Ill Winds Blowing Across the Pond

What can Indigos in the USA take from the UK General Election results? Here FWIW is the take of a politically migrant, disenfranchised Brit, resident Stateside for 20 years, after a few days digesting the analysis from all sides:

Firstly, what you fear is going to happen, is going to happen. There will not be any sunny miracle, no surprise dawn when a swathe of swing voters in key marginal states wake up and fall in love with a caring, thoughtful, progressive political agenda, encapsulated by some young Kennedy clone arising in the East. They will vote irrationally, based on gut reaction, innate bias and emotion; massively influenced by the polarizing news media, skillfully manipulated on social media, and galvanized by one or two very short, shallow slogans. Many of them will vote out of dislike for a politician rather than out of favor for another; and many — the same number as usual, around 35% — won’t bother to vote at all, either through apathy, cynicism, disillusionment, fatigue or distaste for the whole wretched process.

Repeat: there will not be a miracle. The only surprise might be that it turns out even worse than you feared it could. So, get REAL, people, and do it fast. A brief analysis of some stats will show you what you are up against, what a sophisticated machine has been weaponized against you, and how brilliantly the Conservatives played their hand.

· Roughly: out of 32million votes cast, the Conservatives won about 14m but gained only 330K, which won them 47 seats to give them 365 in all. (This gives them a majority of 80 in the House of Commons which has 650 seats in total). Do the math: 2.4% increase in Tory votes won them nearly 15% gain in seats and a 100% gain in power. This is down to the mechanics of the First Past the Post system, which operates similarly (and in my view with a similarly corrosive effect), as the Electoral College in the USA.

· The always-destined-to-be-3rd party LibDems gained 1,250,000 votes to a total of 3.6m, and they netted out with 1 less seat. That’s right, they lost ground, while gaining >4 as many new votes as the Tories. In fact, they gained by single digit % in EVERY district, but nowhere was it enough to get them First Past the Post and secure a seat — only enough to scupper Labour across the board. (You can bet the Tories gambled on this, aided by a bunker of sinister data scientists).


· Conservative gains were almost all in strong Leave constituencies, meaning people were susceptible to swinging Tory because the Tories are, and have been since before the 2016 Referendum, the party of Brexit (not to be confused with The Brexit Party, which handily threw in the towel so that the Tories could suck up their floating votes and squeak into all those crucial swing seats). What was needed to push those voters with social media profiles indicating that they were Leavers (and hence potential swing voters), was heavily targeted concentration of a negative smear campaign against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.


· Labour swing voters interviewed about why they went Tory: 43% influenced by Leadership (ie disliked Corbyn, preferred Johnson); 17% Brexit; 11% Policies. That’s evidence that the smear campaign (and JC himself, to give him his due) was over three times as effective as the next most important factor — Brexit. For maximum precision & effectiveness, like a beer brand pitching men on Facebook that enjoy Springsteen and football, the media onslaught built on the common underlying factors between the two: a sense of betrayal by the old socialist party that used to protect the blue collar North; general distrust, alienation and dislike of being patronized by southern intellectuals. (sound familiar? It’s the Cambridge Analytica playbook updated for 2019, and it will be really up and humming by the time October 2020 swings around).


Brexit is of limited relevance to the USA because there is nothing quite like it here in terms of a single, dominant, era-defining issue, however it is worth digging a little further because of the potential for US strategists to exploit the First Past the Post system here to similarly nefarious ends. Put simply, the Leave block, managed by Boris’s eminence gris Dominic Cummings, were, with the benefit of hindsight, extremely savvy in taking the referendum issue of Brexit — ie where the most votes either way in a binary contest would carry the day — and transforming it into a General Election issue, where FPTP could be calibrated to tip the balance. Ironically, if you add up all the gains of the non-Leave parties, the Remain side would have won. That’s not how it worked out, of course, which makes it particularly galling to hear the Leavers claim this as a huge vindication of Brexit. It was a victory for Leave, in a practical sense, but a vindication is yet to come. Was it a Brexit election? In the North, it was certainly part of the story, but as previously stated, largely insofar as it tied into a wider malaise with everything seen to be wrong about Socialism and Jeremy Corbyn. Elsewhere, it looks like Remainers just didn’t show up (at least, only as much as 4x the tiny fraction that swung it for the Tories, and nowhere near the 6million who petitioned for a Second Referendum earlier in the year). The Leave camp were betting the Labour/Leavers would hold their noses and switch to Tory; the Remain camp were betting the Conservative/Remainers would either switch to LibDem (even knowing that would not win them any seats, so somewhat pointless), or hold their noses and vote Labour. In retrospect, one has to wonder, what were Remainers thinking?

Now, Boris Johnson is not Trump, but he’s a pretty good British version of him: an exposed liar, a clownish toff with a penchant for racist jokes, a nasty streak and a long track record of selling people out (basically your typical silver-tongued Tory minister, with a Classics degree and silly hair) — but Jeremy Corbyn is an easy figure to dislike as well. The British press — the large majority of it controlled by right wing press barons, that is — made Marxist mincemeat out of him. It was ugly. And here’s the thing: while it may be facile to draw too many direct parallels with the Democrats in their fragmented, dithering efforts to coalesce around a single, coherent policy and connect with the people over a simple feel-good message, one can say this: most of them seem to be blissfully unaware of how they are perceived out there, because (1) they can’t be reading the same news or tuning into the same feeds as all those red state bigots that they are allergic to, and (2) they are still high on their own self-delusion that they exclusively are the ones on a mission, that they are the good guys, if only they could be given a chance, unlike poor Hillary who couldn’t see it coming… yada yada yada.

Quick reality check on the state of the US media: Fox News on TV; Rush Limbaugh on the radio; Facebook pouring fuel on the fake news fire online. It’s a propagandist’s dream out there. The President has just been found guilty — officially, by NY State court — of stealing off charities to pay off his business debts. And his approval rating is still solid at 42%. It’s even worse over here than it is over there, most likely. Total cross-platform lock-down. You saw what they did to Hillary, now imagine what they’re going to do to the next one, with Trump and Turtle Head calling the shots on how the Election is played out. I’m a big Bernie fan, for the record, and I’ve seen him connect with voters in ways that gave me hope — but seriously, Dems better make damned sure their candidate is not only bulletproof but knows how to land a punch on TV and take these Republican hypocrites out at the knees, in a way that has been, for example, so toe-curlingly lacking throughout the recent Impeachment hearings. What a turgid display of mediocre flimflam that has been from start to finish (pace the witnesses, who did a stand-up job). Case in point: when the odious Matt Gaetz went well below the belt and dug into Hunter Biden’s personal issues with driving and drugs, the Democrats had Gaetz by the throat, because he himself has been busted for DUI. But watch this, when they’ve got him in the cross-hairs, do they take him down, make him squirm and sweat on national TV? No, they play high and mighty, mumbling away like benevolent old fuddy-duddies, and let the gobby little twat get away with it.


A Republican would have latched onto that one thing like an attack dog and kept repeating it over and over again. That’s what works at scale out there, and that’s why they are winning. So: screw this dignified virtue signaling & preaching to the choir, let’s put Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, Biden, Bloomberg and somebody-else-please into a town hall hustings in rural Kentucky, and see who comes out swinging.

It’s time, in short, to get nasty. And that doesn’t mean only with the Opposition. The Dems need to see their fragmentation to the Left as the existential threat that it is. This whole gentlemanly, “we go high”, “we’re all progressive idealists in this together” bullshit is letting the right wing get away with murder. The nationalist Conservatives and Tea Party Repuglicans allowed themselves no such indulgences — look at how smoothly the boa constrictor Boris absorbed the Brexit party voters where it mattered, and how Trump makes common cause with the evangelicals; how quickly they bounced back from a few Bush-fallout years of humiliation and morphed back into a tight unit, like a mercury-blobbed Terminator 2 oozing back into lethal shape, bent on a single mission: Obliterate Obama. Democrats take note: rather than indulging their splinter groups as center-lefty-liberal types are wont to do, someone needs to light a fire under the extreme Left and convince them to Get. The Fuck. In Line.

Or cut them loose. Because if you can’t rally around the idea of getting rid of Trump as Strategic Priority #1, then maybe you’re stuck in a bubble and just loving your political jerk-off a little too much. History can perhaps forgive Ralph Nader for Florida in 2000, and maybe it’s necessary to let some movements have their moment in the sun in order for them to die off for good. Despite all the signals, the Brits let Corbyn and his unreconstructed Socialist mates have their go of it, one last hurrah from the crusty champions of the Welfare State of a bygone era, a bunch of decent men making a deeply indecent hash of it. The Democrats also got their asses handed to them for complacency last time around, albeit in a more center-inclined direction. Now it’s well past time for a centre-left champ to seize the day, one that is enough of a badass to win loyalty from the troops and wrestle the revolutionary talk of ‘with me or against me’ away from the fringes; and a gifted enough visionary to reclaim the narrative, redraw the battle lines and put the Republicans onto the back foot. Or at least come up with a better slogan than MAGA, for christsakes!

The Democrats are currently mobilizing around the issue of defending democracy in the name of Truth. One of the grimmer take-aways from the UK election is whether enough people care about that anymore, or if it’s already a lost cause.

“According to research from fact-checking non-profit First Draft, 88% of the Facebook ads the Conservatives posted in the first four days of December were deemed misleading by Full Fact, one of the U.K.’s biggest fact-checking organisations. By contrast, First Draft said that it couldn’t identify any specific Labour Facebook ads as misleading or false, although the party paid for fewer posts than its rivals.”

You may think the Brits and their politics are a funny bunch, but what’s coming here is going to be waaaaaaaaaay beyond a joke.

Formerly fair-minded increasingly snarky writer on music, tech, social media, travel, politics, entrepreneurship and immersive experiences