Mr Boris Johnson was seen by most observers as a transitional Prime Minister. Some predicted that the period of his rule would be the shortest ever in recent British politics. He obviously thought and planned differently. There was always a method in his moods and ways. His goal was most likely two-fold: To take the United Kingdom out of Europe, and to continue to remain Prime Minister. As of now, he seems to be poised to achieve both. His whimsical ways often concealed a determined mind, his flamboyant mannerisms a steadfast commitment to purpose. So far, he appears to have out-skilled, outwitted and outmanoeuvred all encumbrances: These include the opposition Labour, his Tory detractors, the Parliament, the media the Courts, the Europeans, Ireland, and perhaps, even the Queen. If the current trend continues, he will have achieved what was not so long ago deemed unthinkable: Bringing the Conservative back to power with a thumping parliamentary majority at the British hustings on the 12th of December.
Despite, Mr Johnson’s somewhat bumbling exterior, it is the Labour leader Mr Jeremy Corbyn, who seems to be proving more awkward. For starters, he has a problem with the principal issue of the times ‘Brexit’, the shorthand for Britain’s de-linkage with the European Union, favoured by a small majority in a referendum in 1916, which has continued to dichotomize the nation into two near equal halves. The subject divides the Labour Party itself. Its Parliamentarians would rather remain in Europe, the proponents of this view is called ‘remainers’, whereas the majority of its public supporters favour leaving, otherwise called ‘Brexiteers’. Unable, or unwilling to decide, Mr Corbyn’s solution is to have another referendum, with himself sitting on the fence or the wall. As the famous rhyme pithily warns, sitting “on the wall” could lead to a “great fall’ and that is where Mr Corbyn seems to be heading.
To exacerbate matters, his crusted ideas might have led him to swerve far too left. According to their election Manifesto, Labour would unleash a whole bunch of nationalisations on the economic front. This would include public services like railways, electricity, the royal mail and water supply. Universities would provide free education. There would be much more spending on health. Pensions will rise. By 2030 there would be net-zero-carbon energy system. All these measures would need money. Mr Corbyn seeks to raise it by heavily taxing the rich. Peter would be unabashedly robbed to pay Paul. Entitling its Manifesto as ‘It’s Time for Real Change’, Labour terms these steps as “radical answers’’ to the question as to how best ‘Thatcherism’, that has gnawed at the happiness of majority of the British is best eradicated. The problem is electoral rationality may judge these either too radical, or too ambitious for a Labour government to be able to deliver. Once such a radical manifesto from Labour was dubbed’ “history’s longest suicide note” leading to a massive defeat in the 1983 elections.
The Conservative Manifesto on the other hand takes a clear and unequivocal position on ‘Brexit’. In order for the UK to leave the European Union by 31 January 2020 as he has promised, Mr Johnson would put the withdrawal agreement through Parliament before Christmas. The Tory Manifesto was given a somewhat more credible title of “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s potentials’. Mr Johnson promised to establish immigration controls, and end freedom of movement, ideas that the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus would cheer. He would put a freeze on the rate of income-tax, value added tax and social security payments. To buttress law and order, and counter acts of violence, he would recruit 20,ooo more police officers. Mr Johnson veered away from traditional Tory positions on spending, and was prepared to put money where the vote is. He would spend on health care and elderly, open a National Skills Fund, and perform road upgrading works. How both Peter and Paul would be kept happy and content was unclear, but Mr Johnson was happy to leave that for later, hoping that the public may buy it.
As of now, the forecasts predict they may yet. The British public are exhausted of the turmoil that has gripped the nation for months. The institutions are strained, and the faith of the people in them was being drained. The global esteem of Britain was lowering. Even what Walter Bagehot called ‘the dignified part’ of the English Constitution, meant to ‘excite popular admiration’, meaning the royals, whose veneration enabled the smooth work of the ‘efficient part’ -the politicians- was coming under critical scrutiny due to the shenanigans of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.
So, the public may be persuaded, as Labour Manifesto says, “It’s Time for Real Change”. But the change they want is different from what Labour promises. They appear to prefer a strong, sturdy and great Britain, and opt for what the Tories hold out, to be independent of the labyrinthine bureaucracy of Brussels, etching out their own relations with the global powers, English- speaking and others. Hence pollsters are predicting 47% of the votes for the Tories, and 28% for Labour, giving Mr Johnson a majority of 64 in the Parliament of 650, the highest recorded by any party in the UK over the past four elections. There is of course many a slip between the cup and lip, and pollsters have been embarrassed before. Between now and polling -time things may happen to alter these predictions. The UK has known such situations on earlier occasions. But the fact remains that Mr Corbyn’s actions are not vote-getting ones. To best him now it would be wise for Mr Johnson to hold back and just follow Napoleon’s maxim: “Do not interrupt when the enemy is making mistakes”.
Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is Principal Research Fellow at ISAS, National University of Singapore, former Foreign Advisor and President of Cosmos Foundation Bangladesh.