As you should know by now, there was an election Thursday June 8 in the United Kingdom, called by the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May three years ahead of schedule, that was supposed to cement her political advantage in advance of Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
This made a lot of people angry and has widely been regarded as a bad move.
The end result was that May’s Conservative Party ended up losing 13 seats with the opposition leftist Labour Party gaining 30, with previous challengers UK Independence Party being almost wiped out, the net result being that the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament. Opinion columnists are now convinced that this was a golden opportunity that Labour could have used to gain a majority outright instead of letting the Conservatives have a weak government, but given that May’s party had been leading in the polls, it’s amazing Labour did as well as it did. Which raises the question, how did this happen?
At the time, the Conservatives were leading in the polls, and the PM’s prerogative to call an early election now requires a supermajority vote in the House of Commons. But despite this, leaders of other parties approved the special election, including May’s main rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, who could be described as “Bernie Sanders, only leftist”, campaigned hard and reversed earlier negative public impressions of him, and like Bernie came across as a likeably rough contrast to his prim opponent. It also helped that the Conservatives’ attempts to pay for spending elsewhere were in some cases covered by cost-cutting in some parts of social services, such as raising the income level required for home care to no less than 100,000 pounds, which Labour and other opponents quickly labeled a “dementia tax.”
What really grabbed press attention throughout the world was when Islamist terrorists attacked an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on May 22 and then shortly after (June 3) attacked civilians in the London Bridge area by ramming people with a truck and then attacking with knives. While the latter attack brought a quick police response that prevented the casualties from being any worse, reporters questioned several members of the Muslim community who said they’d reported the attackers for suspicious activity, which the government apparently did not follow up on.
Then there was the point that May had refused to participate in debates with Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, which didn’t really help her optics. One columnist in Britain had this analysis:
“It concerns me that one of, if not the, most powerful figures in Britain currently, is unable to juggle planning Brexit negotiations and a live TV debate, and yet the same figure will jump at any opportunity to criticize Corbyn for not talking about Brexit enough, and being more concerned with TV appearances.
A (further) concern of mine is that this is a general election called by Theresa May herself, in the midst of these Brexit negotiations, but it appears she is not treating it as such. This is an opportunity for the British public to vote for a future and society they want, not the Brexit they want. As far as I’m concerned, this election is not about Brexit, as it could be May, Corbyn, or myself in charge of the negotiations – the outcome will always be the same. Theresa May has failed to show that she understands the implications of what she has done. “
And of course there’s always the question of whether this means anything for the United States or whether the political situations are comparable. The takeaway I get from the election is this: Conservatives, just because voters hate liberals, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to make them hate you even more.
There’s also something else. It was assumed by some of the press that May’s reluctance to debate stemmed partially from being ill-at-ease with public discussions. According to some reporters, May’s staff had called her “Darth Vader”and the Left had accused her of creating a “hostile environment” for legal immigrants while in her previous job running the Home Office. (Making the fallout from the London attack that much more damaging.) Theresa May was never the most popular person even within her own party, and indeed only became Prime Minister due to parliamentary politics and the fact that no one else in the ruling party was in political position to take the job. And yet she was Prime Minister. There was indeed sexist commentary directed towards her, but no one questioned May’s position or her right to it.
And at the same time as May was raked over the coals by the press and her peers, the election of 2017 produced the largest number of female Members of Parliament, with 207 women winning election.
There’s a reason I bring this up.
America still has no female president in its history. And while some gains have been made, women have not been more than 20% of any given Congress over all. Whereas in a previous era, Israel had Golda Meir and India had Indira Gandhi. And of course, Britain had Margaret Thatcher. More recently, Germany elected Angela Merkel and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a point of having a cabinet composed of at least half women. America’s democracy is falling behind in representing that viewpoint.
Assuming we survive the Annoying Orange and his party of toadies, America will elect a woman as president. Hopefully sooner than later, because when that happens, it will be possible to envisage a second one. And if that should happen, it may be possible to criticize a female politician as being tone-deaf and inept because she actually IS tone-deaf and inept, and not get reflexively attacked for being sexist.
I look forward to the day when American political culture is that practical and mature.