Britain’s Conservative Party and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have reasons to feel great satisfaction. The durable political party has scored an impressive political victory in the Dec. 12 general election.
The Conservatives won 365 seats out of the 650 in the House of Commons, a decisive majority. This vindicates Johnson’s daring political gamble in calling for a general election this month and confirms he now has support for his drive to secure Brexit, shorthand for leaving the European Union (EU).
By contrast, the Labour Party was decimated. The other main political party lost drastically, reduced to only 202 M.P.s (Members of Parliament, the designation for those in the House of Commons). This is the lowest Labour total since 1935.
The two parties were close to one another in the national vote in the last general election, held June 8, 2017. At that time, the Conservatives won 42.4% of the vote to Labour’s 40%. This time, the Conservatives slightly increased their share to 43.6%, while Labour declined drastically to only 32.1%.
A major problem for Labour has been accusations of visible antisemitism in the resurgent left wing, which today plays a stronger role in politics and policy debates of the party. In this area as in others, party leader Jeremy Corbyn proved weak and ineffective in handling matters.
This is a striking contrast to the moderate “New Labour” of Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Under their leadership, Labour dominated the House of Commons and British government from the later 1990s into the 21st century.
The other, smaller political parties experienced mixed results, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) the big winner. The party won nearly half the vote in Scotland, a total of 45% in that region. This results in 48 seats won, a gain of an impressive 13 over the 35 in the last general election.
By contrast, the Liberal Democrats won 11 seats, a loss of one compared to 2017, but the party actually fared far worse. The party’s House of Commons total rose to 20 between the two general elections, thanks to defections from other parties and interim elections.
The other British regional party, Plaid Cymru in Wales, held fast and maintains four seats in the new Parliament. Both this party and the SNP date to the first decades of the 20th century.
Perhaps the most important regional election result has been in Northern Ireland, thanks to deeply rooted at times violent conflict between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority. For the first time, the Catholic nationalists have won a narrow but clear majority over the unionist parties that support continued participation with the rest of Britain in the United Kingdom.
This presents a major challenge to the Johnson government. The previous minority Conservative government under Prime Minister Theresa May was able to develop a formal but rocky partnership with the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). However, that party consistently has refused to support Brexit. The risk of renewed sectarian violence continues.
Myriad policy challenges confront the government. The SNP has already renewed calls for a second referendum on independence for Scotland.
Brexit is the greatest challenge. So far, Johnson has succeeded far more through rhetoric than concrete, clear policies. Uncertainty exists on just how Northern Ireland will be accommodated economically with the rest of Ireland, which remains committed to the EU.
Johnson’s greatest problem is that he is widely mistrusted.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact him at email@example.com.