The decision of British Prime Minister Theresa May to call a snap general election for Thursday, 8 June 2017 has spectacularly backfired, but is just the latest in a series of catastrophic misjudgements by British prime ministers of both parties in the twenty-first century.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the decision to invade Iraq that was Tony Blair’s biggest mistake, but the failure, along with United States, to secure the peace after the war was won, a mistake which was compounded by president Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in 2011.
Close on the heels of that mistake, however, was another. In 2004, the European Union took in the so-called A10 countries: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
In contrast to most other EU members, the Labour government under Tony Blair allowed mass immigration from these new, mostly East European members, allegedly for political gain and to change the United Kingdom into a multicultural society.
This thinking went back to the 1960s, although it was the Labour government which gave passports to the 800 million members of the British Commonwealth in the 1948 British Nationality Act.
As the former Trotskyist Peter Hitchens, brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, admitted in 2013
When I was a Revolutionary Marxist, we were all in favour of as much immigration as possible.
It wasn’t because we liked immigrants, but because we didn’t like Britain. We saw immigrants — from anywhere — as allies against the staid, settled, conservative society that our country still was at the end of the Sixties.
Also, we liked to feel oh, so superior to the bewildered people – usually in the poorest parts of Britain – who found their neighbourhoods suddenly transformed into supposedly ‘vibrant communities’.
If they dared to express the mildest objections, we called them bigots.
Peter Hitchens at http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/04/how-i-am-partly-to-blame-for-mass-immigration.html
So much for the Left’s claims about helping the working class.
This view resurfaced as an official policy in the late 1990s and early 2000s after the Labour Party won the 1997 general election:
Eventually published in January 2001, the innocuously labelled “RDS Occasional Paper no. 67”, “Migration: an economic and social analysis” focused heavily on the labour market case.
But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.
I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn’t its main purpose – to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.
Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing… there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour’s core white working-class vote.
Andrew Neather, former speech writer and adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett. ‘Don’t listen to the whingers – London needs immigrants,’
London Evening Standard, 23 October 2009.
Widespread discontent over the resulting flood of immigrants into the United Kingdom played a major role in the vote for Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.
Blair’s successor Gordon Brown assumed office on 27 June 2007 and should have called a snap general election within months, when he enjoyed a commanding lead in the opinion polls.
But although he was credited with handling the financial crisis well, by the time Brown did eventually call an election for 6 May 2010, he had been accused of dithering, weakness and bullying.
He had also faced challenges to his leadership from within the Labour Party, which was hit by the May 2009 expenses scandal and his party’s poor showing in the 2009 local and European elections.
Brown compounded all this in the 2010 election campaign, when he spectacularly exposed the gulf between the elites and the people on immigration.
In an unscripted televised encounter, lifelong Labour supporter Gillian Duffy asked the Prime Minister “where are [all these East Europeans] flocking from?”
As he was driven off afterwards, Brown told an aide in the car – à la Hitchens – that Duffy was “just a bigoted woman” – without realising he was still on an open TV microphone. (The whole exchange is here)
Brown claimed afterwards that he misunderstood the word “flocking,” but his campaign never recovered from “Bigotgate” and the election resulted in Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974.
After negotiations, the Conservative leader David Cameron duly became prime minister and head of a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats.
But like all conservative prime ministers since Britain’s accession to what was then the European Economic Community in 1973, Cameron struggled with the Eurosceptics in his own party.
He believed that a “once and for all” referendum would settle the issue and even before the 2010 election had therefore given a “cast iron” promise of a national vote on the Lisbon Treaty, but rescinded this after all EU members ratified the Treaty before the election.
In January 2013, Cameron again promised a referendum if the Conservative Party were to win a parliamentary majority at the 2015 election in the expectation that the British government would then negotiate concessions in exchange for Britain’s continued membership in the EU.
This, however, was an empty promise. Attempts to pass a bill authorising the referendum failed, but Cameron did not expect to win the May 2015 election in any event.
To everyone’s surprise, however, he went on to deliver a reasonable working majority which would have kept the Conservatives comfortably in power until the next election due in 2020.
Cameron then repeated the party’s commitment to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU by the end of 2017 and thought that the concessions he then extracted from Brussels would be sufficient to win the referendum.
Unfortunately he failed to sell these rather minor concessions to the British public, which led to the catastrophic Brexit vote on 23 June 2016.
Earlier this year, buoyed by a 20-point lead in the opinion polls, prime minister Theresa May called an election for 8 May 2017 after saying that she would not call an early vote.
Her bet has backfired, with the Conservatives losing 12 seats and ending up with only 318 MPs, rather short of the 326 required for a majority.
May’s failure to convert a strong lead in the polls into more parliamentary seats and her loss of a majority have once again lumbered Britain with a hung parliament and compounded the already huge uncertainty in Britain and Europe.
She failed in her bid to gain substantially more seats due to her total inability to run a proper political campaign and formulate policies clearly.
The British prime minister also repeated made the “Hillary mistake” – she assumed that her putatively weak hard left opponent would be a walkover and that the British people would thus automatically vote for her and her party.
She therefore refused to take Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party seriously, and was duly punished by the electorate for her hubris.
The Conservatives are now trying to form a government with the 10 members of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, who can be expected to drive a hard bargain for their participation. They are less keen on austerity, but more conservative socially than the Conservatives and against gay marriage.
Even if this is successful initially, such thin majorities are always susceptible to revolts and defections, so another election could become necessary at any time. In 1974, the February election produced a hung parliament and was followed by another vote in October
Besides, many Conservatives are understandably furious that they have lost their comfortable majority and will have to govern in a coalition or with the support of the DUP.
The Conservatives are notorious for their impatience with failed leaders, so it remains to be seen if they will remove May, although neither the party nor the country is in need of yet more uncertainty.
The Labour Party gained 31 seats and now has 261 MPs, and is duly celebrating its “success” under its Neo-Marxist 68-year-old leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose economically illiterate and innumerate views bear a striking resemblance to those of Bernie Sanders in the United States.
This modest success is down to several factors. In addition to the Conservatives hubris already mentioned, Labour ran a much better campaign than the Tories, targeted young voters with talk about the future and scrapping the £30 billion in student debt accumulated since 2012, and attracted people with a more social approach after years of austerity.
The Labour surge was notable in south England and university towns, where people voted for Labour in the expectation that a Labour victory would mean no retreat from globalisation and a softer Brexit, as opposed to the hard Brexit preferred by prime minister Theresa May, while Conservative vote held up rather better in the north of England, which inclined more to Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.
However, Labour’s social policies would undoubtedly mean higher taxes, which would have been unpopular with business. As the results started coming in on election night, sterling plummeted by about 2% and remained volatile before stabilising again as the markets realised that May’s weakened position might mean a softer Brexit than the prime minister originally envisaged.
But despite the “unexpected” surge in Labour support since Theresa May called the election, Labour still failed to gain a majority, has around 60 seats less than the Conservatives and has now lost three general elections in a row.
In fact, the Labour view of its victory is chimerical. Despite its superior “outreach” and use of social media compared to the Conservatives, the party fell far short of gaining at least another 70 seats to form a parliamentary majority and getting its agenda into law.
If the Conservatives succeed in forming a governing coalition with the DUP, Labour will find it impossible to form a so-called progressive alliance with other parties such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the regional Welsh party Plaid Cymru, which has just 4 seats.
The SNP has lost its near monopoly in Scotland of 56 out of a total of 59 seats in 2015 and is down to 35 SNPs.
So while it remains by far the strongest party in Scotland, the question of another referendum on independence from the United Kingdom looks off the table for the foreseeable future.
The British electorate has thus given no party a clear mandate, but was faced with a choice between Labour’s left-wing grassroots activists and supporters headed by the party’s hard left candidate Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservative party with its leader and the country’s prime minister pushing for a hard Brexit.
As a result, voters had no credible moderate and centrist parliamentary party – a situation similar to that in the United States, where party activists drive their leaders out to the extreme wings, leaving the country’s moderate centre, which makes up most of the electorate, effectively disenfranchised.
The centrist Liberal Democrats might have played this role, but they were largely discredited during the coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015 after reneging on their promise not to introduce university tuition fees, a decision which evoked immense anger.
After winning 57 seats to become the third-biggest party at Westminster in 2010, they retained only 8 at the 2015 election.
Although their share of the popular vote fell again on 8 June 2017, they nevertheless made a net gain of four seats and now have 12 MPs.
The June 2017 election could mark the return to ideological left-right politics after the smaller parties fared less well than in recent years.
The Blair government’s decision to allow mass immigration was based on an extraordinary attempt at social engineering for political purposes, Brown got cold feet and pulled back from a snap election early on, and Cameron and May put personal ambition and party interests ahead of the country’s interest.
The common link here is dissatisfaction at mass immigration and the European Union, but chaos theory and the butterfly effect have magnified the effects of these decisions, with catastrophic results.
At the same time, EU policies have been poor, badly executed or both and, as with the British Labour Party, its migration and immigration policies have come back to haunt it, as has the Democratic Party’s policies in the United States.
As we have been forecasting for some years, the June 2017 general election result is all too typical and symptomatic of the now dangerously divided nature of Western democracies, the decline in political culture across the West and the poor quality and decision-making of western leaders and elites.
Britain and the European Union are due to begin negotiations on Brexit on 19 June 2017, but uncertainty across Europe will continue for the foreseeable future.