Analysis

UK election may spur new political crisis

Parties scramble ahead of Dec. 12 polls with looming Jan. 31 Brexit deadline seen as main issue

Ahmet Gurhan Kartal   | 30.10.2019
UK election may spur new political crisis

LONDON

Britain is set to go to the polls for an early general election on Dec. 12 as Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally managed to convince lawmakers to do so after being blocked from “getting Brexit done” on Oct. 31.

The opposition parties gave the green light for the election bill brought to the House of Commons by Johnson after the possibility of a no-deal Brexit disappeared with the new extension granted by the EU.

But the election, which will aim to solve the Brexit conundrum, may cause a deeper crisis if it results in a new hung parliament.

How the parties shape their campaigns around Brexit will be decisive for British voters, but a shift in voting tendencies and changing demographics may play a huge part in the election’s outcome.

Up to 2 million elderly voters, most of them believed to be pro-Brexit, have passed away since the 2016 referendum, and up to 2.5 million young voters who are mainly pro-European will cast their votes in the December election.

The austerity measures introduced after the global economic crisis in 2008 will also weigh large on voters’ minds.

Although the U.K. boasts one of the world’s five biggest economies, up to 14 million people in the country live on the edge of poverty.

Additionally, problems with infrastructure, public transport, and health care due to a wave of privatizations which started in the 1980s often make headlines.

In the runup to the 2016 EU referendum, the Leave campaign painted EU membership as the main cause of all Britain’s problems, promising the U.K. would “regain control” and solve the country’s woes after Brussels stole sovereignty from the House of Commons.

The Labour Party won more votes in its 2017 campaign by underlining those problems.

Some research says Brexit has worn away voters’ sensitivity to other problems, and this situation may cause a shift in parties’ traditional grassroots.

Moreover, the division in voters after the 52%- 48% victory of Brexit in the referendum still exists.

The two traditional main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, have difficulty forming policies which should balance various Brexit preferences. This situation weakens the possibility of the formation of a powerful government with a clear majority after the election.

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party under Johnson is expected to put parliament’s inefficiency at the centerpiece of his election campaign by accusing lawmakers of sabotaging the referendum result for the past three years. However, some analysts say that this approach would contradict the Leave campaign’s claim to be taking back control from EU institutions.

Johnson, a two-time London mayor and staunch Brexiteer, is favored by those who would like to leave the union at once, but he is also accused of being politically shallow.

After he rejected the deal reached by his predecessor Theresa May, which he claimed would carve off Northern Ireland from the mainland U.K., the prospect of bringing back a similar new Brexit deal could spur mistrust in Johnson.

It is not clear yet whether in his election campaign Johnson will take a Brexiteer stance or put forward his new deal, but a hard-Brexit stance could drag his party to the far-right and make him lose moderate Tory voters.

However, if Johnson manages a majority government after the election, the U.K.’s departure from the union without a deal on Jan. 31 seems a strong possibility.

The party lost its parliamentary majority in the 2017 snap election and formed a minority government with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Labour Party

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been targeted by the right-wing British media since he took the party helm, with his economic policies often described as “extreme leftist.”

He has managed to remain Labour’s leader despite a few attempts to oust him.

In the 2017 election, Corbyn increased the party’s votes from 30% to 40%, boosting its seats in parliament to 30.

But Corbyn’s Brexit policy is a dilemma, as most Labour voters in industrial cities are pro-Brexit and young voters back EU membership.

Corbyn, known as a longstanding eurosceptic, is expected to pledge a new EU referendum in his campaign.

Scottish National Party

The Scottish National Party (SNP), with 35 seats in the House of Commons, has voiced its anti-Brexit stance as the Scottish public voted to remain in 2016.

The party’s election strategy will have anti-Brexit messages and advocate a second independence referendum for the country.

The party repeatedly said Scotland would not be dragged out of the EU.

A 2014 independence referendum resulted in Scotland remaining in the U.K.

In the 2017 election, the SNP’s vote share edged down 1.7%.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems have pledged to cancel Brexit if they win a majority, aiming at the now-more-than 50% anti-Brexit votes.

The party lost 0.5% of its votes in 2017, but it recently managed to become the number two party in European Parliament elections, leaving behind both the Tories and Labour.

Brexit Party

The new party under staunch Brexiteer Nigel Farage managed to win 30.5% in European Parliament elections this May.

The party is expected to defend the idea of a no-deal Brexit in the December vote, aiming for similar success.

The Brexit Party campaign could attract some traditionally Tory votes, but the two parties could also go for tactical cooperation in the election, according to analysts.

DUP

Northern Ireland’s biggest party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is expected to win around 10 seats, preserving their vote.

After the 2017 election, the DUP entered into a “confidence and supply” deal with the Conservatives.

The party may play a key role again if the election produces a new hung parliament.

Polls

The latest polls suggest the Conservative Party will get 37% of the vote, while Labour will get 22%.

The Lib Dems are at 19%, and the Brexit Party at 11%.

The SNP is projected to receive 4% of the votes.

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