After Brexit and the pandemic, the United Kingdom returns to vote but not to normal

On 6 May in the United Kingdom the polls will reopen. This is an unprecedented election date: in addition to the renewal of the Scottish and Welsh parliament, of the mayor and of the London assembly, shifts scheduled last year and postponed due to the pandemic, there is a vote to elect 8 mayors of metropolitan cities between from which Liverpool, Greater Manchester and with the alternatives in the Labor College of Hartlepool will also choose a new MP for the House of Commons.

Apart from Northern Ireland, virtually the entire British electorate is called upon to speak out. A sign of normality for a country that feels more and more ‘decovidised’ and, although historically the administrative elections are not considered a moment of verification for the parliamentary majority or for the government, in this curve they nevertheless take on an undoubted political value.

The first vote after Brexit

The implications are numerous and meet (or clash) in this ‘super Thursday’: the first vote after Brexit and the first real electoral test for post-Corbyn Labor, Thursday will add to the Scottish question strengthened not only by the presence of a new secessionist party, Alba, founded by the former leader of the Scottish National Party and in bitter opposition to his ex-Dauphin and incumbent Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but to complicate the situation now also the Europe for Scotland campaign launched by a group of intellectuals for the ‘return’ of the country to the EU.

The ‘traditional’ independence tensions, then, are flanked in these elections by the challenge launched by a plethora of new very small or environmentalist-radical groups such as Burning Pink, a London hipster phenomenon, or progressive-secessionist, which are demanding the separation of the north of ‘England from the hegemony and centralization of London such as the Northern Independence Party, or’ traditionally ‘populist no-vax and indifferent degrees of various degrees and measures that denounce the’ dictatorship of the mask ‘- yes, they also exist in Great Britain – like the Freedom Alliance. Or libertarian-snobs who fight against the so-called ‘cancel-culture’ or ‘woke-culture’ like the Reclaim Party founded by the television star Laurence Fox.

A sort of ‘reaction’ could be considered, even in the nineteenth-century ideological meaning of the term, not only to the cultural pressures imposed by the Black Lives Matter movement, also declined in the Take The Initiative Party, which makes it seem the traditional right of Britain First and the UKIP and the Brexit Party, the new splinter spin-off of Nigel Farage, now old parties of the British establishment (!), But which also re-proposes the more traditional economic and political-identity tensions between London cosmopolitanism and the territories of suburbs, between the rich and dominant south and a north historically excluded from material and political redistribution.

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How important is the pandemic

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It remains clear, of course, that there is always a pandemic as a corollary to everything. But the management of the health crisis and the extraordinary success of the vaccination campaign, although they act as a coagulant for this whole series of very small protest formations, are nevertheless not the main battlefield.

Not only will this be the first post-Brexit vote and therefore a test for Boris Johnson’s conservative party, but at the same time the first real electoral test for the new opposition leader, Keir Starmer, who, if he can look at it with sufficient serenity. London, where all the polls give the mayor Sadiq Khan to be confirmed, the situation in the rest of the country does not appear so rosy.

On the one hand, therefore, the conservative party is seeking confirmation of the consensus obtained in rural areas and Boris Johnson, as promised at the last congress, intends to demonstrate that he is able to keep the red wall, the areas between Yorkshire and the Midlands north of ‘England historically Labor but refused to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.

How much this has depended on the feeble leadership of Corbyn who paradoxically was perceived as an exponent of the London establishment or, as the hard and pure Corbynists who still resist within Labor argue, the débâcle is linked to the party’s anti-Brexit position and hesitation shown by Corbyn himself in not convincingly embracing anti-Europeanism which, at least according to the referendum data, dominates in the north of the country, will not be understood with Thursday’s vote. Nonetheless, Brexit will play a central role on 6 May, and not just with regard to the Scottish question.

The forced majority electoral system with which we vote on English territory (in Scotland, Wales and for the London Assembly a mixed system is applied) will not give much escape to the new formations and will evaporate the more or less significant ambitions deriving from this ferment. However, this liveliness is a sign of the transformative phase – and I use the adjective here in a neutral sense – that post-Covid British politics is experiencing and which I believe should not be underestimated. Whether and how these formations are a possible translation of populism and pressures from below frozen not only by the pandemic but also by the all-encompassing Brexit speech, will also be seen starting from Friday’s results.

It is clear, however, that although the game between pro and counter-EU is now closed with the definitive defeat of the remainers, Brexit is returning to British politics with another name and in another form, declined in the more or less violent confrontation between different gradations. of territorial, identity or cultural ‘sovereignties’.

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The first signs have already emerged in Northern Ireland with the tensions of early April that led to the resignation of Arlene Foster, leader of the unionist party and until Wednesday also prime minister in the Stormont parliament. And it should not be forgotten that Scottish independence is also a manifestation of this. In short, indirectly, Brexit is ‘watching over’ these elections.

Johnson’s scandals

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, with partner Carrie Symonds, on their way to meet veterans after the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, in Whitehall, London, Sunday Nov. 8, 2020. (Chris Jackson/Pool Photo via AP)

Finally, the prime minister thought, albeit involuntarily, to give a further element of color to the electoral campaign. The little scandal about who ‘really’ paid for the renovation wanted by his girlfriend Carrie Symonds of the apartment at 11 Downing Street in which the couple resides may seem almost naive. This is a frankly minimal figure compared to the round numbers to which we Italians are used: 58 thousand pounds donated by a supporter to the Conservative party, but not notified to the Commission for electoral expenses, which would have gone to contribute to the costs of over 200 thousand pounds for carpets and furniture (but the total cost has not yet been made public).

The point, of course, is not so much the amount of the figure, but the substance of the political exchange not made public: “”cash for curtains”, that is, cash in exchange for tents, as the leader of the opposition to the municipalities summed up in the usual Question Time. But that’s not all.

Carrie Symonds’ comments on the amendment left by the previous tenant, Teresa May, described as the styleless petty bourgeois one buys at John Lewis, as well as the aggressive and superficial approximation with which Johnson himself has so far tackled the problem are transforming the extravagance, which was a humane and politically winning trait of London Mayor Johnson, into callous, out-of-context snobbery for a post-Covid national political leader.

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Moreover, it is not even the first time that Johnson has shown himself not up to the situation; just remember the comments at the start of the pandemic. The episode is unexpectedly mounting, and not just on Twitter with #borisflat and #CarrieAntoinette commenting on the dubious nostalgic-imperialistic country-chic design chosen by his girlfriend. The polls show some telluric movements in the solid consensus that the Tories seemed to have secured thanks to the vaccine; an unexpected luck for Starmer who seems to have already succumbed in this electoral match.

Certainly, on May 6 the long-awaited return to normality, electoral in this case, will not however be a return to political normality. That will also be the last round in which all European citizens residing in the United Kingdom will be able to vote. Postponed due to the pandemic, local elections should have taken place in 2020, when the UK was still formally part of the EU; the right to vote for Europeans has been confirmed for the moment. It is not yet clear, however, where and how it will be maintained. If Scotland and Wales have approved a law that provides the right to vote for administrative to all residents regardless of nationality, for the moment the government of Westminster has signed bilateral agreements with Poland, Spain and Portugal in order to maintain mutual rights. to vote, but leaving out French or Italians or Germans who, after Poland, make up the bulk of European migration to the United Kingdom.

Apart from the abolition of university colleges which until 1948 provided for double voting based on academic status and territory of residence, this is the first time in the history of the country in which a right to vote is canceled and not extended. Another consequence of Brexit. And that’s not a good sign.

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