This was not supposed to happen.
The conservative majority in British Parliament could have stood until at least 2020. Ostensibly, Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election to seek some legitimacy for her new government. It had, after all, only been bequeathed to her by David Cameron following his resignation for opposing the victorious “Leave” campaign in the referendum over “Brexit.” But May likely had another motive for calling an election. She couldn’t have missed the polls that showed British voters had turned sharply against her opposition, the Labour Party, following the ascension to its leadership of a bitter parlor socialist with a soft spot for terrorists. May just couldn’t resist the temptation to drive a stake through the heart of her adversaries, but the gamble backfired. The precise opposite of May’s intentions has occurred, and the worst possible scenario was only narrowly avoided.
There are many reasons why May and her “team” fell on their faces, but all of them are part of a larger cautionary tale for conservative American observers of British politics. May’s political instincts have always left something to be desired; namely, competence. The Conservatives’ campaign was, however, bungled almost from the start.
When British voters shocked their political class by voting for devolution from the European Union, it robbed the Conservative Party not just of its legitimacy but its identity. Perhaps it no longer knows what it was? That seemed evident in the release of the party’s governing manifesto, which demonstrated how indecisive and insecure the majority Tory government had become.
May’s budget included an increase in the National Insurance rates for the self-employed, a fact of which she was quite proud. But the government abandoned that pledge when it became clear that it violated a promise in the party’s 2015 and 2017 manifestos. That wasn’t the first conservative “U-turn” to earn the mockery of the British voting public.
For a society as steeped in the welfare state as the UK, the prospect of means-testing for retirement benefits is, to many, not just alien but cruel. The Conservative Party’s introduction of a plan to curb elderly care costs by means testing beneficiaries was a bold conservative reform, but no one seemed to have the backbone to defend the proposal. Dubbed the “dementia tax” by its critics, upper middle-income voters revolted against the notion that their savings would be depleted while those at lower income thresholds could offset their financial burden onto the state. Amid this resistance, May essentially dropped the proposal from the manifesto.
Other disasters led to this lamentable state, all of which cannot be recounted here. May’s decision to send a surrogate to a June 1 televised debate between party leaders was for British voters yet another indication of her crippling indecisiveness. For American chauvinists, Donald Trump’s inexplicable determination to engage in a Twitter feud with the Mayor of London just hours after a bloody terrorist attack in his city inarguably led to a surge of support for Labour in the greater London area. And while the Conservatives enjoyed some successes in places they did not expect them, the headline is bleak: May’s Conservatives blew a 20-point lead in the polls and lost their majority. The worst part of all of this, however, isn’t that conservatives will now govern in a coalition with Irish Unionists. It is that Jeremy Corbyn has been legitimized.
Corbyn’s election to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader is nothing short of a sign of civilizational decline. Corbyn’s backward-looking Marxism is superficially reverential not just for the days before Tony Blair tore Clause IV (the party’s commitment to the nationalization of heavy industry) into deserved shreds. His vision for Britain and Labour is more akin to Clement Attlee’s but without the necessity of spurring growth in a country devastated by aerial bombardment. For Corbyn, government isn’t a means to an end; it’s the end in itself.
More disturbing than his blinkered, nostalgic attachment to socialist policy absent socialist rationale is Corbyn’s ugly winking support for violence and anti-Semitism. As Stephen Daisley wrote for COMMENTARY, Corbyn has given aid and comfort to the Irish terrorists linked to the assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher. He let “friends” of Hamas and Hezbollah enjoy the pleasures of Parliament, where they took tea and a tour as his guests. “As recently as 2013, Corbyn was still attending anti-Israel events organized by Paul Eisen, a self-confessed Holocaust denier,” Daisley wrote. “And in 2014, the Sunday Times reported that he laid a wreath in honor of one of the architects of the Munich massacre.” Those are just a few highlights.
By calling a special election and fumbling it so spectacularly, Theresa May has placed a threat to the Anglo-American world within striking distance of 10 Downing Street. Labour has no clear signal that elevating a champion for terrorists and soft anti-Semite to leadership is a bad move. For this inexcusable dishonor, May should have the decency to fall on her sword. The fact that she still believes she can govern as prime minister is a testament to her political acumen.
Corbyn’s proximity to power is petrifying, not just because of his prejudices but also his desire to shrink Great Britain down to size. In service to a deluded, self-abasing view of the world native to college campuses, Corbyn would retreat from the global stage as a form of penance for the perceived historical crimes of the West. From Syria, to Ukraine, to Iraq, to Southeast Asia, to Sub-Saharan Africa, the world saw during the Obama era what happens when Anglo-American great powers retreat from their obligations.
The world needs a strong and extroverted Britain. We’re one step closer to losing the UK as a global force for good today, and that is a catastrophe.
An earlier version of this post identified David Miliband as the former Labour Party leader.