Saro Thiruppathy reports on the victories and defeats of the UK general election

The now famous election slogan of the Conservative (Tory) Party ‘Get Brexit Done’ conveyed a single convincing message to British voters; and it led to a landslide victory for the Tories on 12 December in what was its largest electoral win since 1987.

In his usual loud and blustery manner, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was triumphant on the steps of 10 Downing Street: “We did it! We pulled it off, didn’t we? We broke the deadlock. We ended the gridlock. We smashed the roadblock.”

He also noted that the Tories won votes from people who had never voted for them before. The Conservatives gained 66 seats and won a total of 365, while the beleaguered Labour Party surrendered 42 seats and ended with 203.

Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained 13 and won 48 seats in sum. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost two electorates and won eight while Sinn Féin retained seven seats in Westminster. For the first time in history, the final tally for Northern Ireland reflects a higher number of nationalist parties than unionists.

So why did Johnson – who is accused of being a liar, racist, elitist, promoter of austerity for the British public, and supporter of banks and the rich – enjoy a resounding victory? And despite its social justice, poverty alleviation and climate change manifesto, why did Labour fail to gain traction among its traditional voter base?

Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity seems to be at the core of the election defeat in addition to other issues as well. He succeeded as Labour leader upon the resignation of Ed Miliband after the party was defeated at the 2015 election.

Several Labour MPs complained that during the door-to-door campaign, many traditional voters expressed a strong dislike of Corbyn. According to market research firm Ipsos MORI, Corbyn went into the campaign with the lowest net satisfaction ratings of any opposition leader since the late 1970s. His former support for the Irish republican movement and accusations of antisemitism also contributed to casting Corbyn in a bad light.

The Labour manifesto was considered too detailed and long, and supporters were reportedly rattled by the numerous offerings on the table. Additionally, the proposals were more suited for a 10 year period than a five year term. The offer of a free broadband service was also considered an unnecessary luxury by traditional blue-collar Labour voters.

Many voters (even those who had voted to remain in the EU) felt that the Labour Party was trying to derail the Brexit process while ignoring the wishes of the majority who had chosen to leave the European Union.

It also seems as though Labour had taken its traditional voter base from among the working class for granted. The party failed to convince traditional Labour constituencies, which made up the so-called ‘red wall,’ that the party did in fact have their best interests at heart. This resulted in a number of seats falling to the Conservatives – some after a century or so of voting Labour.

So what else contributed to the Tory victory?

In addition to their simple core message of ‘Get Brexit Done’ and an ultra-cautious manifesto, the Tories won because of the Labour Party’s perceived weaknesses. Although Johnson is also a rather unpopular figure, his leadership ratings were much higher than Corbyn’s. Moreover, the prime minister wisely stuck to the script to avoid making his usual gaffes – in fact, he stayed away from many contentious debates.

Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party also helped the Tories win big. Farage cleverly approached Labour voters who were disgruntled with their party, and wanted Brexit to be done and dusted. These voters were fed up with Labour but weren’t quite prepared to cast their ballot in favour of the Tories. The Brexit Party provided them with an opportunity to punish Labour without feeling guilty about having to vote Conservative.

Even though the Brexit Party itself folded, it managed to rob Labour votes and enabled the Tories to gain in many constituencies because it stood down in 317 of them so as to not split the pro-Brexit vote.

The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon is euphoric because the SNP won a landslide victory with 48 seats compared to the Tories who secured only six. She says Scotland will proceed with a referendum for independence from the UK since the Scots have preferred to remain
within the EU.

So the next step for Johnson is to take the UK out of the EU as promised on 31 January and work during the transition period to secure a trade deal with the bloc. If he fails to achieve this by the end of December, the UK will head for a ‘no-deal Brexit.’ He will also be working to ink FTAs with other countries during this time.

Analysts will be watching for the implementation of other election pledges such as not privatising the NHS and increasing funding for it, building new hospitals, hiring more doctors and nurses, putting 20,000 more police officers on the streets, reducing immigration, placing a triple lock on taxes (i.e. income tax, national insurance and VAT), and funding education and childcare.

Meanwhile, 8.3 million working age adults, 4.6 million children and 1.3 million pensioners who are living in poverty – as well as more than 300,000 homeless people including children – will also be watching as the prospect of nationalism trumping social justice looms on the horizon.