Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The 'ugly boredom' of a very Brexit election

  • 13 December 2019


Tired and world weary, the British electorate went to the polls on Thursday. Rarely in history can there have been such an assemblage of unelectable or disappointing types standing for office or trying to remain in it. It proved to be an ugly boredom, though it was uglier for some than others.

The Conservatives, with Boris Johnson at the helm, battled on the premise that this was the Brexit election, effectively turning it into a de facto second referendum on Britain leaving the European Union. 'Get Brexit Done' remained his primary and misleading slogan, best exemplified by a bulldozing effort through a wall of foamed bricks titled 'Gridlock'.

But his populism, belligerence against the courts and Parliament, and a manifest streak of authoritarianism, disturbed such veteran scribblers as Peter Oborne, who, despite being conservative by creed, admitted that he could not vote for the Tories. 'Johnson has become the leader of a project — his adviser Dominic Cummings is an important part of this — to destroy Conservatism.'

Johnson the autocrat and the bully was in evidence in the last days of the campaign. He procured the immigration card again, claiming on Sky News that 'quite a large [number] of people coming in from the EU — 580 million population [were] able to treat the UK as though it's basically part of their own country'. Jobless unskilled workers were promised as favourite targets should he be returned to office. This was Johnson in jingoistic mood, changing his tone from a few weeks prior when he claimed migrants were his 'friends, family and neighbours'.

While the platform of Labour's Jeremy Corbyn aspired to be more humane with greater expenditure on services (health, education), he also dissembled about his attitudes to Brexit. Through the campaign he promised to remain resolutely neutral in any future Brexit referendum, hoping he could rebadge the election as one without the need to ever mention the 'B' word. This was slanted as virtuous partiality.

For his critics, it merely confirmed his weakness on the EU. Besides, went the sentiment, he really did not want to be in at all, but was not particularly clear on how to leave either. This was Labour's big problem of self-addling: whether the election would consolidate those voters wishing to remain in Europe, or see them defect to the Conservatives. As it transpired, Labour politicians might have, in the main, been Remainer types; part of their base,