UK Election: the new Challenges
The results of the UK election appear to be a grandiose victory for Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party (80 seats). With that in mind, it makes sense to look beyond appearances to understand the possible consequences on some of the critical challenges facing the UK and Northern Ireland. I believe that this election is likely to be good for the country.
The collapse of the Labour Party
The gain of seats by the Conservative party is first and foremost driven by the loss of the Labour Party. The personality of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was weak and unattractive, which did not help his efforts. While Corbyn and the “Corbynites” continue to defend “Corbynism”, their attempt to blame the election on Brexit is not confirmed by numbers. The loss in the “Leave” districts is 10.4% while it is 6.4% in the “Remain” ones.
Behind the Labour Manifesto, drastic measures are reminiscent of a 1960ies program. The huge strikes of 60 years ago have proven to be not convincing today and inconsistent with the social and economic evolution of the country.
When the Labour Party blames Brexit for its failure, it forgets that with the 2016 referendum and in the subsequent three years, they never had a clear policy stance. Instead, Labour navigated between various scenarios. It allowed the Conservative Party, who launched and lost the referendum, to be the Brexit champion during this election.
This situation will challenge Jeremy Corbyn, but more importantly, it will further distance the Labour electorate from the elite. This historically led to social unrest, especially in view of the fact that a new election before the end of the 5-year term is unlikely.
The situation is similar to what happened in France where the “left” split in three pieces, lost it all and triggered the Yellow Vests reaction on the street.
The Unity of the Kingdom and the Conservative Party.
Will Boris Johnson be visionary enough to understand how fragmented the UK has become during the past three years and work on a form of reunification? His abrasive campaign allows us to doubt it.
The Scottish National Party is by far the third party in Britain, with 48 seats. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon immediately called for a new referendum on Scottish independence. Will it be limited to Scotland? The Irish situation has also been very divisive to the point of threatening the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The DUP, who partnered with the Conservatives, lost in favor of Sinn Féin, the Republican Party favorable to a reunification of Ireland.
Last but not least, since the Labour Party lost the election, the Prime Minister is not certain that the Conservative lawmakers will follow all his initiatives. A vote “against” is not an endorsement of a program. After all, the impossibility for the House of Commons to agree on Brexit was due to “dissident” groups inside the party who will not blindly agree on his policies. The margin of the Conservative Party will certainly mitigate that risk. However, unifying the party might prove challenging.
The future of Brexit: the second referendum took place
The “new” withdrawal agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson is a vindication of the work done by Theresa May’s cabinet. The only changes aim at making Northern Ireland part of the “economic space” of Ireland, and therefore the EU.
Whatever Boris Johnson claimed during the campaign, he will wake up with a headache when he will start to negotiate the trade agreement between the UK and the EU. He wants his cake and eat it: not being tied to European regulation and being free to trade with them.
The focus will therefore be on the chapters and verses of the trade agreement that he wants to have by the end of 2020. The initiative will be squarely in the camp of the European Commission and its negotiator, Michel Barnier.
The good news, however, is that there is no more need for a second referendum: since the Conservative Party campaigned on making Brexit happen quickly, its success is effectively a substantial popular endorsement of Brexit. The miserable score of the Lib Dems (11 seats) is there to confirm that the British electorate has effectively endorsed the separation with the EU, and that the question of Brexit has been answered.
A good election for the country
Despite these challenges, this election is positive for the country: a strong leadership, a substantial majority and a clear program represent an opportunity for the United Kingdom. The threats of the Labour Party on the corporate and financial world vanished.
The social challenges are not going to walk away because the Labour Party lost this election and will need to be addressed. The inequality in Britain is one of the widest in Europe. Will the Conservatives care about it?
As insular as it might be, the United Kingdom is a force to be counted with. More than anything else, the acceptance of Brexit and a clear direction will represent a huge asset for the country.