Lessons should certainly be learned following Boris Johnson and the Conservatives historic victory this general election.
Johnson received the biggest Conservative victory since Margaret Thatcher‘s third term in 1987. The Labour Party’s defeat was catastrophic, with parliamentary seats in working-class areas of northern England and Wales being lost to the Conservatives. Much blame inevitably fell on the party’s left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
As I sit in the airport waiting to board my flight back to the United States after three months of studying abroad in London, I can’t help but ponder what implications last Thursday night’s election could have for the United States’ upcoming presidential election in 2020. Obviously the United Kingdom and the United States have dissimilar political systems, with the UK being a parliamentary democracy and the US a presidential one. Nevertheless, in spite of these differences, political trends in the UK are often reflected in the US and vice versa.
In a way, Brexit and President Trump will always be connected, since the referendum vote took place in June of 2016, the same year that Trump was elected. Many people who supported Brexit were nationalistic and in favour of UK sovereignty, wishing to protect the border of the UK and asking for greater control over immigration. Supporters of Trump have similar issues. His campaign rested on such proposal as building a wall, US nationalism and making, ‘America First’. Trump also identified his campaign with the Brexit result, claiming that he had ‘seen Brexit coming‘ — something that proved to be inaccurate.
As for 2020, Trump seems to believe that this victory in the UK is a sign that his own campaign will be successful and that he will be re-elected for a second term. ‘I want to congratulate Boris Johnson on a terrific victory’, he said last Friday. ‘It might be a harbinger of what’s to come in our country’, he continued. ‘I’m sure people will be thrilled to hear that, but a lot of people will be actually. A very big percentage of people’.
Another area of similarity between the UK election and the US election in 2020, involves the parallels between Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed policy solutions and the policy of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Corbyn, Sanders and Warren all firmly support ‘Medicare for All’ and other more left- leaning policies that involve greater state involvement. Many of the moderate candidates in the Democratic primary field, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, have claimed that moving too far to the left will result in Trump’s re-election.
At a fundraiser last Thursday, Biden acknowledged Johnson’s victory and said to the crowd: ‘Look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left. It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly’.
Of course, the outcome of the election in the UK cannot predict what will happen in the US. The two countries are different and have different issues that are motivating voters to come to the polls. The UK election was primarily around Brexit. The US election arguably does not have such a determining issue to unite voters of different political allegiances.
Jeremy Corbyn was an extremely controversial and unpopular candidate, while none of the democratic candidates face the same opposition from the media and public. Despite Corbyn’s popularity within his party and among millennials, 61 per cent of Brits still had a negative opinion of him — particularly older white men, who make up a large proportion of the electorate. This unpopularity was only partly related to his ‘hard left’ platform. Brits mainly cited that issues such as his weak stance against anti-Semitism and his non-position on Brexit were amongst the main reasons for mistrusting him.
The United States and the Democratic Party can certainly learn from the outcome of the UK’s election. Internal divisions over candidates and policies will harm support and turnout in the election for the party. Labour was internally divided over Brexit which pushed many EU sceptics towards the Conservatives or third parties if they were Remainers. Democrats need to be unified on major issues, such as Trump’s possible impeachment, to avoid similar results. If there is any internal splintering within the party, voters will be more likely to vote Republican or for third parties.
Thoughtfully and carefully planned campaigns and clear messages from candidates are a must. The Conservative Party had the simple, direct message of getting Brexit done. Labour on the other hand did not have a simple, clear message. Any Democratic presidential candidate in the US must have a clear message for voters if they are to have a chance at defeating Trump.