Friday, August 04, 2017

British democratic turbulence and our own

The other day, EP and I were interviewed by a chronicler of the antiwar movement of the '00s. This required me to revisit the strange presidential election of the 2004, when John Kerry, the Democrat trying to unseat George W. Bush, became functionally the candidate of antiwar forces, despite having voted for the Iraq war and offering yet no repudiation that failed endeavor.

British polling is not very good at predicting the outcomes of general elections -- all those obscure constituencies, intra-national currents, and multiple parties go a long way toward to defeating pollsters. But Brits have perfectly good post-election data from The British Election Study afterward, giving pundits and campaigners lots to chew over. Various outlets are now looking at the June 2017 parliamentary election results which ended with a shocking rise in the Labour vote, curbing the Conservatives' majority in Parliament. A piece from the BBC concludes that Brexit -- withdrawal from the European Union -- overwhelmed all other voter concerns. Voters had accepted the 2015 referendum result in which Leave had barely outpolled Remain, but in June were still litigating what Brexit meant: would they get "hard Brexit," cutting all ties and ending free movement of people to and from the continent or would they get "soft Brexit," tailored to continue Britain's trading position and open to the movement of people. The data show that how voters felt about immigration strongly determined how they chose a party.

Despite uncertainty over its position on the single market, Labour was seen as the best bet by those wanting to keep closer ties with Europe.

... One of the reasons Labour did so well among Remainers is that by the time the election was called, the Brexit debate was not so much about Leave or Remain but about how to leave.

... The results reveal a striking correlation between wanting to control immigration and voting Tory on one hand, and wanting access to the single market and voting Labour or Lib Dem on the other.

For example, the Conservatives lead Labour by more than 40 percentage points among those most in favour of full control of immigration, with Labour having a similar lead among those wanting complete access to the single market.

Labour was nominally for Remain in the 2015 referendum, but that never sat well with its older white members, many of whom voted to Leave. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seemed a natural anti-European, no enthusiast for his party's nominal position. He certainly is credited with running a strong campaign in the 2017 election. Yet opposition to anti-immigrant currents and affection for a cosmopolitan, open European connection also boosted the Labour vote in the recent voting according to these studies. Multicultural, multiracial London is currently solidly Labour territory.

This all does remind me of the tentative Democratic opposition to the Iraq war in 2004 which became a driving passion within two years. How Britain will sort itself out through the next two years of Brexit remains to be seen. They are not us, but their political system contains (and fails to contain) many of same tensions over race and immigration. As with our party system, popular feelings are poorly reflected by their institutions of democracy. This creates volatility. May decency and justice prevail, there and here.

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