Politics

What American Democrats can learn from the UK General Election

It’s hard not to notice the parallels between the political situation in the UK and the United States. In 2016, political events in both countries shocked the world. The UK voted to leave the EU, ending nearly fifty years of membership in the multilateral trade and customs union. Likewise, the US voted for Donald Trump, ending the seeming continuation of dynastic presidential politics by electing an outspoken neophyte who promised to make America great again. Both elections caused an uproar as the left attempted to come to grips with the shifting political climate. Both sides in each country have increasingly stratified as they argue their legitimacy in enacting a path forward. Policy initiatives are met with hostility from the opposition. While liberals claim that the conservative parties are beholden to wealthy constituents, conservatives allege that the socialistic agenda of liberal parties will devastate the economy.

British citizens voted decisively on December 12th in a general election that gave the Conservative Party its biggest majority since the Thatcher era. The landslide Conservative victory included Labour losing seats it had held since the First World War. While polling indicated a Conservative victory, the margin by which it came shocked many. The run-up to the election was short-lived as MPs granted Boris Johnson’s call for a snap election just a few weeks prior. During the campaign, the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn offered a wide range of social initiatives — from free college tuition, to free broadband for the entire nation. He accused Mr. Johnson of attempting to ‘sell out’ the NHS to foreign investors, and of having little regard for populations of disadvantaged socio-economic status. Unlike Mr. Corbyn’s Labour Party Manifesto with its list of free government handouts, Mr. Johnson’s campaign message hinged simply on the promise to ‘get Brexit done’. As economic and political uncertainty has plagued the UK since 2016 when it voted to leave the European Union, Parliament has attempted to negotiate an exit strategy to no avail. It now seems as though little could stop Mr. Johnson from using his majority to fulfil his campaign promise to take the UK out of the EU.

Against this polarised backdrop, Democrats move forward with impeachment proceedings. Although polls suggest that less than half of the American public want to see Mr. Trump impeached, and a Republican Senate majority all but guarantees that he will not be removed from office regardless, Democrats have waged war on the Trump administration by narrowly focusing on impeaching the President along partisan lines.

Democrats seem to be out of step with the country. More broadly, the socialist agenda doesn’t seem to resonate with voters in either the US or UK. Nor does the left’s fear-mongering tactic which characterises conservative supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or as some other form of hate-fuelled extremist. In campaigning for the 2020 Presidential Election, the democratic agenda is unidentifiable. As Democrats move further to the left by promising free education, Medicare for all, and erasure of student loan debt, it seems to become more evident that Mr. Trump is poised to win again in 2020.

British voters had the option to vote for Labour, who promised huge social handouts, or the Conservative party with a simple promise of creating economic prosperity by ending Brexit uncertainty. While the desire to provide effective public goods is certainly admirable, it is unrealistic to expect the national government to fulfil every need of its citizenry and British voters overwhelmingly agreed. Democrats can take a lesson from this by moving away from identity politics and constructing a narrative that promotes improving society in absolute terms — not just for limited groups at the expensive of others. The federal government will never go far enough to end social discrimination: The responsibility lies with the individual. Instead of hopelessly expecting the national government to provide infinite solutions, advocates for social justice need to push for change at the local level. It’s heartening to witness liberals in the UK respond to a conservative victory by organising grassroots efforts. Rather than licking their wounds from the election loss, there’s a newfound movement to promote community volunteering and American liberals should take note.

What Democrats can take away from the Conservative victory in the UK is not that they must become more radical and hostile to those with whom they disagree; rather, they need to listen to voters by embracing moderate positions that unify voters and reflect the desires of a majority of the population. Only when Democrats move away from their Washington-centred focus on power politics and the radical socialist initiatives that are championed solely on college campuses and liberal think-tanks can they bridge the hyper-partisan divide vexing American politics.


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