This Election was Not About Brexit

And the politicians still don’t get it

In elections across the world since 2016, the political casualties have talked of “big lessons” that need to be learned. Why then, time and again, do they fail to learn them? And why are these results such a surprise to so many? The losing side in these elections blames nationalism, populism, the worrying rise of the political right. And they continue to miss the point.

The great irony of this General Election is that the vote reflects the anger of an electorate who felt ignored, but that same portion of the electorate favoured a campaign predicated on avoiding scrutiny at every turn. Boris Johnson ran scared from BBC’s Andrew Neil, was taunted by Channel 4’s ice sculptures and even sought refuge in a fridge to freeze out questions of his record. He is a man synonymous with mistrust, but has won votes based on the sense of a nation’s broken trust.

You see, Brexit is not the issue.

Let me explain:

According to much empirical research, the biggest factor in employee satisfaction is fostering a sense of autonomy. People like to feel that their actions mean something; that what they do at work, at home and at the ballot box really does affect the outcome. Self-determination is such a deep human instinct that it allowed the breathtaking arrogance of Boris Johnson’s campaign to go by unnoticed.

In Scotland, the exception proves the rule — the Conservative and Unionist Party has been all but kicked out, and the SNP now control 48 of 59 seats. Here the feeling of disenfrachisement lays not with Brexit, but with the Scots’ own political destiny. So Mr Johnson’s Brexit message was muffled, and his political games of hide-and-seek stood in more stark contrast to the offer from Nichola Sturgeon.

The biggest casualty in this election was the Labour party, losing votes in “every region and every country” (a phrase of which they were very fond in their manifesto, discussed here). Their now defunct leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has talked of the party entering a period of reflection. His first reflections are not good. He has sought to blame Brexit and the media, and is likely to use this period of reflection to stabilise a successor that embodies his failed vision of political change.

Yet the Labour Party has not become a party of change. Through his leadership it has become a party of singular orthodoxy, led by his own political stubbornness and implemented by an often viscous Momentum movement. For a party calling for such radical reform, it was not willing to reform itself.

The knives are certainly out now, and they are all turned inward. Factionalism is rife within the Labour party again. But while they don’t have much of a parliamentary platform any more, they should use the opportunity, free from political obligations, to become a party where political participation matters. Yet they seem likely to listen only their fellow wounded and repeat the mistakes of the past.

Take the hashtag #FBPE. “Follow back, pro-Europe”. It’s a request to amplify the echo-chamber, to talk to more people of the same political persuasion, and to wallow in one’s own views without challenge. For the bearers of this label in the lead up to the election, their social media stream was a vision of an inevitable red tide sweeping the country, a sure sign that those fascist pigs would have their comeuppance on election night. Yet come the morning they have been left bereft. And left wondering why. I’ve even seen the inevitable conspiracy theories surface:

Has dishonesty won the day?

The Conservatives appear to have swept aside all-comers, but their campaign was corrosive. Talk of surrender and betrayal does nothing to improve political discourse in this country. Avoiding scrutiny and the will of the people is the defining issue of our time. The Clintons felt themselves above reproach. David Cameron took Remain for granted. Theresa May’s snap election was cynical and presumptive. Boris Johnson has campaigned on enacting the will of the people of this country. He must start listening to them.

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