Forget Brexit: Britain’s Real ‘Trump Moment’ Is ComingPhoto by Matt Cardy Politics Features Britain
The polls have it like this: unless something goes drastically wrong for Theresa May and co. between now and next month’s general election, a Conservative government will rule Britain until at least 2022. Not only are the Tories set to win on June 8th, but May’s party is currently on course to defeat all rivals in a landslide. Having positioned themselves as ‘the Brexit party,’ the Conservatives are profiting from instability within the Labour party, the official opposition; are absorbing the UK Independence Party vote (with Nigel Farage’s former outfit having lost its raison d’etre); and are naturally benefiting from the way the British press operates—just five men, including Rupert Murdoch, own the majority of the UK’s newspapers, all of which are firmly in the Conservative camp—as unofficial Tory propaganda. Britain’s press, free though it is, sides decisively with the state and that’s bad news for the opposition.
The Conservatives’ opponents have options, but the supposedly reformed Labour party—staggering towards the finish line after almost two years of blunders—seem more interested in engaging in a manhood-measuring competition with other similarly progressive-left parties than in beating their right-wing rivals. The progressive alliance—a proposed collaboration between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the Greens—has been shot down by Labour’s messianic man at the top. Currently the progressive vote stands to be split three ways or more, but pragmatism be damned: for Jeremy Corbyn, it’s either his party to beat the Tories or no one’s. As with the Democrats and the 2016 US election, wherein the Democrats were happier to push a widely disliked presidential candidate over the most popular politician in the country, Labour would apparently rather lose their own way than stand a chance of winning through negotiated terms in 2017. So another Conservative government it shall be—and a dominant one at that.
This overwhelming power will be their downfall. As the Republicans are now finding out, winning power sweepingly comes with its own problems. In the US, Republicans blamed Democrats for every problem big and small that the country faced between 2008 and the end of Obama’s term this year. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Conservatives have spent the past seven years shifting the blame first onto the Lib Dems—with whom they ruled in a coalition from 2010 to 2015—and then Labour for any criticisms that came their way. (Thanks to an orchestrated disinformation campaign by the Conservatives and the British press, the people of Britain still believe it was the then-ruling Labour party who crashed the global economy in 2008.) With the Republicans now holding power at every level in Washington, they are finding out that responsibility falls squarely on them. The Conservatives, following their all-but-inevitable rousing victory next month, will similarly discover just how heavy the crown lies.
This is why, though last year’s referendum was a shock to the political system, June 8, 2017, not June 23, 2016, will prove Britain’s ‘Trump moment.’ It’s been said that Brexit and the election of President Trump were of a kind, but save for some minor price rises and reports that business might flee once the deal’s done, Britain hasn’t really felt the impact of Brexit yet. This is unsurprising, as the UK isn’t scheduled to actually leave the European Union for another two years, while the ‘divorce’ process is likely to take much longer. There has been trouble in Trump’s first 100 days which has seen the GOP’s popularity plummet, spelling danger for the party going forward, and make no mistake, there is trouble ahead for Theresa May’s Britain too.
The trouble will come in many forms—the underfunded NHS, the lack of affordable housing, an ill-prepared armed forces, to name a few examples—but the UK’s biggest headache will undoubtedly be Brexit, a potential impending disaster. According to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, Theresa May lives “in a parallel universe” on Brexit. According to Juncker, May through her delusions and incompetence is guiding the UK towards the worst possible scenario: a clean break, including rejection of the EU’s single market. Forgetting what happened in Greece two years ago, May and the Conservatives are convinced everything will turn out just great for the United Kingdom. They now ask the British people to trust the Conservatives and only the Conservatives with the country’s EU relationship. In two years, when Britain crashes out of Europe and May’s blindly ideological hard Brexit Tories have chosen economic suicide over a secure deal, the British people will know exactly who was responsible.
At that point, as in the US, it’s not hard to imagine that voters will begin to turn against the right-wing retrotopians who have been falsely promising a glorious past. The Tories will do what they do best—pick out scapegoats on whom to shift culpability—but after five years of outright Conservative rule, it seems unlikely to wash. Like Trump’s Republicans, the Conservatives will soon have the power to do as they please, and as such will have no one left to blame.
As with Trump and, indeed, as with Brexit, political shockwaves will be felt in the UK on June 8. The electorate will be divided and the political establishment will have been thoroughly shaken. The difference between the upcoming Tory election victory and Brexit is this: where the 2016 EU vote has yet to impact living standards for Brits in a meaningful way, a full term of virtually unopposed Tory rule will be a wake-up call to anyone who thought right-wing populism might provide a solution. There will be more cronyism, more warmongering, more cozying up to corporations, more poverty—five more years of the very issues the British people have been railing against. After those years, all the problems Britain now faces—rising food bank use, skyrocketing levels of homelessness, increasing inequality, all set to be compounded by Brexit whether or not the best possible deal is reached—will clearly be no one’s responsibility but the Conservatives’. All the while, as in the US, the shock might just force the opposition to take stock and, finally, come up with a real, appealing alternative.