The United Kingdom will see a pre-Christmas December election for the first time in almost a century. But that is not the only count on which these elections have been dubbed historic by the British media.
Britain, like India, holds an election to choose its government every five years. But the country, which went into political turmoil after the Brexit vote, will be holding its third election since 2015. The election can finally end the limbo on Brexit and nudge the country one way or another. Furthermore, it can also deliver a verdict on a second independence referendum in Scotland.
It is also being dubbed the most unpredictable election in Britain's history as data suggests an unprecedented trend of voting volatility. This, by extension, suggests that when the electorate is fickle, and last-minute campaigning can have a significant impact. The electorate is more likely to be divided over parties' positions on 'Leave' and 'Remain', and their prime ministerial candidates, rather than the traditional Conservative versus Labour face-off.
Conservative leader Boris Johnson is lumbering to secure a clear majority so he can push through his version of Brexit; Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, after months of dithering, has finally made up his mind: Renegotiate Johnson's deal and put it to a public vote, which he says would be a choice between a "credible" Leave option versus Remain.
Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson is seeking to win votes from Remainers by pledging to cancel Brexit altogether, while Scottish National Party is pro-Remain and has been campaigning for another Brexit referendum.
Here's a profile of the key party leaders in the fray:
Boris Johnson, Britain's incumbent prime minister, has led a long, public life filled with controversy. He has been accused of undue exaggeration, and of making a spectacle out of complex issues.
Johnson slammed his main rival Corbyn, comparing him to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and — erroneously — claiming he had sided with Russian president Vladimir Putin over a nerve-agent attack on British soil. In another over-the-top political insult, Johnson used a column in the Daily Telegraph to accuse the Labour Party under Corbyn of attacking the rich "with a relish and vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the kulaks," the wealthier peasants targeted by the Soviet regime in the 1930s.
The Washington Post, in a photo profile piece, calls hims a 'cheerleader of Brexit' whose relentless and over-the-top articles as a columnist laid base for 'Euroscepticism' and eventually lead to the Brexit referendum.
His career, both as a politician and journalist, has also been quite eventful. Johnson, who started off as a journalist, first courted controversy when he was fired from The Times of London for making up a quote. However, unfazed by the row, his journalistic career grew steadily and he was 'admired' by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — with whom he is often compared.
He was elected London's mayor twice, which has traditionally remained a Labour Party stronghold, and remained fairly popular. In fact, he largely talks up his mayoral stint, claiming success in bringing down crime and poverty, even as critics point to data to argue that he didn't achieve much while in City Hall. His another government stint, that as foreign secretary to his predecessor Theresa May is, however, largely glossed over by his party and campaigners.
Johnson is trying to set the stage for a people-versus-Parliament campaign and said lawmakers were "refusing time and again to deliver Brexit and honor the result of the referendum." In fact, lawmakers approved Johnson's EU divorce deal in-principle last month, but asked for more time to scrutinize it. Johnson then withdrew the bill and pushed for an early election instead.
Polls also show that Johnson’s Conservatives have a large national lead against Corbyn’s Labour. However, it is also important to remember that the same polls completely misread British voters ahead of the Brexit referendum.
The stakes are high for both Johnson and Corbyn as they try to win over a Brexit-weary electorate. However, the Labour Party has its own woes, with many lawmakers uneasy about Corbyn's left-wing views and ambivalence over the European Union.
A Labour member for over 30 years, Corbyn has endured fierce criticism from senior party figures and survived an attempt to unseat him through a second leadership election, which is why many of his critics and supporters are hesitant to write him off, despite the forecast of a highly divisive election.
A profile of him in BBC dubbed his victory as the Labour Party's leader in 2015 as one of the "biggest upsets in British political history". Corbyn only stood for leader because no one from the Labour Left wanted to do so. He was thought as someone to have inspired new life in the Left-wing liberal policies of Labour Party long consigned to the dustbin since the days of Tony Blair.
Speaking to Red Pepper magazine in 2015, Corbyn acknowledges this country-boy charm attributed to him and says, "Because I've never had any higher education of any sort, I've never held in awe those who have had it or have a sense of superiority over those who don't. Life is life. Some of the wisest people you meet are sweeping our streets."
However, the positives of his leadership, even in the eye of core Labour supporters, are neutralised by his indecisive approach to Brexit. His party merely promises to "get Brexit sorted"; rather than backing either Leave or Remain, the party has remain neutral until it is in power to hold a referendum on a re-negotiated Leave agreement.
He has refused to indicate which way will he vote on the referendum. This lack of clarity — in sharp contrast to almost all his adversaries — along with his proclivity for Left-wing policies like taxing the super rich can make things difficult.
Corbyn is clearly more at ease with domestic topics such as boosting up economy, creating a National Transformation Fund to invest in infrastructure, increase tax on highest earners and nationalising key industries. He has been trying hard to shift the agenda on to other issues, including the climate emergency. Corbyn has labelled Johnson's economic plans "Thatcherism on steroids," in reference to the free-market, low-spending ideology of the late prime minister.
However, his Labour party colleagues, split over Brexit themselves, fear that on one hand his lip service for the Remain will disenchant pro-EU voters, and on the other hand, his less than clear stance on parameters of a Leave campaign will lose pro-Brexit votes to more assertive Brexit party or the Tories.
Then there are allegations of anti-semitism. Labour is facing renewed allegations that it has become hostile to Jews under Corbyn. Two former Labour lawmakers urged voters to back Johnson's Conservatives and accused Corbyn, a long-time supporter of the Palestinians, of allowing anti-Jewish racism to spread within the Labour Party. Corbyn denied the allegations, describing anti-Semitism "a poison and an evil in our society" and saying he was working to root it out.
"I don't do personal attacks," Corbyn told supporters in Telford, central England. He said, if elected, he would be "a very different kind of prime minister." "I was not born to rule," Corbyn said, contrasting himself with the affluent, Oxford University-educated Johnson. "I don't pursue the kind of politics that thinks it's all a game, a parlor game, a debating society game."
With inputs from AP
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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2019 17:24:21 IST