Four implications of Boris Johnson’s victory

The significance of the Conservative party’s triumph in the UK’s general election is fourfold.

First, the UK will have to find a new place on the international stage outside the EU, which it will leave by the end of next month at the latest.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s task will be complicated by increasing tensions in the US-European security and economic relationship, rising Great Power rivalries around the globe and an eroding post-1945 world order.

Second, pressures on the UK’s unity will pile up. Scottish Nationalists, buoyed by their overwhelming victory in Scotland, will redouble their efforts to gain independence. 

Already precarious power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland will come under more strain because of the advance of nationalist political forces in this election at the expense of unionism.

Third, the Conservatives will struggle to heal the social, cultural and geographical cleavages in England itself, where they have rapidly evolved because of Brexit into a party whose membership and voter base leans strongly towards English nationalism.

Their comprehensive victory will not conceal for long the splits between affluent cities and areas of deprivation; between old and young; and between liberal progressives and people with conservative social values who despise political correctness.

Fourth, the government will embark on a project of constitutional change, by strengthening the executive — already very powerful in the UK’s system, when a party has a commanding parliamentary majority — and curbing the powers of the Supreme Court. 

But they will find it hard to reinvigorate the UK economy because of fiscal constraints and low growth related to Brexit, poor productivity levels and world trade frictions.

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These four developments will unfold against a backdrop of demoralising crisis on the British political left, a crisis for which Jeremy Corbyn and other dogmatic extremists in the Labour party leadership bear heavy responsibility.

Jens-Peter Marquardt, a German political commentator, says: “This was a vote against Corbyn rather than for Johnson. The Brits had a chance to prevent their political and economic decline. They didn’t take it.”

It is a sobering thought that, by the time this Conservative government’s five-year term ends in 2024, Labour will have won only three of 11 elections over the previous half-century.

Those victories were chalked up by the centrist Tony Blair. Never since the Labour party’s birth at the start of the 20th century has it won an election on a platform of sectarian socialism.

Yet Mr Corbyn and his entourage do not care. According to their Marxist worldview, all they need to do is wait for the inevitable self-destruction of capitalism and then collect the prize of power.

This blindness condemned Labour to a richly deserved defeat, as did the party’s unforgivable reluctance to tackle its internal problem of anti-Semitism.

As far as UK-EU relations are concerned, it cannot be repeated too often that, as Professor Chris Grey observes, “Brexit is not an event but a process”.

Mr Johnson can be expected to do his best to honour the Conservatives’ campaign promise not to extend the period of transition out of EU membership beyond next December.

This will be impossible to achieve without going for a hard Brexit that would involve modest alignment with EU rules and standards and therefore less smooth access to European markets.

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However, negotiators in Brussels are determined to ensure that the UK accepts a “level playing field” in the post-Brexit relationship, an arrangement that would impede Mr Johnson’s ambitions for radical divergence from EU norms.

The prime minister will face difficult choices of which he has so far made no mention to the British public. To the extent that he compromises with Brussels, he will risk angering anti-EU ideologues on the Conservative hard right, for whom no Brexit will ever be pure enough.

Over the past 30 years these ideologues have destroyed four prime ministers: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron and Theresa May. The rest of the country was dragged into furious arguments not of its own making as the Conservatives fought their internal wars over Europe.

Now Mr Johnson can claim to have broken the vicious cycle. But he has done so at the cost of reshaping the Conservatives into a party that will have its work cut out to hold the UK together.

Further reading

Boris Johnson’s chance to forge a new role for Britain
“Tony Blair likes to tell a story about his first day as prime minister in 1997. He swept into Downing Street on a wave of cheers, only to be greeted by the head of the civil service, who said brusquely — “Congratulations, prime minister. Now what?” Boris Johnson will face a similar question as he returns to Number 10, after the most sweeping general election victory since Mr Blair’s in 2001. If he wants to go down as a great prime minister, he will have to create a new political settlement for Britain abroad — as well as at home.” (Gideon Rachman, FT)

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Boris Johnson channels Disraeli as he fights to keep one nation intact
“In the years before his ascendancy Mr Johnson told colleagues he was going into politics because ‘no one ever put up a statue of a journalist’. He now has the chance to be one of the UK’s most consequential leaders. Many still question whether, for his campaigning brilliance, he is really up to the task. But if he is, he will deserve his monument.” (Robert Shrimsley, FT)

Also from the FT . . .

How the Labour party’s ‘red wall’ turned blue

‘New dawn’ as Conservatives turn Redcar into Bluecar

SNP to detail case for second Scottish independence referendum

The Guardian: Peterborough voters cite ‘Brexit, Brexit, Brexit’ as reason they turned blue (Robert Booth and Henry McDonald)


Why we lost — and where we go from here When the history of Brexit is written, the Lib Dems’ decision to let Johnson hold this miserable election will be seen as a key strategic error (Hugo Dixon)

Hard numbers

How class, turnout and the Brexit party shaped the general election result



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