It’s foolish to compare the politics of Britain to the politics in America, kissin’ cousins though we may be. The music is similar, but not the words.
Nevertheless, the same urges of populism that carried Donald Trump into the White House in 2016 are what’s driving Old Blighty out of Europe. No matter how hard she tries to walk the walk, every time Prime Minister Theresa May takes a stroll down the lane she comes back with something tacky on her shoe.
Everything she has done in mismanaging Britain’s exit from the European Union has turned to ashes. The latest public-opinion polls show her racing toward her greatest political disaster ever. An Opinium poll, published in the London Observer, shows the six-week-old Brexit Party defeating the Conservatives in a prospective general election. The Brexit Party is the brainchild of Nigel Farage, who led the referendum by which British voters said it was time to get out while the getting is good.
The elites, like the elites in America, were stunned and have not yet come to terms with reality. They laughed at the upstart Farage. It was as if he didn’t know his place, and a year later he’s the one laughing. There’s no general election on the schedule, but there may be one in the late summer or early autumn if Theresa May is summarily deposed. All the signs and portents are unkind.
If a general election were held today, according to the Opinium poll, the Labor Party would win 28 percent of the vote, the Conservatives would win 21 percent and the Tories, or Conservatives, 20 percent. Mrs. May, whom the angry “leavers” among the Tories have tried to hound from office and have not yet succeeded, can take little solace from having survived so far. The chairman of the polling company says the numbers spell disaster. “If the Conservative leadership contenders are not careful,” he says, “there will be no party left for them to lead.”
Panic is spreading like measles. More than 600 Conservative district chairmen, counselors, donors and Conservative foot soldiers, wrote a letter to The Daily Telegraph, the Bible to British conservatives, to warn Mrs. May that she must deliver an honorable exit, and soon, or the Conservatives in the Commons must replace her, “or else.”
“Voters could not be clearer in saying how angry and betrayed they feel — conservatives most of all,” the letter writers said. “The damage that this is doing to party and country is incalculable.” The new polls follow the results of local British council elections, and European Union local elections where the Tories lost a stunning 1,300 councilors. These elections are taken by many of the pols as indicative of something worse to come.
Other surveys foresee similar general election disasters for the Tories, including several cabinet secretaries taking a fall. These casualties could include Iain Duncan-Smith, a longtime party stalwart, and Boris Johnson, the former lord mayor of London.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labor Party who would presumably become prime minister if Labor wins the next general election, has been told that if he continues discussions with Theresa May about a deal to extricate her from the mess she made of negotiating the British exit from the European Union, the Labor Party would be severely punished for guilt by association.
“Our members [of Parliament] and voters are furious with the [May-Corbyn] talks, which have done nothing except keep the prime minister in office and depress Labor’s vote at the local and European elections,” Mary Creagh, a Labor member of Parliament, told the London Evening Standard. “The government are playing us for fools. If we stand in the middle of the road we’ll get run over from both directions.”
“These cross-party talks have been going on for six weeks and clearly everyone who is anybody is clearly fed up with them,” says a Tory member who is fed up, too. That sounds like the chatter in the bubbles in America, where never is heard an encouraging word.
Talk, talk and there’s no shortage of words, in and out of the bubble. It’s what happens when you put the fox in charge of the chicken house, and the British sound weary and contemptuous. A cartoon in The Daily Telegraph by “Blower” captures the essence in a way that words don’t. A mock movie poster advertises “Doris May” in “‘Calamity Again,’ with brand-new hit songs, all with the same melodies and lyrics,’ [in ] a new motion picture coming to a cinema near you. Or maybe not.”
When the audience starts laughing at you, instead of with you, as any vaudevillian could tell you (if any were left), you’re in a heap of trouble.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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