For several years the received opinion is that the middle ground of politics has been abandoned here in the UK, in America and in much of Europe. There is, indeed, a superficial plausibility to this assertion, evidenced by the intemperate language of much of political debate. However, I believe that the underlying reality is quite different. Populations generally are largely conservative in their views, realistic and with a sense of fairness, and this applies on both the moderate left and moderate right. The British, in particular, detest extremes, are resistant to unnecessary change, want to see things incrementally improve, are willing to work for their living (hard, but not too hard) and know that you don’t get something for nothing. They have looked at the leaders of the two biggest political parties and the parties policies and made the decision that while neither leader exactly match an internalised ideal of statesmanship-like character, Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are definitely preferable to Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The policies of the present incarnation of the Labour Party are the most extreme in its long and illustrious history. One might have thought that the promises of ‘prizes for all’ that Labour seemed to be promising on the back of taxing the wealthy and the most productive industries would have appealed to the Labour heartlands that have had such a rough time in the past thirty years. But the British people weren’t falling for that by and large. These policies appealed primarily to three demographic groups: the young, because they are immature and irresponsible, as we all were once, and have not yet settled into a realistic view of life; celebrities, because they are congenitally immature and irresponsible; and the wealthy, because they are insulated from the predictable catastrophic consequences of socialism and are able to simultaneously burnish their moral self-image. The Northern and Midland traditional Labour voters tilted decisively to the Conservatives precisely because they judged that life under Labour would be worse for them and their children. If, as some pundits proposed, Labour voters were ‘holding their noses’ to vote Tory, one can only imagine that they must have been gagging at the thought of a Corbyn premiership. Anecdotal evidence (the partiality of television interviews must always be considered anecdotal) suggests this is right.
It could be argued that the one major exception to this common sense of the British electorate is over Brexit. Brexit seems such a risky strategy, that it would argue against the fundamental conservatism of the people. But, while the risks and opportunities of leaving the EU can be endlessly debated, the people understand, in a way that the political classes and the liberal media failed to understand, that a democracy rests on the will of the people, and the people decided by a majority – albeit a slim majority – to leave the EU and set out on the route to becoming an independent nation once more; moreover, that the endless attempts to frustrate that up till now are a betrayal of the principle of democracy. As much was accepted by many of the Labour spokespeople, not of the Corbynite persuasion, interviewed on election night. The outcome of the election has not stopped the Remainer rump pointing out that only 48% of voters voted for pro-Brexit parties; this disingenuously ignores the complexity of voting patterns; some Remainers will have voted Conservative over issues of trust, some Leavers for Labour out of lifelong habit.
It is easier to be magnanimous in victory than in defeat. Nevertheless, it was chilling to see the response of the hard left Corbynites to their defeat. There was nothing wrong with their policies, which were “incredibly popular“; the problem was “Brexit fatigue” and, inevitably, the voting system. Of course their was nothing wrong with their policies, because their policies are the natural expression of their beliefs which, being unconnected with the real world, are beyond reproach. The problem lies with the people they were supposed to be representing, the electorate, particularly the electorate in the traditionally Labour-voting areas, whose views were found to be wanting: too parochial, too thick to understand their own best interests. The disengagement and divergence of Corbynist Labour from their historic roots is astonishing, the tone of discourse of their camp followers about their political rivals vulgar and uncompromising, the leadership uninspiring apparatchiks. The ordinary working people of Britain understood, in a way that the ‘woke’ liberal classes did not, the danger of giving these people power over their lives and their country.
I have always had at the back of my mind an image of Boris Johnson as something of a buffoon, a rather pompous clown-like figure, certainly not someone was expected to lead the nation. However, that image has been largely displaced of late. Firstly, by his ruthless efficiency in reshaping the Tory party as a force to achieve Brexit. And now, in victory, by a humility in accepting that the votes of the Labour heartland are not his by right but only conditionally lent and that, in return, the Conservative party must change to reflect this new reality. We will see whether this is more than rhetoric. But the contrast with Corbyn as a leader is remarkable: strategic commitment to Brexit with pragmatic adaptability versus ‘strategic ambiguity’ over Brexit and ideological rigidity. All political leaders eventually disappoint – the virtue of democracy is that we can dispense with their services when our aspirations are not being met. The people are waiting to see whether they have chosen wisely.