By Lukman Harees –
It was one of the most remarkable election results in UK history. Theresa May scored the second ‘own’ goal for the Conservative Party in UK in two years. David Cameron before her, rolled the dice with the future of UK by calling for a EU referendum out of sheer arrogance and vanity, which led to the infamous Brexit. Now, despite her assurances that there will not be any elections before 2020, she took the ‘safe’ gamble to call a snap election , on an overdrive of confidence, armed with a comfortable stratospheric +28 point approval rating while her Labour opponent Jeremy Corbin’s was below par at -23 points facing internal coups and a well-orchestrated Media ganging up against him. ‘Vote for a strong and stable government and not for a collation of chaos’ was her election roar.
Alas! What ultimately came about was an absolute disaster and to borrow a Sinhala parlance, it was a case of ‘Illan parippu Kaema’. Her election gamble failed miserably losing her party’s parliamentary majority in the process, which led her to ask DUP in North Ireland, a “hardline, populist, protectionist” party and a “poor fit” as a partner for the Conservatives, to pop up her government( a coalition of chaos), seriously undermining her ability to engage effectively in the Brexit negotiations, and ultimately creating uncertainty. Making June the near end of May (lol), pun intended. May thus strategically staged an unnecessary general election three years before it is due, spending at least £130 Mn of the tax payers money, and the Conservatives will not forgive her for the result, with an internal party coup is in the brimming with observers even predicting a new prime minister. Sounds familiar! Yes SL Post-War political Hero Mahinda Rajapaksa too called a snap elections in November 2014 when his popularity was at its’ peak which ultimately led to his disastrous defeat!
As a Conservative MP commented,’ “We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head’. The last year’s EU referendum showed UK to be a dangerously divided country. This election has highlighted those divisions much more clearly – young against old, rich against poor, north against south, urban against rural.
Political scientists are often sniffy about campaigns. They think that campaigns have at best a minimal impact on election results and sometimes have none whatsoever. We can now be pronounced with absolute confidence, on the basis of Britain’s general election, that political scientists are talking tosh. Election campaigns matter an enormous amount, as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn proved.
May ran what was perhaps the worst campaign in recent political history—robotic, cliché-ridden, condescending, slapdash and otherwise awful. May’s rallies were abysmal affairs. She frequently imported party apparatchiks to pretend to be real people. By contrast Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn ran an inspired campaign. Mr Corbyn’s rallies by contrast were thrilling—huge crowds of the party faithful flocked to see their leader. He started off with the huge advantage that expectations were so low; however as the election proceeded, he turned into an impressive campaigner. He dealt with hostile interviewers with a zen-like calm. He explained his beliefs patiently.
According to an article in ‘The Economist’ of 09th June, May’s team made four unforgiveable mistakes. Firstly, they allowed expectations to get out of control. Secondly, they made the entire election about Theresa May. The aim was to turn the election into a referendum between two people and their ability to negotiate Brexit. Third, they turned on their most faithful supporters- the elderly with a proposed ‘Dementia tax’, which she later retracted and then the electorate began to lost confidence in her ability to negotiate Brexit, when she cannot even project a ‘strong and stable’ message without taking a U-turn. Fourth, they treated voters with contempt. There were robotic slogans, “strong and stable” being the worst offender. They long believed if the same slogan was repeated over and over again, the electors may have just about registered it by the time they go to the polls. That style of politics died on June 8th.
The autopsy of this general election disaster will continue for days to come, but as the Conservatives stare at the cold reality of their failed election gamble, one of the lessons that must be acknowledged was a failure in the leadership’s media strategy. As observers note, unavailable, aloof, and refusing to give interviews, May took a high-handed approach to public scrutiny which backfired. In her over-confidence ,she even refused to debate with Corbyn directly. Further, the parallels with the Trump/Clinton campaign have also been obvious since day one of this election, and as the polls grew steadily more alarming for the Conservatives, the May team failed to heed the basic lessons of Trump’s victory. Hilary Clinton ran a campaign which was overtly negative, which promised little more than, to be less bad than the alternative, while Trump, however divisive his campaign was, strategically cut into the substantial, yet forgotten voter base in the peripheries. May similarly took the electorate for granted and faced the consequences. Corbyn, on the other hand was a honest politician who spoke the language of the forgotten and suffering ‘many’ under several austerity measures of the Tory government which catered to the ‘ few’.
One of the greatest features which was witnessed at this elections was what a newspaper called ‘Youth-quake’. Labour has seemingly been highly successful in getting young voters and other former abstainers to turn out and vote – and for them – just as Jeremy Corbyn intended. Corbyn infused enthusiasm and passion in the youth to get involved in the political process, which group has by and large been aloof from politics. As Poet Iqbal said, ‘that nation will not be in need of a sword, the hearts of whose youth is like steel’. Another feature of the election results has been the wipeout of the Nigel Farage’s UKIP, a fascist racist party which was largely responsible for the deeply divisive and polarized Brexit campaign. Lesson for those who raise racist slogans! The people see through them.
The experts were proved wrong. On Brexit and then Trump, now this May’s disaster. This is an era of shocks in politics. The political establishment – the experts, the media and most politicians – have got it wrong time after time. This debacle will no doubt provide apt lessons for our politicians who continuously take the electorate for granted, even after what happened to MR In January 2015. Voter bases are changing their loyalties much quicker in the face of explosion of information as a result of social media. The politicians’ hypocrisies, duplicities and double talk are laid bare ‘live on air’ like the emperor’s clothes because of the social media and modern communication channels.
In January 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena came to power promising good governance and to be a strong leader of all communities to unite the deeply divided and polarized Post-war Sri Lanka along racial and religious divides under one banner. Two years later, his emperor’s clothes are too prominent for the people to see – a wavering leader surrendering his authority to partisan interests and too weak and meek to overcome the forces of division along racial and religious lines. President Rajapaksa was a total disappointment after promising a Sri Lanka free of bias and prejudice and fair treatment to all communities. Then Yahalapanaya follows and people wonder whether it was a proverbial case of ‘exchanging a coughing wife for a wife with a runny nose’ – Sri Lanka in much worse plight indeed with all communities losing hope in the political , judicial and law enforcement process!
In this scenario, it is apt for the political class to realize that the days where the electorate can be taken for granted giving false promises, are coming to an end, which UK’s May’s election debacle proved. People need a government which is fair and just to all communities and not one which plays to the gallery. Unfortunately, the nation has lost Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, a person of Jeremy Corbyn’s calibre, who can call a spade a spade and martial and enthuse the general public to take bold decisions to change political status quo and challenge dictatorial and partisan governments. Sri Lanka needs another Sobitha Thero and a Jeremy Corbyn to take Sri Lanka out of the cess-pit it has fallen into under both Post-War regimes.
Corbyn has always been something of an underdog in British politics. He is an unconventional party leader in a British context, more left-wing than previous leaders of the Labour Party, contesting the neoliberal common sense and promoting an anti-austerity and anti-war agenda. The political, media and business establishment has been working to bring him down as leader of the opposition and as a PM hopeful , and had utterly failed as was seen in his gigantic success in enthusing millions of young and non-committed voters to make a change in British politics. He will always remain an inspiration to all social and political activists who wants to make a positive change and change the status quo in the midst of immense political challenges. Sri Lanka too has been looking out for that Corbyn to emerge amongst them in this hour of needfor the nation. How long should the anxious and hopeful nation wait for this Messiah is everyone’s guess.