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British General Election Day is 12/12/2019  

 

The Choice Between Labour and Leave in the U.K.

General Election Batley and Spen, the former constituency of the murdered M.P. Jo Cox, offers a microcosm of the wider contest.

 

On June 16, 2016—a week before the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union—Jo Cox was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen. Cox was a much loved Labour Member of Parliament, though she had only been elected the previous year. An internationalist who had campaigned on behalf of Syrian refugees, she had enthusiastically supported the Remain campaign. She was also married, with two young children. Her killer, a member of the far-right named Thomas Mair, is reported to have shouted “Britain first” as he shot and stabbed her. Two days later, in court, Mair gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

 

Cox’s death was mourned across the country, but it was felt most keenly in Yorkshire. Cox not only represented Batley and Spen; she grew up in the area. The central town of Batley, which has handsome municipal buildings, a sleepy high street, and a massive supermarket, was once a prosperous textiles center, producing “shoddy” and “mungo” recycled wool. It still makes things—biscuits and beds—but the big industrial employers of its past are gone. A memorial service for Cox, held in London the day before the referendum vote, was beamed live to a large screen in Batley’s town square. Thousands attended the memorial, wearing the white rose of Yorkshire on their lapels. Brendan Cox, Jo’s husband, gave a speech in which he spoke about Cox’s world view, particularly as it related to Brexit. “She feared the consequences of Europe dividing again, hated the idea of building walls between us, and worried about the dynamics that that could unleash,” he said.

 

Brendan Cox’s appeal was heartrending, but it seemingly made no difference in Batley and Spen, which, in addition to its majority population of lower-and-middle-income white residents, has a large and long-established South Asian community and a significant number of Eastern Europeans. The constituency voted, sixty per cent to forty per cent, to leave the European Union. On the night of the referendum, I was in Batley to see how local people would respond to the murder of their M.P. —not just emotionally but politically. I sat in a pub and drank cheap beer with three middle-aged men who worked in white-collar professions and who, in the last general election, had voted for Labour, the Conservatives, and the U.K. Independence Party, or ukip, respectively. All three had voted for Leave. When I asked them what had swayed their decision, they talked about a range of concerns—including the somewhat nebulous issue of “control”—but the one they returned to was immigration. They told me that the Pakistani and Indian immigrants in Batley didn’t integrate with the majority-white population, and that untrammelled immigration had changed “the feeling” in town. When I suggested that the European Union was unrelated to the second-or-third-generation Pakistani or Indian immigrants living nearby, they were unconcerned. “We just want our country back,” one of the men told me.

 

Three and a half years after Britain voted to leave the European Union, Britain still has not left the European Union. Two Prime Ministers have fallen because of Brexit. Campaigners on both sides of the debate have become more, not less, dogmatic. My colleague Sam Knight recently wrote that Brexit has become a “soul-grinding **bleep** show”—an unimprovable description.

The general election, scheduled for December 12th, is in large part designed to find a way through the impasse. If Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party wins a majority in Parliament, he will be free to pursue his government’s preferred form of Brexit. The Labour Party, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, wants to negotiate a new deal and hold a second referendum; the Liberal Democrats want to cancel Brexit entirely. The Scottish National Party might ally with Labour if it means that they are granted a second referendum on Scottish independence. The Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, is spoiling for a harder Brexit.

 

The election as seen in Batley and Spen is a particularly interesting microcosm of a larger contest. Between 1983 and 1997, the constituency voted Conservative by a narrow margin, but the Labour lead is now strong. In 2016, after Cox’s murder, a special election was held to fill her seat, in which most other parties agreed not to oppose Labour, out of respect. Cox was replaced as M.P. by her friend Tracy Brabin, a former soap actress and screenwriter who also grew up in the area. In the next election, in 2017, Brabin won by nearly nine thousand votes, out of an electorate of around eighty thousand. At the same time, Batley and Spen was, and is, strongly pro-Leave. As in other former industrial towns, many Leave voters are also traditional Labour supporters. The question for those people will be: Which matters more, their position on Brexit or their loyalty to the Labour Party?

 

Recently, a poll conducted by YouGov gave Labour a healthy majority in Batley and Spen. Robert Hayward, an election analyst and former Conservative M.P., told me that he shares this view and expects Batley to vote Labour. But Chris Hanretty, a professor in the politics department at Royal Holloway, University of London, told me that “the troubled political history of the seat may mean that it is difficult to draw lessons from performance in 2017, and a better starting point may be the 2015 election,” when ukip won a big share of the vote. Hanretty told me that “the seat should be considered in the balance.”

 

On a dreich day at the end of November, I joined Brabin as she campaigned in Batley. Brabin, who has blond hair and a breezy disposition, wore silver Dr. Martens shoes, a red Labour rosette on her lapel, and a necklace bearing the words of a suffragist maxim: “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere.” We met at a hospital in her constituency, not long after Corbyn had publicized a document that he claimed proved that the Conservatives wanted to “sell off” the National Health Service to the private American health-care market in a post-Brexit trade deal. On closer inspection, the document did not appear to prove this, and the media storm eventually petered out. But Brabin was eager, nonetheless, to make some headway on the issue. Labour’s support of the N.H.S. was a vital distinction, she felt, between her party and the Conservatives.

 

More...

https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/the-choice-between-labour-and-leave-in-the-uk-general-electi...

 

“What’s a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means? It’s not very scholarly. But I think it’s the truth. — Lindsey Graham
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