The British Go to the Polls

The British Go to the Polls


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The people of Great Britain are voting today in their third national election in five years. Most observers suggest that this election is one of the most important elections in British history. At stake is not only which party which will control the Parliament and thus the Government, but the nature and character of Britain in the months and years ahead. This is true with respect to the character of English democracy, the future of the economy of the United Kingdom, and the position of Great Britain on the global stage.  Specifically, among the numerous issues facing the citizens of the United Kingdom—including the future of the National Health Service and the viability of the British economy–this election’s most polarizing, determinative issue remains Brexit.

As has been the case since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the British are still debating whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or not. The new Parliament, which will be seated next Tuesday, will consider the terms under which Britain will leave the E.U. as well as how it will exit the European Union.  The vote may also serve as a repudiation of the previous vote and could even force the new Parliament and the new Government to reconsider Britain’s departure from the E.U.

Beyond the actual vote in this election, the campaign has been characterized by serious attacks by the various parties at the fundamental positions and values of the respective parties’ leaders.   Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, and many among the Labour Party leadership have inadequately addressed their own and their party’s anti-Semitic statements and positions. Corbyn has been seen as having led the Party too far to the left. He remains economically and geo-politically allied with many radical ideas, which are viewed by many as tied Socialist and even Trotskyite positions.

Boris Johnson has conducted an elitist campaign and has adopted an arrogance toward those in Britain who oppose him. Johnson is an intelligent, clever, somewhat less offensive version of Donald Trump, who is committed to leaving the E.U. regardless of the terms. He has used this five-week campaign to rally the country to his vision of a more robust economy which he predicts will follow Britain’s departure from the E.U and its becoming more closely connected to the U.S.

The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats pose one of the additional unknowns again in the election. As in the previous Parliament, these parties may hold sway as to whether there will be a majority or once again a hung Parliament. Such a result would seriously encumber Johnson’s ability to move ahead with Brexit. The likelihood of this result persists largely because Johnson’s large lead in the polls has declined as Election Day approached.

In the run-up to this election once again the English electorate has presented a remarkably challenging population even for the best British pollsters. In trying to assess the mood and direction of the electorate, pollsters have once again faced a fundamental objection among the English voters; they categorically resent polls. They view asking them about any of their opinions is an invasion of their privacy. As a result, while the leading polls show Johnson and the Tories likely to win a 28 seat majority of the 650 seats in the Parliament, these same pollsters acknowledge the fickleness of the British voter and their own lack of confidence in their data.

The polls close in Great Britain at 10:00pm, EST.  The Brits do not expect to get much sleep tonight.

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