Why Boris Won — And How The GOP Might
Gang, I am behind on writing my book, so please forgive me for not responding to all your e-mails. I just can’t right now. I just saw Andrew Sullivan’s long analysis of the UK election results, though, and I want to commend it to you as the best thing you are likely to read on the meaning — for Britain, and for America — of the Tory landslide. Excerpts:
The British people, after giving [Jeremy Corbyn] the benefit of the doubt in 2017, turned on him. On his expansive, super-ambitious plan for massive investment in infrastructure and public services, they just didn’t believe the math. On his rancid long history of sympathizing with terrorists, they feared what he might do to the security services. On his anti-Semitism, they righteously humiliated the old codger.
The Liberal Democrats collapsed for two core reasons. They epitomized the London liberal elites. A key promise was simply: We will revoke Brexit altogether, you dumbass voters. No second referendum, just a parliamentary program to nullify the referendum of 2016. Hard to think of a more elitist project than that. Then they embraced wokeness. In the last week of the campaign, their leader, Jo Swinson, got caught in long discussions about what she believes a woman is. She didn’t just lose the election, she lost her own seat. It is clearer and clearer to me that the wholesale adoption of critical race, gender, and queer theory on the left makes normal people wonder what on earth they’re talking about and which dictionary they are using. The white working classes are privileged? A woman can have a penis? In the end, the dogma is so crazy, and the language so bizarre, these natural left voters decided to listen to someone who does actually speak their language, even if in an absurdly plummy accent.
Then the real gamble: Instead of sticking to getting Brexit done in Parliament, he called an early election to give himself a clear mandate for it. By fighting on the genius and simple slogan “Get Brexit Done,” he exposed the deep divides on the left, unified the right, and knocked his opponents for six (if you will forgive a cricket metaphor). But just as important, he moved the party sharply left on austerity, spending on public services, tax cuts for the working poor, and a higher minimum wage. He outflanked the far right on Brexit and shamelessly echoed the left on economic policy.
This is Trumpism without Trump. A conservative future without an ineffective and polarizing nutjob at the heart of it. Johnson now has a mandate to enact this new Tory alignment, and he will be far more competent than Trump at it. Unlike Trump, he will stop E.U. mass migration, and pass a new immigration system, based on the Australian model. Unlike Trump, he will focus tax cuts on the working poor, not the decadent rich.
On implications for American politics:
What does this remarkable result mean for the U.S.? Here are some thoughts: Many will dismiss any lessons are applicable. They’ll say Britain is a very different place, Brexit is a unique issue, and Corbyn was exceptionally unpopular. There’s truth in all that. But take each point. Britain actually is very much like the U.S. right now. It too has become divided between liberal urban elites and everyone else, between nationalists and internationalists, between big cities and everywhere else, between those favoring a crackdown on new immigration and those who revel in open borders with 28 other countries. The polarization, tribalism, legislative gridlock: It’s uncanny how similar the places feel these days. And there’s a historical pattern in which Britain echoes the U.S. in political shifts: Thatcher and Reagan, George H.W. Bush and John Major, Blair and Clinton, Obama and Cameron, Brexit and Trump. I guess you can say this time it’s different. I suspect not.
And is Brexit that unique? Brexit was fueled by fears of mass immigration, globalized trade, cultural fragmentation, demographic shifts, and liberal overreach. So no, it’s by no means unique. It’s very much the same movement of left-behind people expressing their views on the same issues, who, tragically, put their trust in Trump. What we’ve seen is how tenacious a voting bloc that now is, which is why Trumpism is here to stay. If we could only get rid of the human cancer at the heart of it.
My fear is that the continuing presence of Trump will greatly diminish the possibility of a Trumpism-Without-Trump politics to coalesce among senior Republicans. If Trump wins a second term, it will be time for the GOP Congressional leadership to go against their own Establishment instincts, and give leadership roles to figures like Sen. Josh Hawley and the changing Sen. Marco Rubio, to allow them to lead this directionless president in ways his better instincts tell him to go, instead of in the direction of his worst instincts, and in the direction that the party’s donors want.
More Sully, spot on:
The political sweet spot in the next few years will be a combination of left economics and a celebration of the nation-state. Trump has bollixed it up, of course. He ran on Johnson’s platform but gave almost all his tax cuts to the extremely wealthy, while Johnson will cut taxes on the poor. Trump talks a big game on immigration but has been unable to get any real change in the system out of Congress. Johnson now has a big majority to pass a new immigration bill, with Parliament in his control, which makes the task much easier. Trump is flamingly incompetent and unable to understand his constitutional role. Boris will assemble a competent team, with Michael Gove as his CEO, and Dom Cummings as strategist.
If Johnson succeeds, he’ll have unveiled a new formula for the Western right: Make no apologies for your own country and culture; toughen immigration laws; increase public spending on the poor and on those who are “just about managing”; increase taxes on the very rich and redistribute to the poor; focus on manufacturing and new housing; ignore the woke; and fight climate change as the Tories are (or risk losing a generation of support).
Read it all. There’s much more. And think about it.
A reader of this blog, an American academic, told me this morning that his Facebook feed is full of agonized comments from UK academic colleagues, saying that they want to leave Britain, how could idiots like the Tory supporters be allowed to vote, etc. The reader said, “It never occurs to them to step back and think about why so many people hate and fear them.”
Along these lines, I was having lunch today with a local friend, a theologically and socially conservative Christian, a white guy who, like me, tends to vote Democratic in local elections — we talked about how we’d both voted for John Bel Edwards in the recent Louisiana governor’s race — and who can’t stand Donald Trump. We were talking about the British results, and how the pollsters missed the margin of the coming Tory blowout. My friend said (I paraphrase):
“Can you blame people for not answering pollsters’ questions? Everybody is told all the time that the things they believe, and the things they worry about, are backwards and bigoted. They have learned to keep it to themselves. It’s the same thing here. I hate Donald Trump, but I’m probably going to end up voting for him, because at least he doesn’t hate my sons. I want a good future for every child — black, Latino, white, all of them — but the Left thinks my sons are what’s wrong with the world. I would not admit this to a pollster, but yeah, I’m probably going to vote for Trump, and I’m not happy about it, but I feel like the Democrats these days don’t give me any choice but to vote defensively.”
Totally agree with this.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have no idea why the Republicans are so damned silent on wokeness, including the transgender madness. No doubt about it, the American people have accepted gay marriage and gay rights, broadly. But the Left will not accept this victory in the culture war. They cannot help bouncing the rubble, and driving people farther than they are willing to go, or that they should have to go. It’s the elites — and not just academic elites. Every week I get at least two e-mails from readers sending me examples of transgender wokeness taking over their professions — especially big business. People hate this pronoun crap, but nobody dares to speak out against it, because they are afraid of being doxxed, cancelled, or at least marginalized in the workplace. Surely there is a big common-sense vote to be energized here. Boris Johnson is not a cultural conservative in any meaningful sense that I can see, but he’s not that lunatic Jo Swinson, and he’s not like these militant cultural Jacobins of the left-liberal elites that despise as bigots anyone and everyone who doesn’t affirm their rancid orthodoxies, and who want to persecute all dissenters. For example:
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) December 5, 2019
Boris (and Sully) style Toryism is better than nothing, isn’t it? As a general rule, in this emerging post-Christian social and political order, we conservative Christians had better not let the unachievable perfect be the enemy of the common-sense good enough.
UPDATE: A friend just texted to point out that Philip Blond saw all of this coming a decade ago. He sure did! Read Blond’s 2009 “Rise of the Red Tories” essay. Excerpt:
Taken together, such policies will help conservatives create a transformative red Tory manifesto. They would build a new economic and capital base that decentralises power and extends wealth and also makes a final break with the logic of monopoly and debt-financed capitalism. In doing so, Cameron can finally bring together the Tory tradition of Disraeli’s reform of capitalism with his own entirely justified desire to be a “social radical.” It would render the left superfluous and redefine Marx as just another dispossessor of the poor. Moreover it would recover the insights of 19th-century conservatives like Cobbett, Ruskin and Carlyle, ally them with Tawney and the distributism of Chesterton, Belloc and Skelton—all of who knew that, without something to trade, one cannot enter a market. Making markets truly free prevents corporate domination, but also extends ownership, prosperity and innovation across the whole of society. The task of recapitalising the poor is, therefore, the task of making the market work for the many, not the few. David Cameron doesn’t need to do any of this to win the next election. But, to be a great prime minister, he does.
Cameron didn’t do it. Maybe it couldn’t have been done back then. Times have changed. If I were Sen. Hawley, Sen. Rubio, or any GOP leader thinking like they seem to be thinking, I’d talk to Philip Blond.
UPDATE.2: Lo and behold, Philip Blond has written a First Things piece analyzing yesterday’s election results. Excerpts:
Two things together euthanized Labour support among the British working class: Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit. The Labour leader deeply offended the honor of the British working class. Here was a man who despised his own country, a man who couldn’t find anything good in our island story. Here was a man who consorted with Britain’s enemies, with terrorists, with Islamicists. Here was a man who fostered a metropolitan culture of self-hate, repudiation, and woke, upper-middle-class anti-Semitism. In addition, this was a man who sought control of the state so that he and his cadre could control and re-write the common norms of thought, belief, and behavior.
Compounding and concentrating all the above was the great postliberal political phenomenon which was and is Brexit. In the eyes of those who voted to leave, it was a vote against all that liberalism has wrought and all that liberalism has brought: a world of rampant social, economic, and cultural insecurity. A world where common values and societal cohesion are threatened by mass immigration and the possible import of hostile beliefs and values. A world where Britain’s rulers favor outsiders over insiders. A world where their values and lives are repudiated and laughed at by a graduate class that has in essence decided they need replacing, or at least coercing, by the language forms and sexual ideologies of the upper enlightened classes.
Those who voted Conservatism for the first time yesterday do not want and will rightly reject any supply-side Thatcherite nonsense. For they know that under those auspices they will be abandoned once more to insecurity and deprivation. They have explicit demands on culture, on society, and on economics that cannot be met by liberalism.
Read it all. Blond says that the Tory Party are almost all economic liberals (= free market globalists), so they will have to all be traitors to what they believe if they are going to serve the interests and desires of the people whose support gave them such a mandate. I think this has a lot to do with why Trump has been such a disappointment: the GOP are all economic liberals, and while Trump has populist instincts on trade, and has been admirably tough with China, he did, in fact, hand the rich a big fat tax cut.
UPDATE.3: Holy crap on a crapstick! “Titiana McGrath” is a satirical account, but what she’s commenting on really happened:
I genuinely don’t understand how Jeremy Corbyn could have lost.
He announced his pronouns and everything. pic.twitter.com/sPu4NNF487
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) December 13, 2019
UPDATE.4: Comment from reader Mary Therese:
So here is part of a conversation on a Facebook group I’m part of: I’ve redacted the names to initials. Apologies if the formatting is strange: it was tricky copying and pasting.
AH: I feel really weird. People on TV are actually admitting to voting tory! I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in real life who admits to voting tory.
JR: It’s only because they won otherwise they’d be keeping stum. I’ve unfriended two people so far and I’m sure there’ll be those who unfriend me.
SR: The lass who did my nails admitted to me earlier that she voted Tory to keep Corbyn out.
AH: Did you point out to her that she’s an idiot?
SR: no, I think she worked that one out all by herself ?. In fact, I
felt sorry for her xxx
FK: I’ve met a few, Anna, but I’ve never understood them!
AM: When I was sixteen, I knew a Young Conservative.
NS: I assume that anyone secretive about their vote is a Tory.
FC: i remember with real pleasure someone I’d known for a very long time keeping stumm about what they voted in the 2016 referendum till it all got too much and one Sunday morning on FB they threw a massive strop and accused me of calling them, personally, stupid and ignorant.
Was a bit nonplussed till it turned out they’d voted Leave. One swift blocking later and all was resolved.
And that, of course, is why so few people admit to voting Tory: why would one want to be unfriended and despised? I know most of these people personally, not just via Facebook, and wouldn’t dream of unfriending them just because we disagree about politics; but it doesn’t work the other way round. Having lived through the 1970s, I think they are misguided to believe in Socialism; but they think that Tories – at least, those of their own social class – are evil. No problem when working-class people vote Tory, because they’re ‘idiots’ (see AH’s second comment above), and obviously racists as well as morons; but when the middle classes do so, they have to be ostracised. Strange how a party that was formed to represent the working classes has now become the preserve of the bourgeoisie.
And before you ask – no, I haven’t owned up on that Facebook group, coward that I am.