Opinion

Here's what will happen when the U.K. heads to the polls — not much: Michael Coren

It's the election nobody wanted, being contested by people nobody cares for, likely leading to a result that nobody will be surprised about. The real business of politics begins after June 8.

It's the election nobody wanted, being contested by people nobody cares for

The real business of politics begins after June 8. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

It was summed by one of those wonderfully "ordinary" people, chosen by reporters precisely because they are so representative of the non-elites. Standing on a typical British street, 75-year-old Brenda from Bristol was asked what she thought of an election being called. "You're joking!" she said, obviously exasperated. "What, another one? I can't stand this." The interview then went viral and lovely Brenda became something of a star.

The reason is that she spoke for so many. "What, another one?" Yes, another one. Not that the last national spasm in Britain was a general election — the last one of those was in 2015 — but it was the Brexit referendum of last year.

That polarizing plebiscite sapped the political energy and enthusiasm of a people who are, to their credit, not enormously interested in politics in the first place. As such, they're not fundamentally different from Canadians. The result, of course, stunned the experts and the politicians, and Britain has now started its slow, disputed withdrawal from the European Union.

Calling the election

Which is partly why Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called the election. That and the fact that she is a massive 20 points ahead of the flaccid Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, who — according to repeated polls and surveys — is one of the least appealing party leaders in recent British political history.

May's ostensible justification for throwing the country into another draining, if mercifully short, contest is that it was David Cameron who led the Conservatives in the last election, and the people have a right to choose if they want her as leader. As for Brexit, May says she needs to hear from the British people that they are behind her, which is shorthand for her wanting to strangle any opposition within her own divided party.

U.K. Parliament approves general election

5 years ago
Duration 0:51
Resounding 522-13 result will send voters to polls on June 8

May will certainly win the thing, and probably with an even greater majority than she has now. Corbyn's hardline socialist approach seems anachronistic to most people, a stale throwback to the harsh and humourless radicalism of the 1970s. Yet in some ways it's less his leftism – many of his policies are quite compelling — than his self-righteousness and his strident, intolerant support base that is so repugnant to the voters.

The British class system, geographical divide and electoral system being what it is, however, Labour will still be a major force, even though some of its own people are speaking of "the worst result since the 1930s."

Corbyn — according to repeated polls and surveys — is one of the least appealing party leaders in recent British political history. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

The Scottish National Party, the SNP, has 54 MPs and there are only 59 in all of Scotland. Leader Nicola Sturgeon has rather rashly proposed a "progressive coalition" to fight the Tories, but that could backfire. Her party may have a leftist ideology but many of its voters do not. Soft nationalism is like that. There are former Conservatives and Liberals who voted SNP last election who may change their vote or simply stay at home. There will be little change in Scotland.

What may confuse traditional voting patterns is Europe, and the fact that in spite of every major party leader wanting otherwise, the voters called for withdrawal from the European Union. The SNP is solidly pro-European, the Tories are split, and Labour is for Europe but has a loud Brexit minority.

The most pro-EU national party is the Liberal Democrats, the Lib Dems. The party is now a rump of 8 MPs, after hemorrhaging support when it formed a coalition government with David Cameron. The glory days of dozens of MPs will not return and largely ineffectual leader Tim Farron seems incapable of having people remember his name, let alone vote for him.

Northern Ireland and Wales will vote as they always do: Ulster Catholics for pro-European, republican parties and their Protestant neighbours for loyalist, generally anti-European ones. Wales has no religious divide, has never fully embraced nationalism and surprised everybody by voting for Brexit last June. With all due respect, it hardly matters in terms of who will form a government.

UKIP's future

As for UKIP, the eccentric and often distasteful United Kingdom Independence Party, within its victory was its defeat. Its existential purpose was for Britain to leave the European Union and with that about to begin, the party is pointless.

While it did attract some vile characters and supporters, it was never fascist. That's not a relevant feature of British politics and UKIP was more a collective of people with grievances, nostalgia, inherited memories of fighting the Germans and the perennial British dislike of the French. The party is at its lowest rate of support in four years and its public face, the horribly ubiquitous Nigel Farage, is not even running this time.

It's the election nobody wanted, being contested by people nobody cares for, likely leading to a result that nobody will be surprised about. The real business of politics begins after June 8, when Britain negotiates the details of its non-European future and the European Union struggles with divisions and dissent it never thought possible. That, God help us, is when it gets interesting.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Coren is an award-winning author, broadcaster and columnist, and also an ordained cleric in the Anglican Church of Canada. His next book, The Rebel Christ, will be published in October. Coren’s website is michaelcoren.com and his Twitter handle is @michaelcoren

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