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Lessons from the U.K. Election for Conservatives in Texas (and it’s not #Texit)

Tom Aldred, Executive Director. December 13, 2019

Three and a half years ago, voters in the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union. Since then, the U.K. has held two general elections, negotiated two different exit deals with the E.U., and had three different Conservative Party prime ministers. There have been multiple attempts—both judicial and legislative—to thwart the will of the people in support of Brexit as expressed in that initial E.U. referendum.

Frustrated by a gridlocked parliament that would not approve his Brexit deal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a general election that he hoped would give him a decisive parliamentary majority and a clear mandate to deliver “Brexit.” Yesterday, voters overwhelmingly vindicated him, delivering his Tory party their best electoral showing since 1987.

The Labour Party, which equivocated on Brexit and ran on a platform of re-nationalization (in other words government ownership) of railways, electric and telephone utilities, and the post office, suffered its worst defeat since 1983 and lost seats it has held for more than a century. So-called “working class” voters who have formed the core of Labour’s support in the midlands and north of England deserted the party, with the Conservatives making historic gains in these areas.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this shift. For generations, Labour’s core vote has been centered on former coal-mining communities and industrial areas. Even Margaret Thatcher’s election nights did not penetrate this “red wall.”

So how did Boris Johnson’s Conservatives do it?

A large part of the answer is Brexit, but that’s not the whole answer. Many of the constituencies claimed by the Conservatives from Labour had voted for Brexit three and a half years ago. Those voters, Labour’s traditional “working class” core vote, were among the most skeptical in Britain about membership in the E.U. The European Union itself is a model (perhaps the model) of crony capitalism. It is an intrusive regulatory super-state that provides massive subsidies to failing industries, it is remote from the people it purports to represent, and it is almost entirely lacking in democratic accountability.

Those who advocated remaining in the E.U. continue to argue that those Labour voters who voted to leave the E.U. did so out of jingoism and a misplaced fear of immigrants and immigration. If they continue to tell themselves that lie, they will continue to lose elections. It is inconceivable to them that traditional Labour voters perhaps no longer believe that a bigger public sector and bigger government can improve economic conditions.

This is evident from the Labour Party’s platform for yesterday’s election: government ownership of key industries, higher taxes, higher public spending, a higher minimum wage (a “real living wage”). Name any proposition from a socialist party at any point in history and some form of it worked its way into Labour’s manifesto. Labour voters rejected the European Union because it is the biggest government bureaucracy on the planet and they know it cannot improve their lives. Indeed, it has not improved their lives. It leaves them with less economic opportunity, higher taxes, less freedom, and less control over who makes the decisions that affect their lives. They rejected the Labour Party for the same reasons.

In contrast, the Conservative Party was clear: “Get Brexit Done.” They were and are the only major party willing to do what the people voted for and actually take the U.K. out of the E.U. They proposed tax cuts, higher thresholds before the lowest earners must pay social security contributions, and a free trade deal with the E.U., United States, and others.

There is a great lesson in all of this. Boris Johnson bucked many established centrist figures in his own party to take a firm stance on Brexit and he won. Overwhelmingly.

Ronald Reagan famously asserted that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” And he won. Overwhelmingly. Twice.

Margaret Thatcher crushed the trade unions and gave working class voters the opportunity to own the homes they formerly had to rent from the government. And she won. Overwhelmingly. Three times.

The lesson is this: conservatives win when they campaign on conservative principles, when they communicate those principles clearly, and when they unambiguously trust people to make their own decisions about their own lives. Conservatives in Texas have a long track record of doing those things and they must continue to do them. TCCRI works to advance Limited government, Individual liberty, Free enterprise, and Traditional values (our “LIFT” principles.) Yesterday’s U.K. election should remind us that those principles resonate with voters at both ends of the political spectrum. Conservatives should never shy away from arguing for those principles or from advancing them in government.

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