A popular political wonk game is examining the 2019 British general election to see if it could tell us anything about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
I think such comparisons are flawed because of the vast differences between American and British politics. However, many pundits think Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s impressive victory predicts a Republican victory in November.
Predictably, some observers claim Johnson’s victory indicates a Republican victory in the U.S. in November. Unfortunately, they base such claims on a shallow analysis of the UK election results.
What American Pundits Get wrong about the British election
I think we cannot trust American pundits’ analysis of the British election because of what they ignore.
First, Johnson’s Conservatives were not the biggest winner on 12 December 2019. The Scottish National Party (SNP) had a far greater success. In fact, the SNP picked up 13 seats, mostly from Labour. One reason Johnson won was the complete collapse of the Scottish Labour Party.
Labour only won one Scottish seat in the 12 December elections, the BBC reports. Thus, the biggest winner in the election was the SNP which received 45% of Scotland’s popular vote.
The British Left Destroyed itself
Second, they divide the British Left between four parties; SDP, Labour, the Greens, and the Liberal Democratic Party. On 12 December Labour won 32.2% of Britain’s popular vote, the Liberal Democrats 11.6%, the Greens won 2.7%, and the Scottish Nationalists 3.9%, CNN Politics estimates.
Add those numbers together and I estimate the British Left received 50.3% of the popular vote to the Conservatives 43.6%. In contrast, CNN estimates Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) won 48.2% of the popular vote in 2016.
Given those numbers the British Left’s popular support exceeds that of the Democratic Party. The real problem of the British Left is its divisions, not unpopularity. Hence, the reason the British Left lost was its divisions not the Conservatives’ “popularity.”
I think Labour’s failure bodes ill for U.S. President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) because they unite the American Left in one party the Democrats. Consequently, American leftists will fight and settle their battles in the primaries months before the general election.
American vs. British Politics
There is an odd commonality between American and British politics. Both countries can elect national governments without the support of popular majorities.
The United Kingdom uses a First Past the Post system to elect its parliament. In First Past the Post, each district has one popularly-elected member of parliament. Therefore, Britons can elect a government without a popular majority.
Consequently, only 44% of British voters supported Boris Johnson, The American Prospect estimates. Labour and its allies received an outright majority, 52% of Britain’s popular vote on 19 December 2019.
In America, the unelected Electoral College elects the president. For example, President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote in 2016.
Moreover, there is no region of the US with a separate national identity; and nationalist political party, such as Scotland. The closest thing America has to a nationalist movement is the Republican Party in the South which is firmly behind Trump.
Additionally, there is no big divisive issue; such as Brexit, looming over the 2020 US elections.One reason why both Labour and the Liberal Democrats collapsed in December was an unpopular stand against Brexit.
Although Medicare for All could be that issue for Democrats. The presidential campaigns of U.S. Senators Kamala Harris (D-California) and Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts) imploded after they went soft on Medicare for All.
Does Labour’s defeat Predict a Trump Victory?
Strangely, there are strong parallels between the current Labour Party and the Republicans.
A radical and obnoxious minority dedicated to an unpopular extremist agenda controls the Labour Party. That minority is the hard left which promotes such extreme measures as the nationalization of industry and wealth redistribution.
Likewise, a radical right-wing minority that promotes such extremist notions as unfettered gun ownership, a total ban on abortion, and abolition of Social Security and Medicare controls the Republicans. Thus both Labour and the Republicans have dedicated themselves to extreme agendas for which there is no popular support.
In another similarity, the Labour leadership arrogantly ignored popular opinion about Brexit. While Republicans ignore popular opinion about gun control, Trump, and Social Security.
For example, 61% of Americans supported legal abortion in August 2019, the Pew Research Center estimates. Yet the Republican Party of Texas lists “Pass legislation to abolish abortion” as a 2018 Legislative Priority.
Are the Republicans as unpopular as Labour?
One reason Labour lost was its leadership’s failure to compromise on Brexit. I have to wonder if the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) tough stances on abortion or gun control will lead to similar losses.
Second, that minority saddled Labour with an unpopular leader; Jeremy Corbyn, whose personality offended many voters. The Republicans could be repeating the same mistake with their mindless embrace of Donald J. Trump.
Labour’s gamble that leftists’ enthusiasm for Corbyn could trump his unpopularity proved fatal. Similarly, Republicans’ gamble that their base’s passion for Trump will overcome the President’s unpopularity could lead to disaster.
One reason Labour lost was its failure to understand Corbyn’s unpopularity with the public. Thus, Republicans’ failure to consider Trump’s unpopularity could lead to electoral disaster. The Emerson Poll estimates Trump had an 49% disapproval rating in January 2020.
Is Joe Biden America’s Boris Johnson?
Another interesting parallel between Britain 2019 and America 2020 is the similarity between Boris Johnson and former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware).
Yet, Biden is leading the Democratic primary race. For example, the 21 to 23 Emerson Poll estimates Biden was leading the Democratic pack among national voters at 30%. However, Biden had a small lead of 3% over Sanders at 27%.
Many pundits and political strategists speculate Biden is the Democratic candidate most capable of beating Trump. Personally, I disagree with this thesis but it is the popular political consensus. Plus, the similarities between Biden and Johnson support it.
Should Americans pay Attention to British Politics
In the final analysis, we need to reconsider the game of comparing British to American politics.
Britain is a smaller and less diverse than the country than the United States. The United Kingdom’s January 2020 population of 67.886 million people was less than one third of the United States’ population of 331.003 million.
The United Kingdom contains three regions with historic identities as independent countries; Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. One of those regions; Scotland has a strong independence movement (the SNP) that controls its regional government.
The United Kingdom has a centralized parliamentary political system with almost all power vested in London. There is no equivalent of the state governments; or the federal political structure, in the United States.
For instance, the central government collects almost all public revenue in the UK. In detail, the Office of Budget Responsibility estimates the central government will collect £764.7 billion in revenues while local authorities will collect £46.7 billion in 2020.
Thus, local and regional government in the UK is an afterthought outside of Scotland. That makes Her Majesty’s Government more powerful and increases popular interest in elections.
America’s Divided Politics
Hence, the only elections that matter in the UK are the general elections for parliament.
On the other hand, there many important elections in America. That divides the vote and the political system along regional lines. It also makes it easy for Americans to get burned out or bored by a constant diet of politics.
The concentration of power in Westminster is the real force that drives Scottish nationalism and fragments British politics. The Scots want to leave the United Kingdom because they have no protection from the lunacy in Westminster.
Nobody in Scotland wants a banana republic. Instead, the Scots fear the Little England Banana Republic in the Midlands.
In America, dispersed politics have the opposite effect. The American Congress and parties are deeply divided along regional; mostly state, lines. Thus, regional separatist movements in the United States are a bad joke.
Broadly, the Republicans represent the South and rural areas; while the Democrats represent the West, Northeast, and Urban areas. That gives the Midwest undue power in American politics because it is the only deeply politically divided region.
America needs to Watch India not the UK
Given these realities, I think India; which is a large federation of 29 states and seven union territories, is a better comparison for American politics. India is the world’s seventh largest country and second most populous nation.
India has another big similarity to the United States; it is a former British colony steeped in British political and legal traditions. Likewise, both India and the United States had to struggle for independence from the British Empire.
However, India is a non-Christian nonwhite country which causes many Americans to ignore the subcontinent. America’s racist ruling class will never admit they could learn anything from nonwhite or non-Western people. Even though India’s politics have similarities to America’s.
I think Trump based his political program on that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Trump’s public political agenda is Christian nationalist, Modi’s agenda is Hindu natonalist. Hence, the supposed racist Trump is open to nonwhite people’s methods.
How Modi Created Trump
Curbing illegal immigration obsesses the followers of both Trump and Modi. Plus, Modi tries to deny citizenship to Muslims, The Economist reports. Trump has tried to keep Muslims out of America.
One reason India is a better comparison for American politics is the importance of religion in both nations’ politics. To explain, America’s white Christian nationalist; or Evangelical, movement resembles India’s Hindu nationalist movement.
Additionally, there is no religious issue; or Christian nationalist movement, in the United Kingdom. In fact, 53% of British subjects said they have no religion in 2017, the British Socialist Attitudes survey estimates. In contrast, 65% of Americans identify as “Christians” in 2018, the Pew Religion Survey estimates.
The Evangelicals and Trump claim America is a Christian country, while the BJP claims India is a Hindu nation. Similarly, the BJP claims Hindu India is under attack by Moslems and secularists while Republicans claim Christian America is under attack by secularists and Moslems.
Americans need to develop a broader view of the world and pay more attention to India. I think if America’s Democrats had paid close attention to Modi’s success in India they could have understood Trump in 2016. Unfortunately, getting Anglophile American intellectuals and journalists to pay attention to nations other than the UK will be tough.