Last night something happened that I have never before seen in the many elections in which I have either voted or taken an interest since I was 21 in 1949, in three different countries. On the very strike of 10 pm British time, the BBC, in consort, I believe, with other broadcasting organizations, several hours before they had received a single result from the 10,000 polling stations, announced that they had interviewed 20,000 people as they left the polls, and we able to project that the Conservative party would win a crushing majority in the British election. Boris Johnson, the new Tory Prime Minister, would need 326 seats for a clear majority in the House of Commons, but the BBC was able to project that he would win 388 seats, and Labour in its worst showing ever, only 191.
Without a scintilla of further proof the BBC began to act as if their prophesy was actual fact: briefly they introduced a young man, slightly plump, called Ben Page, from Ipsos Mori, whoever they may be, as the brains behind this whole 20,000 interview caper, but no further explanation was offered as to how the prophesy was arrived at.
I hung in there for five and a half hours, by which time it was quite obvious that the BBC had called it correctly, if exaggerating somewhat the size of the victory. I went to bed with the BBC suggesting Tories on 326, Labour 201, and when I got up at 4.30 am the actual result was standing at Tories 364, Labour 203.
I am surely not the only person to be wondering why, if such a result can be prophesied on the basis of 20,000 interviews, why have an election at all?
Many Labour participants were willing to put the blame on the unpopularity of their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the distrust of whom was the first thing mentioned even in traditionally Labour seats, when the canvassers did their door-to-door work. The question is, why was Corbyn so unpopular, and it will come as no surprise to any readers of these Chronicles that the reason was that since his election as Labour Party leader, he has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign of character assassination, backed by the full panoply of wealth, influence and power of the wealth-owners, who have seen to it that henceforth, they hope, no left-wing nonsense can ever be trusted with the leadership of his country.
That has certainly been a major reason for this devastating result: but the entire campaign for Brexit, for leaving the European Community after half a century of membership, a campaign whose apotheosis came with the victory in the 2016 referendum on the subject, a campaign of lies, exaggerations and bluster that appeared to derive from the very belly of traditional England, certainly played a major role in this election result. Corbyn, who was originally seen as a decent bloke who had been fighting the good fight for left-wing causes all his life, including from the beginning and through the many years of his political life, fighting against racism in all its forms, was unbelievably and ludicrously tarred with the brush of anti-semitism, in a well-funded campaign designed to destroy him as a political leader, which is what it succeeded in doing.
Rather than continue in this vein, allow me to ramble and reminisce a little.
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My wife Shirley and I arrived in England in September 1951, sick to the stomach from our nine months spent in a newly-liberated India, a country groaning under the worst poverty known to mankind, from which we were very lucky, and very glad, to escape more or less whole. For seven months I tried to get a job in journalism, while Shirley worked as a supply teacher in the London system, writing nearly 100 letters of application, none of which produced anything like a positive response. Eventually I surrendered, went along to the Labour Exchange, and was directed to a labouring job in a Lyons food factory in Hammersmith, at the magnificent wage of four pounds and some pence a week.
(I can hear at least one of my children groaning: “oh, no, not that three months of real work you had to do in the factory again! Why don’t you give it a rest?”)
Well, they were a major educational experience for me, those three months. In this vast factory, manufacturing terrible food for the Lyons tea-shops, and sending it out, I rubbed shoulders with the women on the conveyor belt that it was my job to keep supplied with the food they were packaging for dispatch. Of the many hundreds in our department, only three of us were foreigners --- myself, and a .young Greek woman and a Dutchman. I learned quickly that if anything went wrong, one need look no furrher than “those fooking foreigners,” and I could count myself lucky that as an English-speaker, more or less, even allowing for my strange Antipodean accent (“wot, you ‘er reg’lar, then?”) I was absolved from responsibility for any mistakes. I learned there that the English working class, immensely proud as they were of having won the war single-handedly, as they believed, , distrusted and disliked anyone who spoke one of those strange foreign languages. So, coming forward half a century, the English workers have never trusted the Europeans? So what else is new?
On the ease with which Jeremy Corbyn was blackened as anti-semitic, against the evidence of his whole life’s work, I can report that one of the dear middle-aged women on the line confided in me one day, without raising a murmer of dissent from her mates, “There was one good thing ‘itlter done, anyway.” And what was that? “Oh, ‘e got rid of all them Jews.”
So --- dear oh me! ---what else is new? A valuable educational experience, as I said.
I don't want to give the impression I am living in the past or inventing phony excuses for the smashing defeat of those I support. I am used to these defeats: they have been regular stations in my peripatetic passage through life. I lived in Britain throughout the 1960s, the years in which the British were slowly coming to terms with the fact that they had lost their economic clout in global markets. That is why they tried join the European Economic Community, as it was then called, so that they could make more money from trading with Europe than they could by trading with their Commonwealth (that had loyally fought alongside Britain in the war) Since I was not in love with British life, I have not kept closely in touch with what has happened in Britain, and was surprised the learn the other day that 35 per cent of the residents of London were born elsewhere. .and --- I am thankful to a thoughtful article in Le Devoir for this ---- I did no realize the extent to which, outside of London, in the once heavily industrial north, British industry, by which the industrial revolution was initiated a century or two ago, has been more or less hollowed out.
The proof of that is seen in the fact that constituencies that had voted Labour for many decades yesterday abandoned the Labour party. Most of them did not vote Tory, but they distributed their votes among four or five competing parties, and in many places were undermined by the decision of the Brexit party’s Nigel Farage not to contest any constituency in which there might be some hope of a Labour defeat: thus, in one constituency after another, the Tories were recorded as having increased their vote by one or three or four or more, and in places where the Labour loss was up to 10 or 11 per cent, the Brexit party was recorded as winning as much as seven or eight per cent of the vote, enough that, along with the increased votes for LibDems, Green, of other small parties, was enough to turn the tide against Labour.
The unanimity with which the traditional Labour voter turned away from their traditional choice is astonishing; but even more important in this, it seems, was the simplicity of Boris Johnson’s appeal: Let’s get Brexit done. The matter had dragged on so long, dominating British politics to the virtual exclusion of everything else for the last three years, that the voters, weary of it all, and with, as I have suggested, their traditional distrust of anyone living on the other side of the .channel never far from the surface, they simply decided to let them get on with it. That the result of any Brexit deal they might be able to negotiate with the EU ia likely to cause economic disruption that could be devastating, has apparently ceased to worry the benighted British voter.
Allow me to end with a quote from the brilliant, unconventional Greek-inernationasl-economist, Yanis Varoufakis, a man who has taught all around the world, with his own leftish interpretation of global events, who wrote, in an article published this week:
“While Labour’s manifesto is uniquely tailored to the concerns of Britain’s so-called middle ground, never before has that territory been more hostile to Labour…….. If you ask the commentariat for an explanation of this paradox, you will get an earful of chatter about Corbyn’s Marxism, alleged anti-Europeanism and lack of character.
“However, the truth is simpler and uglier than any of this. From day one, after he won Labour’s leadership in 2015, the game was afoot. Soon after Corbyn became leader, I warned that a huge campaign of character assassination was inevitable. It was not difficult to see it coming.
“Social democratic parties, like Labour, were tolerated to the extent that they tinkered around the edges of a socio-economic order. But after the
financial crash of 2008, Corbyn emerged and turned Labour into a threat to the privileged classes.
financial crash of 2008, Corbyn emerged and turned Labour into a threat to the privileged classes.
In addition to all that, I remember writing, just after Boris Johnson took over the reins of power in theTory party, that his buffoonish breezy optimism could easily appeal to the British voter who was particularly jaded after the long delays and many prevarications. Just let’s get it done, was the message.
Andrew Neil, the BBC’s hardest political interrogator, last night kept asking Tory representatives what they had to offer to the working class voters who supported them, and I didn’t hear a single convincing answer.
But this is definitely the place for me to end with my mantra: Wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai.!