On Brexit, and Today’s UK Election

I was asked today to give my prediction on today’s voting in the UK. So here goes…

My wife and I were in the UK for vacation in 2016, in the weeks leading up to the Brexit referendum. We were convinced ‘Remain’ would win handily. But really, what happened with that vote should have been an omen for the 2016 US presidential election. The people who were happy being part of the European Union (EU), tolerant of immigrants, and willing to pay a price (both financially and in reduced autonomy) to be part of something bigger and unifying, were willing to speak openly and champion their cause. The isolationists, the racists, the xenophobes, they all stayed silent and avoided the conversations just waiting for the chance to cast their votes. In the end, ‘Leave’ won just like Trump would that November, because just enough good people stayed home, convinced the outcome was secure (or just exhausted by the fight) and the opposition showed up like they never had before.

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As to the current vote? I think the UK is evenly split on the issue of Brexit, which is obvious by the gridlock in resolution. The UK is frustrated. The EU is frustrated. The rest of the world that does not want another economic collapse is frustrated. Markets can adjust to ups and downs; they just abhor uncertainty. Both sides are dug in deep, so instead of Brexit, the vote starts turning on other issues: Jeremy Corbyn, allegiances to the US and to Israel, NHS, even the positions of the parties on basic platform issues.

Before I get into how I think the election will go, I need to say something about an issue that has become a huge factor in the UK election towards the end of the race (around the same time it is catching fire as an issue here in America), and that is Israel and anti-Semitism. President Donald Trump (either on his own or at the urging of his advisers) signed Executive Orders this week prohibiting certain criticism of Israel, declaring Judaism a nationality and not just a religion, etc.

The idea of Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn being an anti-Semite has become a huge issue in the UK election, and I personally was attacked on Twitter this week for anti-Semitic views for questioning the success Donald Trump had in the 2016 election by pandering to American Jews about Israel. Trump’s 25% among American Jews was the highest in 6 presidential cycles.

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I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia. My two best friends from my youth are still my best friends today and are both Jewish. Owing to my name (David) and slightly olive complexion (from my mother’s Italian heritage), I am sure many people just assumed I was Jewish? Jeremy Corbyn and I share the same views on a Palestinian state being critical to peace in the Middle East. We share a view that the current Israeli government is not a good actor toward the goal of peace and that the British government (and the US government) should take a hard look at the arms they sell to Israel and the aid they send to Israel as those are conditional for every other country we support (conditional on exercising OUR foreign policy goals) but that rule does not apply to Israel. Holding those views does not make me an anti-Semite and it does not make Corbyn one either.

Back to the vote though…

Jeremy Corbyn is a Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders and Boris Johnson is a bad-haired, racist loudmouth in conservative clothes hellbent on isolating the UK and restricting immigration. Like Donald Trump. So, in a way, this could be a preview of our own election next year. Other than the anti-Semitism charges lobbed towards Corbyn, although Bernie Sanders would face actual anti-Semitism and not just the charge that he might be one.

I wish the election were a month from now instead of today. Johnson and Conservatives jumped way ahead in the polls when the election was called and held that lead most of the campaign. Corbyn and Labour slowly made a comeback before the anti-Semitism charges from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvin set them back. They have gained some of that back in the closing days narrowing the gap from 13 points to 10 to 5 in the last polls. It would be interesting if the race had another month for the process to continue narrowing.

To be clear, I think the Conservatives are going to win and win big. That was never really a question. They accounted for just over half of the last Parliament. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party), and a few smaller groups make up a coalition that is the opposition. The question therefore is not which party will win today but how far above 50% Johnson and Conservatives get. But 1 in 6 voters polled said they could still change their minds, so the possibility exists for anything from a stunning upset to a near-draw to a romp. And enough Conservatives defected on the Brexit vote the last few times that Johnson really needs to boost the margin if he hopes to push Brexit through.

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Personally, like I do on Israel, I agree with Corbyn’s most recent position on Brexit. He bounced around, and as liberals do, made an argument that was so confusing many voters ignored it, while Conservatives basically stuck with one word, “Leave.” What he is now proposing is that negotiations progress with the EU on leaving. He wants a deal done upfront while Johnson wants to get the hell out and figure out a deal in the meantime between when they exit the EU and the time the exit period (where all the rules have remained the same) ends. Corbyn also proposes a second referendum take place once ALL the terms have been negotiated so the UK people can fully understand just what they are accepting.

To me, that is critical. Think of it this way, in America, we have amended our Constitution 27 times. Only Prohibition was added as an amendment and then removed by a later amendment. The other 25 have been permanent. Would you want to cast a vote in a referendum where Democrats and Republicans argued that they were going to amend the Constitution to fix immigration, but that they wanted your vote NOW and they would craft the amendment later? That was the Brexit vote and that is basically what Johnson and Conservatives are asking now.

Just for fun, I am going to predict 333 seats for the Tories (Conservatives) in today’s election, enough for Johnson to remain Prime Minister and MAYBE enough for him to achieve Brexit, although every seat he wins below that narrows his chances.

People are tired of the process. Brexit began as a movement in 2012. Prime Minister David Cameron, bowing to Conservative pressure despite not supporting Brexit himself, promised in 2015 that, should his party win re-election (which was in doubt), they would hold a referendum in 2016. He won, they held a referendum, and the mess really exploded. Now, three and a half years later, the fight rages on with no end in sight unless Johnson wins big today.

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Attrition starts playing a part when the election process repeats time and time again. Hardliners and zealots, they keep showing up for both sides. The moderates, those who care but don’t care enough to stand in the rain waiting to vote, they dwindle with each cycle. A deadlock becomes a slight advantage becomes a landslide. But damn, would I love to see Corbyn wipe the smug sneer off Johnson’s face and for Trump to have to accept a Democratic Socialist as his new counterpart while Bernie Sanders stares him down at home.

 

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