UK Election a Tangled Web

If you thought James Comey’s congressional testimony was the political highlight of last Thursday, you better go back and read what’s been going on in the UK.

Teresa May’s Conservative Party already had a majority in Parliament when the prime minister called a snap election party leaders believed would tip the scales even further in their favor and help at the Brexit negotiating table. May was pushing for a “hard” Brexit after 52% of voters last year opted to leave the European Union.

The Tories’ main rivals are the Labour Party, led by a Bernie Sanders-like man called Jeremy Corbyn, a declared socialist. No one believed Labour had a chance, except those like our English friend Ian Almond.

Going door-to-door

Ian is a professor of world literature at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, but before that, he was at Georgia State University, where he taught with Marilynn. Despite his support for Arsenal archrival Liverpool, we quickly grew fond of this lad from Preston, who didn’t learn to drive until he lived in Georgia.

Leading up to Thursday’s vote, Ian spent several weeks going door-to-door for the Labour Party, which stunned the Tories by adding 31 seats, while the Tories lost 12. The result is a hung Parliament, with the Conservatives cozying up to Northern Ireland’s staunch Unionist party DUP in order to form a majority bloc. It’s an unlikely marriage and one that Corbyn intends to fight.

“Although it’s not a victory, it’s a huge step forward for the Labour party,” Ian says, “particularly since Corbyn was subjected to such an intense hate campaign and widespread demonization by, sadly, almost the entire spectrum of the UK mainstream media.”

He notes that only the Mirror and the Guardian endorsed Corbyn and that the TV channels were largely against him. The Labour Party’s gain, the biggest swing since 1945, was made more significant because few believed Labour had any chance before the votes were tallied, Ian says.

Strange bedfellows

The DUP is the same party that in Northern Ireland can’t agree to share power with the republican party Sinn Fein, following its own snap election earlier this year after Deputy Minister Martin McGuinness resigned (and then died). DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster, has been in the cross-hairs recently for her dictatorial management style and a funding scandal related to when she was enterprise minister. The parties have missed a deadline to form a power-sharing government, and a second deadline is looming. Failure to agree would mean either another snap election in Northern Ireland or the return of direct rule.

Many of DUP’s stances (denying climate change, refusing to recognize LGBTQ people) are out of step with a majority in the UK, one of the many reasons Corbyn is looking to form his own coalition government. Although Sinn Fein won seven seats, its MPs won’t participate, owing to their longstanding stance against UK rule.

The prospect of a “hard” Brexit has been taken off the table since the Conservatives no longer have a majority and Labour favored staying within the EU.

This election should be a wake-up call to Democrats in the US that change is possible, one person and one issue at a time.

I’ll let Ian have the final word, commenting in a recent Facebook post about going door-to-door:

“It’s a curious thing, this canvassing business: some people argue, some don’t say anything, some are lonely and drag the conversation on, some just tell you to piss off, some people don’t answer the door at all – you turn around and see a flicker of the curtains as you walk away. Going door to door, you see the damage twenty years of consensus, cross-party politics has done – so many people see no reason to vote at all. Does make you reflect on a system which actually preserves itself through its own ineffectiveness.”

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