Thoughts on the British election

Yesterday, John wrote about the upcoming election in Britain. Having just returned from England, I thought I might add the following observations:

John is right that the polls favor the Tories. Indeed, the poll by YouGov he cites predicts a big victory for that party. And, as John notes, YouGov’s poll of the last election was just about spot on.

The YouGov poll seems reasonably in line with other surveys. However, until a few days ago, there was a sense that Labour was closing the gap. The Tories reportedly were becoming nervous that they had peaked too soon.

Then, just before I left, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, refused repeatedly to apologize for the anti-Semitic tone of some members of his party. His refusal brought criticism from at least one high-ranking party official, and on Wednesday morning, as I prepared to return home, the BBC and other television news outlets were all over Corbyn for this.

Will Corbyn’s refusal halt whatever momentum the Labour party was picking up? Quite possibly. Will his refusal still resonate on election day? I’m not so sure. In any event, it was heartening to see Corbyn taking fire from liberal news outlets.

I suspect that here in the U.S., the Democratic party is only a decade or two behind the Labour party in the anti-Semitism department. When it catches up, will our media be willing to call the Dems out? I’m not so sure.

The most striking thing to me, as an outsider, about the British election was how little the candidates were talking about Brexit. I suppose that’s because the Labour party professes neutrality on the issue. It takes two to tussle, and Labour apparently doesn’t want to tussle with the Tories over Brexit.

Thus, most of what I heard from candidates during the various fora I watched was about social services and, to put it bluntly, free stuff. The Brits are frustrated with the state of services and if the train service in the north of England is a reliable indicator, they are right to be.

Labour seeks to gain power by promising to spend lots of money on social services. In addition, the party is appealing to a group called the Waspi women. Waspi stands for Women Against State Pension Inequality. The Waspi women have taken a financial hit due to a change in state pension age from 60 to 65. There are about four million of these women and most of them have family members (husbands and/or children) who are likely to be sympathetic.

The Labour party is promising to compensate the Waspi women. Tory leader Boris Johnson says Britain can’t afford to.

But this doesn’t mean the Tories aren’t promising free stuff. For example, they have promised free parking at hospitals for millions of patients, relatives, and staff. The party knows it can’t outbid Labour, but it also recognizes the danger of lagging too far behind.

Brexit may not be getting as much play from the candidates as one might expect, but it doesn’t seem far from the minds of voters. On the street, in restaurants, and on trains, this was the only issue election related issue I heard discussed.

If what I heard is indicative of public sentiment, then voters want above all for the matter to be sorted one way or the other. However, they don’t seem confident that this election, no matter how it goes, will get it sorted.

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