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UK Election could be closer than you think

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Victory in the UK Election looks like it's within Boris Johnson's grasp, although Jeremy Corbyn's gap is narrowing (Image by Dan Jensen)

The United Kingdom General Election kicks off at around 8 PM Australian time and Tory leader Boris Johnson is tipped to be returned.

However, as Dr Martin Hirst explains, there are too many known unknowns to be certain of the result.

THE BULK of British opinion polls are suggesting that Boris Johnson’s conservatives will win the General Election which takes place Thursday night Australian time. Polling booths will open at 7 AM UK time and close at 10 PM. Most of eastern Australia is about 11 hours ahead, so by lunchtime on Friday we should have the first indication of results.

The opinion polls differ widely, but most are indicating a Johnson win. The Datapraxis poll suggests between 80 and 90 seats are in the balance so the result is actually hard to predict, though there is an expectation that Johnson will have a majority of perhaps 38 seats, or even more.

Are the analysts on the ground in the UK any more certain if you have to headline the latest report (published on 9 December) ‘Tory Landslide or Hung Parliament’? Really, isn’t that just having a bet each way?

The Datapraxis report rightly describes the election campaign so far as ‘bizarre’ and it says ‘we have never seen as many undecided voters this late in the campaign’. So perhaps we’ll just have to wait it out, along with the British electorate.

Johnson blunders, Corbyn creeps up

Six weeks ago when the campaign began, it seemed like an impossible job for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to beat Johnson. However, the gap has narrowed as Johnson has shambolically shuffled from one disaster to another.

He likes to portray himself as a chaotic-but-charming and somewhat misunderstood genius, but his mask kept slipping and the ugly, racist, homophobic Boris came out to play.

There’s a whole litany of mishaps, blunders and foolish statements documented in the British press that have led even the Murdoch-owned Daily Mirror to come out and say Johnson is not fit to be Prime Minister. In fact, reporting on Boris’s “gaffes” as the British like to call his buffoonery and racism has become very lucrative.

Just three days before the polls were to open, Johnson took a literal “hands-on” approach to a reporter who was asking a difficult question. Johnson was visiting a hospital in the North Yorkshire city of Leeds and was confronted by a journalist brandishing a picture of a young child lying on the floor on a pile of coats inside that very hospital. Knowing that he would be embarrassed by the question, Johnson snatched the reporter’s phone and put it in his pocket.

An unbelievable moment from Johnson, video of the incident has had over 10 million views. However, that was not the end of his problems that day. Johnson despatched a cabinet minister, Matt Hancock, to Leeds in an attempt to recover the situation and it didn’t go well.

As Hancock’s entourage was leaving the hospital – more like running away – there was an altercation with a group of Labour supporters. The Tory spin machine went into overdrive, accusing a Labour supporter of punching one of Hancock’s advisers.

The news quickly went viral and it was recirculated by senior BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg on several social media platforms. The problem for Kuenssberg and several of her colleagues was that the assault never happened. Video clearly shows it was an accident.

This did not stop the Tory spin machine and when the bogus “assault” story collapsed, a new dirty rumour began to circulate on social media. Sickeningly, this time the claim was that the photograph of the boy on the stretcher was staged by his mother with the aid of a pro-Labour doctor at the hospital.

Both versions of this story were fake. The editor of a local daily paper confirmed that the facts of the original story had been thoroughly checked and confirmed.

The enlightening take-out from the whole sordid episode is that it put Kuenssberg and other senior British journalists, including Robert Peston of ITV, on the spot and showed how willing they were to spread misleading items shared with them by Tory party officials who knew they were not telling the truth.

Kuenssberg eventually apologised on social media.

And perhaps here Australian readers will sense a familiar feeling of “I’ve seen this before”.

Exactly, we have. It is common in Murdoch-infested media pools of which the Sun newspaper is a classic example. It has relentlessly campaigned for Johnson and ridiculed Corbyn on a daily basis.

One of the biggest hurdles that Labour has faced has been the news media’s willingness to attack Jeremy Corbyn for a series of imagined sins, to paint him as being dreadfully unpopular, a threat to the British economy and a rabid anti-Semite. He is not an anti-Semite, but he is a defender of Palestinian sovereignty and this upsets the Zionists no end.

However,  a search on the term ‘Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-semite’ made for depressing reading. The false message has been pounded into the public consciousness with drumbeat regularity. I could find only one article that defended Corbyn and it wasn’t from a mainstream media outlet, not even The Guardian.

Corbyn has had to face a daily barrage of slander and abuse from the British media while they have simultaneously tried to rehabilitate Boris Johnson and overlook his self-indulgent inhumanity.

Why does the bulk of the British News Establishment hate Jeremy Corbyn?

I think this is a good question, but I’m not sure I have the full answer.

However, my partial answer goes something like this:

  • Corbyn is by far the most Left-wing Labour leader since Tony Benn in the 1980s and perhaps in the history of the UK;
  • Corbyn is a principled anti-racist. He was arrested in the 1970s as a young(er) anti-apartheid activist;
  • Corbyn has helped to re-energise the British Labour Party by appealing to younger voters;
  • the Momentum movement that is backing Corbyn has helped remove entrenched Conservative Party hacks and reinvigorate bottom-up democracy in the Labour party; and
  • Corbyn is focusing on key issues that affect working-class voters, like the appalling state of the National Health Service and Johnson’s plans to sell it off as part of a post-Brexit free trade agreement with Trump.

In short, all of the things that make Corbyn appealing to Labour’s base make him a threat to the British establishment and the news media backs the establishment.

Corbyn is not dead yet!

Despite the overwhelming hostility of the British news media, Corbyn may not yet be written off. He is popular among younger people, but it is hard to tell if they will turn out to vote in sufficient numbers. Labour activists have had a good “ground game” during the campaign and have mobilised thousands of supporters to door-knock key electorates.

In contrast to the anger and abuse that Johnson has encountered, Corbyn has been welcomed with massive and enthusiastic crowds whenever he’s been on the hustings.

The outcome also depends on the results involving a number of smaller parties. There are two major forces in play that could deny Johnson the keys to 10 Downing street — the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) could provide enough seats to make a Labour-led coalition possible.

This would be unprecedented in post-war British politics and would steer the country into uncharted political territory. However, it is not entirely outside the realms of possibility. According to some numbers, a shift of 12 seats could create the possibility of Corbyn establishing a coalition. It’s more likely though that Labour and the smaller parties would need to hang on to all the seats they have and win another 15 to 20 in order to really have a chance. A hung Parliament and further political stalemate over Brexit are also a remote possibility.

The election was called because the ruling Tory party could not get any type of Brexit deal (or no deal) through the Parliament. Boris Johnson toppled Theresa May on the basis that he would crash Brexit through before the end of October. When he failed with that deadline, he had no choice but to call a vote.

In some ways, this election is another informal referendum on Brexit and the mood of the British electorate is volatile. Here in Australia, we know how unreliable opinion polls are, so let’s wait and see.

Martin Hirst is a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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