In my last article, I made the point that the general election in the United Kingdom (UK) on December 12, 2019 was fundamentally about Brexit. In essence, the election was a second referendum on the question of whether the majority of Brits of voting age wanted to remain in the European Union (EU) or alternatively, exit. Based on the overwhelming defeat that the Conservatives, who campaigned on a message of getting Brexit done, inflicted on the Labour Party, even in traditional Labour strongholds, the Brexit question has now been settled. It is now a matter of the type of Brexit to come, whether soft, hard or somewhere in between.
It would also appear that the election was a referendum on left wing politics in the UK and Europe more broadly with many lessons for socialist activists and politicians around the world. Labour campaigned on promises of introducing a National Care Service, a plan which was shelved 20 years prior by the Tony Blair government. Labour also campaigned on reducing carbon emissions to zero percent within the 2030s; nationalising key industries such as energy, water, mail and broadband; making bus travel free for persons under 25; and the building of up to 150,000 publicly-funded homes a year. On the face of it, these proposals are not inimical to the public interest, however, they proved insufficient to deliver victory for Labour. The question now is whether British society and perhaps voters elsewhere are no longer swayed by the paternalistic state.
In the United States (US), the results of the UK election have caught the attention of Democrats. Even before the votes were tallied in the UK, Democratic front runner and former Vice-President Joe Biden was warning his party about the dangers of moving “so, so far to the left.” Michael Bloomberg, another Democratic contender, was also telling his party that it needed a candidate who can defeat President Trump by appealing to Americans across the divides.
Admittedly, Jeremy Corbyn, as the leader of the British Labour Party, also proved hugely unpopular with the electorate and there is also an argument to be made that the election was also a referendum on his leadership. This therefore complicates the transposition of lessons from the UK election results to other parts of the world.
In the Caribbean, the ideological divide along party lines tends to be narrower compared to the UK, the US and even in parts of Latin America and Europe. Caribbean voters tend to generally want an activist state that can guarantee the provision of certain public goods such as subsidised healthcare, education and housing. A number of Caribbean governments also practice “rent” transfers by providing the neediest with a basic income. For any government, whether left, right or centrist, some of these public goods are non-negotiable.
Given the collapse of left-wing governments, parties and candidates of late in places like the UK and before it in Greece, Brazil, France and others, it would appear that any move from the centre towards the left is too far left for some voters. However, left-wing politics is not dead as confirmed by the election of left-wing populist Alberto Fernàndez in Argentina in October 2019.
Furthermore, in several parts of the Caribbean, the electorate is likely to smile on most things moving left.
Finally, many successful governments tend to govern from the centre and the challenge for leaders around the world is to find the balance which enables them to fund demands for public goods, maintain austere measures to ensure that they are responsible stewards of a country’s finances, while simultaneously creating an environment that is supportive of enterprise growth and job creation. Ultimately, these are not matters of left or right, but of sound and responsible governance.