LONDON — After more than three years of Brexit stasis, stalemate, gridlock and increasingly toxic divide since the United Kingdom narrowly voted to leave the European Union, another general election is on the cards.
But will it break the parliamentary impasse and how will a frustrated and exhausted electorate vote? Early elections in Britain have had mixed fortunes for key parties in the past.
THERESA MAY’S DOWNWARD SPIRAL IN 2017
An embattled Prime Minister May called for an early election in 2017, just under a year after she took over from David Cameron.
Cameron stepped down, with a sizeable Conservative Party majority from the 2015 election but tainted by the ignominy of losing the EU referendum. Cameron gambled that the country wouldn’t vote “leave” and he could quell pro-Brexit Tories in his own party. He was wrong by a small but punishing margin with years of painful fallout for all concerned to follow.
As premier, the unelected May, feeling the heat from all quarters as she negotiated Britain’s exit from the EU, called an election to fortify her position both at home and abroad. It backfired spectacularly. Throughout the campaign, May repeated a mantra that she offered “strong and stable” leadership. It would come to haunt her.
The election resulted in a hung parliament. May had lost the majority and so began a two-year slide to her eventual departure with a failed legacy. Another of her phrases, “Brexit means Brexit” became consigned to the dustbins of recent British history.
HAROLD WILSON’S GAMBIT IN 1974
The political atmosphere in 1974 was beset with a miners’ strike that forced then Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath to call an early election as he sought a mandate to battle the strikers. A hung parliament resulted.
The Labour Party’s Harold Wilson became leader for another spell after his stint in the 1960s and he then called an early election just six months later in October 1974 to gain a majority. He was successful. But the years that followed after he stepped down in 1976 were weighed down by public sector trade union strikes that affected day-to-day life for millions. This “Winter of Discontent” paved the way for Margaret Thatcher to return a more hard-line and right-wing Tory party to power in 1979.
JOHNSON VS CORBYN AND OTHERS IN 2019
And, so to the now. Prime Minister Boris Johnson won’t be able to campaign on having fulfilled his “do or die” promise to leave the EU on Oct. 31.
But it will be an election as much about Brexit – what else? – than any of the pressing issues the country faces concerning the National Health Service, jobs, immigration and a listing foreign policy. All parties will set out their stall with Brexit and what follows for the nation at the fore.
Though current polls put the Conservatives well ahead, that could all change in a quick-fire campaign. A Tory majority is possible. So is another hung parliament. That could open the way for another coalition such as the Conservative Liberal Democrats one of 2010-2015, though no one seems too keen on that now after the Brexit-infused bitterness and
The Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will need to somehow walk the tightrope of appealing to its constituents – some who voted for Brexit and others who didn’t – based on a social program that would improve living standards for many who have felt excluded this past decade. The Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats could be boosted by their strong “remain” in the EU stances. The one-issue Brexit Party will shout loudly about betrayal of the referendum vote but their race may have already been run in European elections in which they triumphed during the summer.
And if parliament is again divided after a possible December poll, Britain and the EU could face more of the same. But for now, at least, it does seem as if no further “flextension” beyond Jan. 31, 2020 will be granted. Or will the saga many in Britain have tired of simply drag on?
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Tamer Fakahany, The Associated Press