The UK entered a parallel universe in 2019. Here's what should have happened instead.
Welcome to an alternate reality, in which the left won the 2019 election. Jeremy Corbyn is the ineffectual Prime Minister of a coalition government; Boris Johnson is the equally ineffectual leader of the opposition. Yet the country is significantly better represented.
On 12 December 2019, the Conservative party won a landslide election victory in the UK, with a towering majority of 80 seats in Parliament. Labour had its worst performance since 1932, and the Liberal Democrats fared even worse, losing every single one of the candidates that had joined the party in the run-up to the election, as well as leader Joe Swinson's own seat.
By any definition, it was an absolute wipe-out. A shattering, monstrous catastrophe that far exceeded anything I had even remotely thought possible. In the following days, I had an epiphany: I no longer believed in democracy. Or to be more exact, I no longer believed in the UK's version of democracy - which, it turns out, is actually not that democratic at all.
Yet if the number of seats in Parliament had matched the percentage of votes, then the left wing parties - Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru - could have formed a coalition government, and ousted the Tories from power. The only reason this didn't happen, is because of the UK's first past the post electoral system, in which seats are NOT allocated based on percentage of votes.
51% of votes cast were for "left" parties
46% of votes cast were for the "right", i.e. the Conservatives and the Brexit party
If seats had matched votes, then the left wing coalition would have had 331 MPs, the right would have had 296 MPs and the remaining 23 MPs would have been smaller parties or independents.
What the public voted for, if anything, was a left-wing government, balanced by a strong right wing presence in Parliament. The Prime Minister would have been Jeremy Corbyn, but his cabinet would by necessity have included members of the other left wing parties in coalition. The government's majority would have been small - just 12 seats - meaning that negotiation and compromise in Parliament would have been necessary.
It follows from this that two things would have come out of the election: a second referendum on Brexit, which in all likelihood would have resulted in a majority vote to Remain in the EU; and a second referendum on Scottish independence, which might have resulted in a "Yes" vote to independence. The environment would also likely have received a boost, with a Green cabinet minister appointed as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
With the UK having decided to Remain in the EU, the whole saga of Brexit would not be happening. On the negative side, a "hard left" Prime Minister would have perhaps caused some initial capital flight, but given that the new government is a coalition, the damage probably would have not been too bad, and the absence of Brexit would be an undoubted boost to the economy and the UK's reputation.
What does it all mean?
Political commentators have spun a narrative about the 2019 election result, and what it says about Britain. Britain is thought to be in a new political era, led by the right wing ascendancy. Much of this analysis is an oversimplification - or outright nonsense.
13.9 million people voted Conservative
18.2 million people voted for other parties
a third of the electorate didn't even vote
The UK population in 2019 was 66 million. So 21% of the population voted Conservative. To put it the other way round - 79% of the population did not vote for the Conservatives. They hardly have an overwhelming mandate. Even if we only count registered voters, the Conservatives only convinced 29% of the electorate.
And that's before we get onto who these voters were. The Conservative message on immigration, human rights, nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc, was not exactly subtle. Their message was designed to appeal to the "low information voter", and it worked.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,'” said American writer and biochemical scientist Isaac Asimov in January 1980. Unfortunately, this is still just as true today as it was then.
Ignorance is hard to measure fairly. Qualifications do not necessarily signify intelligence, nor is education a perfect guide to how informed someone is (it's easy to think of counter-examples). But even though it is imperfect, it is still interesting, even if we should probably take it with a pinch of salt. So let us look at some hard data from the 2019 election: voter demographics, by education level.
Vote percent Con Lab LibDem Other
No qualifications 59 23 7 11
Other qualification 47 33 10 10
Degree or higher 34 39 17 10
What these numbers are telling us is that the Conservative voter was overwhelmingly the least educated, while the most educated tended to vote overwhelmingly Labour or LibDem. What you make of that, dear reader, is up to you...
So how would a left wing government have been different?
Aside from reversing Brexit and potentially offering Scotland a choice to go independent, the government would also introduce important, much-needed reforms that affect foreign policy and human rights:
The UK's nuclear submarine fleet is based at Faslane, in Scotland.
"Within the first year of government, Labour will introduce a War Powers Act to ensure that no prime minister can bypass Parliament to commit to conventional military action."
In its 2019 manifesto (quoted above), the Labour party promised to implement in full the recommendations of the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's role in the Iraq war. It also promised to uphold human rights, and in particular, to "establish a judge-led inquiry into our country’s alleged complicity in rendition and torture, and the operation of secret courts."
Notably, the party would "Immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel for arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians, and conduct a root-and-branch reform of our arms exports regime so ministers can never again turn a blind eye to British-made weapons being used to target innocent civilians."
This contrasts sharply with the line the Conservatives have taken, which seeks to undermine and infringe human rights, particularly concerning the treatment of migrants and refugees. Indeed, they have banned local councils from supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to bring peaceful pressure to bear on Israel's government to stop abusing the human rights of Palestinians.
A left wing coalition led by Labour would also have actually done something about the housing crisis, unlike the Tories. From their 2019 election promises:
Labour will deliver a new social housebuilding programme of more than a million homes over a decade...the biggest council housebuilding programme in more than a generation.
Labour will create a new Department for Housing and a new English Sovereign Land Trust, with powers to buy land more cheaply for low-cost housing. We will use public land to build this housing, not sell it off to the highest bidder.
Developers will face new ‘use it or lose it’ taxes on stalled housing developments.
In any case, I did not intend this blog post to turn into an advertisement for the Labour party. But I did find it interesting that they had these policies, some of which I had not heard about going into the 2019 election.
The UK would have been a better country had the outcome actually reflected the votes cast, in all sorts of ways... the real problem is not democracy, it's the lack of it.
Britain did not vote for Boris and the Conservatives. The 2019 election was stolen by a poor electoral system, which allocates power capriciously, without real regard to what people actually wanted. The current system is a travesty, and it needs to be changed.
Let's hope that sooner or later, the sun may rise again on the UK, and a better future may finally emerge, however long that takes...
“At last he rose and twitched his mantle blue: tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.”
- John Milton, Lycidas, 1637.