The UK has had a general election, which means we’ll have to look into what happened and what it means for Britain, Brexit and the rest of Europe. I’m joined by special correspondent Mike, who’s been looking at the goings-on in the UK from across the Irish Sea.

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The Election Results

The 2019 United Kingdom general election was held on 12 December 2019. The governing Conservative Party sought to regain their majority in the House of Commons after losing it in the general election in 2017. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, appointed to the role in July after Theresa May resigned, called for a snap election in October due to increasing parliamentary deadlock over Brexit since 2017, and secured majority support for its ratification into law.

The Conservative Party won a landslide victory securing 365 seats out of 650, giving them an overall majority of 80. The Conservatives gained seats in several Labour Party strongholds in Northern England, flipping seats that were held by Labour for decades. Bishop Auckland elected a Conservative for the first time in its 134-year history as constituency. In the worst results for the party in more than 80 years, Labour lost a total of 60 seats reducing them to 202 seats, not including the Speaker, a Labour MP. Although they increased vote share, the Liberal Democrats failed to gain the results in seats that they had hoped for: they both lost and won seats, for a net reduction of 1, reducing them to 11 seats in the new parliament. The Scottish National Party gained 13 seats, winning 48 of the 59 seats in Scotland. The SNP’s leader Nicola Sturgeon described the result as a clear mandate to hold a new referendum for Scottish independence.

Polling found a strong relationship between older age and voting Conservative. Around a quarter of voters said they were trying to stop the party they liked least from winning, i.e. voting tactically.

Seat distribution


Vote by age

It also didn’t hurt that the Tories were running against Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader who became a hero of the socialist left after Labour’s triumphant showing in 2017, but who has been dogged by persistent accusations of turning the party into a harbor for anti-Semitism—including from dissenters within the Labour Party and, according to one poll, 86 percent of British Jews. (Underscoring the point, Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a Corbyn ally, told British tabloid the Mirror Thursday that Corbyn lost in part because “The Jewish vote wasn’t very helpful.” Jews represent less than one-half of one percent of the British electorate.) As returns came in, Corbyn announced he would resign as Labour leader.

The near-term effects of Thursday’s election – a path forward for Brexit, a mandate for Boris – are obvious. But the long-term ramifications the results suggested are just as striking, providing the latest data point that party realignments across the Western world are showing no signs of slowing down. The results supported the notion that conservative parties like the Tories – previously the domain of pro-business and capital interests – are populated increasingly by less-educated, working-class voters, while left-wing parties like Labour – formerly populated by blue-collar workers – are now increasingly made up of professional-class urbanites. This transition, of course, is one familiar to Americans: It’s the same dynamic that helped lift Donald Trump to the White House in 2016.

What It Means for Brexit

Until 11 November, many had assumed that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party was revving up for a general election. But that morning, Farage told an audience of supporters and journalists in Hartlepool that his Brexit party would be standing down in 317 Conservative-held seats to avoid splitting the leave vote. This election will be remembered as a resounding, crushing victory for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. Just as has happened countless times before, Farage will be written off and ridiculed for his party not winning a single seat. But that morning of 11 November was the single most important moment of the campaign. Farage won it for Johnson.

Farage was for a long time eager to stand in every seat and not stand down – as he was being pressured to do by his erstwhile Leave.EU ally Arron Banks. Farage instead kept pushing a leave alliance that the Tories were never likely to officially agree to. But as the Brexit party started to flag in the polls, Farage lost his nerve and gave in to those not wanting to challenge Conservative seats.

It’s not clear what happens to the Brexit party now, with a Conservative majority set to secure an exit from the EU. Farage has already registered the name of the Reform party. As this general election campaign wore on, Farage increasingly focused on radical reform – more direct democracy, scrapping of the House of Lords, a reformed electoral system. When I spoke to the Brexit party’s Claire Fox in October, she saw Brexit as the gateway to a kind of bloodless revolution for British democratic institutions. Fox is part of a core of former Revolutionary Communist party figures who have flocked to the Brexit party and remained loyal to Farage, who ended up convening around Spiked, the rightwing media outlet.

The PM’s spokesman said the government planned to start the process in Parliament before Christmas in the “proper constitutional way”. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill is the legislation that will enable Brexit to happen – the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 January. The Queen will formally open Parliament on Thursday when she sets out the government’s legislative programme.

The Run-Up to the Election

The Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising says at least 31 campaigns from across the party spectrum have been indecent, dishonest or untruthful. The non-partisan body is made up of advertising professionals. It says the next government must create a new regulator to oversee the matter.

The Coalition says the largely unregulated world of election ads bears little resemblance to one of the founding principles of retail advertising, namely that ads should be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

Edward Bernays would probably disagree with that:

Bernays used his Uncle Sigmund Freud’s ideas to help convince the public, among other things, that bacon and eggs was the true all-American breakfast.

The viral WhatsApp messages urging British Hindus to vote against Labour – something that’s still going on now. Some very extreme messages were sent by a member of a local Conservative party.

I did a lot of work in this campaign with my favourite data journalist, Carmen Aguilar García. Best example of her brilliance: this analysis of the emoji reactions to the leaders’ posts.

Remember the Tories’ spoof Labour Manifesto site? With my reporting soulmate Alexander J. Martin, I revealed that Google had breached its own rules by running an ad for it without a disclaimer. Two weeks later, Google breached its own rules again. It still hasn’t said how many times this happened, nor what has been done to prevent it happening again. Great to have so much accountability!

One of the weirdest stories of the campaign. A Lib Dem official faked an email to quash a negative story from Open Democracy. The Lib Dems launched an investigation… And we still haven’t heard what they found. Three cheers for accountability!

Political parties are using gifs to push their message, led by the SNP, whose Giphy channel has 20m+ views. I was struck by a phrase Ross Colquhoun used when telling me about this: “Cut and paste activism”. To me that describes a lot of this campaign.

The fake Corbyn tweets that went viral after the London Bridge attack were collectively workshopped on 4Chan in a horribly efficient decentralised disinformation effort.

The Labour Party is ranking every voter in each constituency on key issues, including “austerity”, “inequality” and “immigration”, Sky News can reveal. Digital rights campaigners criticised the practice, saying this kind of ranking could mean voters were excluded from democratic debate. Sky News understands the rankings are used to decide which voters to canvass. It is believed the Conservative Party has a similar system which uses Experian data – which is also the basis for the Conservatives’ canvassing system.

In October, Sky News and the Open Rights Group revealed that the Liberal Democrats were profiling voters by scoring them out of 100 on 42 potential categories, including which party they will vote for in the next election and whether they were a Remainer or Leaver.

How unpleasant it has been over the past day to observe senior establishment journalists sit cosily alongside senior centrist and right-wing politicians and commentators, all agreeing on a single issue: Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s policies have led us to this point. Moreover, what indifference – even admiration – many of them seemed to display for the disturbing majority won by one of the most callous, deceitful and self-centered prime ministers the UK has had in living memory.

As the data emerges, there will be comprehensive analyses of what went wrong for Labour over the coming weeks (hint: Brexit will be a key factor), but at this moment it is worth highlighting something else, something arguably more important, because it cuts right to the heart of our so-called democracy: senior British journalists, across press and broadcasting, have failed the electorate, and their refusal to admit it and reform is putting us all in greater jeopardy.

Opinion polling results

What It Means for Europe

The UK election result seems to be symptomatic of working-class people deserting the social democrat and labour movements to vote for more conservative parties. Whereas university-educated voters seem to be more attracted to left philosophies these days. If this holds true, it heralds a fundamental shift in society with the more numerous working class shifting right, while the smaller elite is shifting left.

The shift in university-educated voters might come from more people from poorer backgrounds joining universities in the ‘80s and ‘90s, who took on their parents’ labour and social justice oriented mentality. Which is now being spread from that generation to their children. Whereas the shift in the working class seems to stem from this part of the population feeling betrayed by the labour and social democrat governments of the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

The Scottish Government has proposed holding a second referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom (UK). A referendum on Scottish independence was held in September 2014, with 55% voting against the proposal. One of the reasons cited by those opposed to Scottish independence was that it would endanger Scotland being part of the European Union (EU). Following the Conservative victory in the May 2015 UK general election, a referendum on UK membership of the EU was legislated for.

In March 2017, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP, obtained Scottish Parliament approval to request a Section 30 order enabling a second independence referendum, to take place between late 2018 and early 2019, “when the shape of the UK’s Brexit deal will become clear”; she sent the formal request to the UK Government at the end of March.[4] To date, there has been no formal response from the UK Government. Whereas an automatically binding referendum requires a section 30 order, the possibility of an advisory referendum without the consent of the UK government has also been raised as a possibility.

This week Sturgeon will publish a new document she hopes will define the case for independence and strengthen her demands for the powers to stage a second referendum.

In a referendum in June 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The majority of those voting in Northern Ireland, however, voted for the UK to remain. There are several key issues related to the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union, including the establishment of a new external border of the European Union, or the withdrawal of access, to Northern Ireland, of the regional development assistance scheme (and new funding thereof) from the European Union. Sinn Féin cited these concerns as the basis for new discussion on a united Ireland. In the 2017 Assembly election, the DUP lost ten seats and came just one seat ahead of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin used this opportunity to call for a Northern Ireland referendum on a united Ireland.

Sinn Fein is pressing for a referendum if, in its view, Northern Ireland is taken out of the EU against its will. Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “If Boris Johnson chooses to use his mandate to pursue a no-deal or a hard Brexit then it is inevitable that Scotland will push for a second referendum on independence and it is almost inevitable that there will be a push for an Irish unity referendum. Northern Ireland voted Remain by a majority of 56% to 44% in the 2016 referendum, although the Democratic Unionists supported Leave.

“The people of North Down do want to remain, the people of Northern Ireland do want to remain, that is the resounding message of the election but what we need to do now is have the reality check,” Long said. We are now in the situation where, having had the opportunity to influence two successive UK Governments, the DUP failed to do that in the best interests of Northern Ireland because they rejected the softer Brexit that was available and went for a hard Brexit. “Now we have a prime minister who no longer cares or needs the DUP to be able to deliver the hardest Brexit that he wants to deliver and so our options are limited.”

Your View on the Matter

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I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Thanks and Credits

Podcast theme performed by Dan Lynch, originally by Bruce Springsteen.
Our hosting is sponsored by Bytemark.