Eyad Abu Shakra

British Elections... The Facts Behind The Figures

Thanks to improvements in statistics and polling, the electoral outcome aligned with projections. The British Labor Party won the elections handily yesterday, ending 14 consecutive years of Conservative Party rule.
The outcome of the early elections called for by Rishi Sunak, the outgoing Prime Minister, had been clear for a long time. Some even say that Sunak rushed to call for the elections because he had realized that it would be futile to play for time and stand still in anticipation of salvation that would never come. Moreover, the demagogues of the isolationist Reform Party were ramping up their grandstanding during this time, and the new moderate leadership of the Labor Party was “cleaning house” to reassure the establishment and the "deep state" after having turned the page on the radicalism of its predecessors.
Deep down, Sunak felt that his party had nothing more to offer but more futile tax bribes and infighting, which left four different prime ministers taking power in five years.
Accepting the obvious in a country with deep-rooted traditions like Britain, Sunak realized that the "deep state" and its institutions had stopped betting on his withering party. Rather, they welcomed the introduction of new blood with a stronger popular mandate that could serve their interests over a longer period. The clearest reflection of this shift is that some right-wing popular newspapers changed their stances, endorsing the Labor Party in recent weeks.
The British people have seen this before, after growing weary of the long "Thatcher era" (18 years, including the John Major years) that spanned from 1979 to 1997 and the decay of its authority. At the time, Labor presented a new alternative that sought to marginalize left-wing activists, weaken the hardline unionists, and cooperate with the private sector and accept both domestic and global capitalism.
Indeed, in early May 1997, Tony Blair led "New Labor" to a sweeping victory, receiving over 43 percent of the vote and winning a 178-seat majority.
What happened yesterday was "similar." The British people had also grown tired of the problems seen over the past 14 years, and a moderate Labor alternative that sidelined left-wing members emerged. As a result, the Conservatives were abandoned and they lost the election. I deliberately used the term "similar" and not "identical," given the significant differences that make the picture behind the figures clearer. The elections were more a bitter defeat for the Conservative Party... than they were a Labor victory.
Labor has won politically, and it will govern for the next four years with an extremely comfortable majority of 172 seats. However, the party only received 33.7 percent of the vote, only a 1.9 percent increase from four years ago, when they suffered a painful defeat under Jeremy Corbyn... and they nonetheless won the overwhelming majority of seats.
In my opinion, this can be explained by the following:
1. After Labor ousted the radical Corbyn and chose the "moderate" Sir Keir Starmer as their new leader, the "establishment" and the "deep state" had no reason to worry about the Labor Party, which reassured them further after explaining its goals for the long term.
2. Britain’s relationship with Europe has always been a contentious issue within the Conservative Party. Although the moderate wing that favors alignment with Europe had temporarily won when Britain joined the European family at the beginning of 1973, the right-wing "Thatcherite" faction of the party has always opposed stronger ties and deeper integration. The Brexit faction was born of that wing of the party. The irony, here, is that right-wing Conservatives’ views on Europe converged with those of the Labor Party’s left, which was also against joining the "European Common Market," though its opposition was premised on the grounds that joining this "bourgeois bloc" would harm the interests of the working class.
Later on, after Brexit advocates won the 2016 referendum and began to fear that a new referendum could overturn the results, they established the Reform Party, which included staunch opponents of a return to Europe who took a strong stance against immigration and asylum seekers.
3. The Reform Party then crystallized into a polarizing force, with some hardliners veering away from moderate isolationism and towards racism and xenophobia. Following years of internal crises in the Conservative Party, and after Labor had sidelined its leftist faction, the Reform Party gradually grew in strength. In the last general election, it received 14 percent of the vote.
4. In Scotland, its failed policies and escalating internal disagreements left the Scottish National Party (SNP) facing a collapse that paralleled that of the Conservative Party in England and Wales. Here too, the Labor Party benefited, winning most seats after having historically been a major force in Scotland before the rise of the nationalists over the past three decades.
Thus, we arrive at two conclusions:
The first conclusion is that the view that "Britain has moved to the left while most of Europe is moving to the right" is unfounded. The reality is that British extremism- both right-wing and left-wing- has become so robust and organized that it no longer needs to hide behind the Conservatives or Labor. Today, the Reform Party is copying from the "literature" of similar right-wing movements in France, Italy, and Germany.
The second conclusion is that the Scottish nationalists’ collapse could be a sign that support for a new referendum on Scottish independence is declining. Indeed, the number of SNP seats shrank from 48 to just 9, while Labor increased their seats in Scotland from 2 to 37.
Accordingly, the outcome of the British elections is significant, and it may have temporarily “put the brakes" on the shift towards far-right hegemony in Western Europe. However, the seeds of xenophobia and isolationism indicate that changes "beneath the surface" could have worrying implications in the foreseeable future.