Last night’s ‘shock’ election result which has left the UK with its second hung parliament within the space of seven years has not only upset the usual suspects (the political class, the commentariat, Daily Mail and Telegraph readers, etc) but also all those people who thought there was a direct correlation between Brexit and a majority Conservative government. According to the script, all those who voted for Brexit, including all those disaffected working class voters in the Labour northern heartlands, were going to vote Tory because they were the only political party ideologically and politically committed to a full Brexit.
As it turns out, it was nowhere near that simple. And one of the reasons for this is that Brexit itself is nowhere near that simple. People voted for Brexit for a multitude of reasons, some of which go far beyond any particular political affiliation. In other words, a vote for Brexit does not necessarily correlate with a vote for the party most committed to it (putting aside for the moment that, of course, many Conservative politicians actually voted Remain). Furthermore, it is important to remember that those politicians on the far left, including Corbyn, are also ideologically committed to Brexit, albeit for completely different reasons to those in the Tory party.
It’s also probably too simplistic to see the election result as the ‘revenge of the Remainers’, even though the high turnout seems to suggest a larger proportion of younger people than usual voted, and there does seem to be a correlation between age and support for Remain. Perhaps one lesson from this result is not to rely so much on statistical data and statistical correlations in the first place (although there was one poll earlier in the week that was forecasting exactly this outcome).
However, it’s also worth pointing out the irony of this vote, because in many ways it seems to bear striking similarities with the Brexit vote that it would appear to be undermining. First of all, of course, it was a result no-one seriously expected, just as no-one seriously expected Brexit (or Trump for that matter). This in itself raises a number of questions: who, for example, is ‘no-one’ in this context? Presumably members of the self-same political class and commentariat who had convinced themselves (though not, it would appear, the wider population) that the result was in the bag for Theresa May. This in turn raises serious questions regarding the influence that mainstream/legacy media still exerts on the minds of the populace.
Of course, this could all be symptomatic of the fragmentation of politics and political discourse that seems to be the legacy of the collapse of liberal democracy across Europe, the United States and beyond. However, there is another irony here: the polarisation of politics. Just as the Brexit vote became a choice between Remain or Leave, so this election seems to have polarised voters between the Left and the Right, with no clear winner. And there seems to be no question that Corbyn’s version of socialism is essentially (populist) Marxist, just as May’s version of conservatism is essentially right-wing populist.
The lesson here seems to be that fragmentation does not necessarily equal pluralisation. In other words, as the liberal consensus collapses this does not necessarily herald the brave new dawn of a multiplicity of smaller parties with specific interests, e.g. UKIP, the Greens, etc. Perhaps when it comes down to it, most voters want simple answers, especially in a time of great uncertainty. Both Labour and the Conservatives seem to offer simple solutions to what are actually very complex problems. For Corbyn’s Labour, the basic answer seems to be borrow heavily and nationalise wherever possible, whereas for May’s (Rudd’s, Johnson’s?) Conservatives the approach seems to be that Brexit will provide all the answers: just set Britain free and everything will be fine.
The irony is, of course, both these ‘solutions’ rely on strong, authoritarian leadership – and right now this is the one thing that’s conspicuous by its absence. The problem here is that the resulting chaos and uncertainty that will undoubtedly follow in the days, weeks and months to come will simply fan the flames of authoritarian populism (on both the Left and the Right), as people crave for greater order and certainty.
In many ways this brings us back to the ‘rationale’ behind Brexit: the idea that leaving the EU is about ‘taking back control’…..of what? Leaving the EU will not stop the logic of global capitalism and neither will it give the majority of the population any more control over their day-to-day lives than they have at the moment (which is probably not very much). In fact, the people who are likely to suffer most under Brexit are precisely those disaffected working class voters (and not only in the North) who voted to ‘take back control’ in the first place.
But this is to make the assumption that people vote in their best interests, rather than in the best interest of someone else…..