the far right, leading to increased hate crimes, including those committed against faith. Will Mr. Johnson be a unifying figure for the UK? Will he be able to heal the rift caused by the Brexit debate? Will Mr. Johnson make good on his pledges to the voters?

Interestingly, Mr. Johnson reneged on some of his claims, including an inquiry into Islamophobia and protections for workers and child refugees. Whether or not this isolationist and inward-looking route works out remains to be seen. For now, we can only look on as Johnson’s agenda unfolds.

The writer is an analyst on BBC, ITV, CNN, South Asian media and many newspapers. Author of three books and regular speaker on international conferences. He can be reached via email at chairman@fird.org.uk

Source: Matrix Mag

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