Winds of change: the UK picks its next leader

If the cap fits: Etonian Brexiteer Johnson versus revolutionary socialist Corbyn. © Getty

Is this the most important election in a lifetime? Both leading parties have policies that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Voters across the UK will make a huge decision today.

“Britain’s future: You decide,” says The Independent. “Your vote has never been more important,” booms The Daily Mail. “Decision day,” proclaims The Daily Telegraph.

Today’s newspapers are in no doubt: this is an election that is a turning point in Britain’s history.

Many commentators have dubbed today’s vote the most important in a generation. It offers citizens the choice between two radically different proposals for the future of the country: Brexit and socialism.

The UK is having today’s general election because Boris Johnson felt confident that the Conservatives could gain a large enough majority to push through his Brexit deal after three years of deadlock, following the 2016 referendum.

But Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, with its ambitious program of public investment, has been narrowing the gap in the polls.

In 2017, Conservative leader Theresa May called an election for similar reasons but failed to win over the British public.

Since then, both parties have become more radical, offering voters the biggest political choice for decades.

While Johnson’s Conservatives dream of a swift Brexit, followed by a trade deal with Trump’s America and a points-based immigration system, Corbyn’s Labour team are proposing a second referendum, a green new deal and nationalised broadband.

The Tory Party has been trimmed of all its rebellious Remain-supporting MPs.

Following alarm about Corbyn’s electability and anti-Semitism claims, several Labour MPs have also left their party.

In this election, trust in politicians has collapsed.

The viciousness of the campaign has contributed to this. Politics feels nastier. Fake news, harassment and conspiracies have dominated the debate online.

All the parties have been accused of lying to the public.

The two leaders have also done their best to dodge uncomfortable questions.

Corbyn won’t say how he would vote in a second referendum on Brexit.

Johnson refuses to be interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neill.

Instead, they have chosen to simply shout their slogans ad nauseam: “For the many, not the few,” says Corbyn. “Get Brexit done,” says Johnson.

Journalists and analysts have called it the most important vote in a generation. Are we really at such a critical fork in British history?

Turning point

Of course not! Every election feels critical because the issues at stake are those most relevant to the time. It is in the media’s interest to make voters believe that an election matters. It ensures people buy more newspapers and politicians get more votes. The possibility of a hung Parliament actually means that we could still stay in this exact situation for years.

Then again, both Labour’s planned redistribution of wealth and the Conservative’s desired reshaping of the UK’s place in the world will have profound effects on the country. There is no recent precedent for what either party is proposing. Not since the 1970s has the UK been outside of the EU or embraced nationalisation. The choice is massive and its effects could be felt for decades.

You Decide

  1. Does this election feel historic to you?
  2. What events or policies could make one election more important than another? Do you find politics more engaging since the last election? Do you think politics has become nastier?

Activities

  1. In pairs, come up with five policies that you think everyone would agree with. Then, suggest them to the rest of your class.
  2. Imagine that you are a historian of the future. Write a paragraph about this election as it might appear in your new history of Britain.

Some People Say...

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Yogi Berra (1925-2015), US baseball player and manager

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That 88% of Conservative online adverts included claims that were false; that Labour’s manifesto has said it will abolish university tuition fees and aim for net zero emissions by 2030, and that the Tory manifesto promises £7bn pounds for schools and higher teacher salaries, as well as having net-zero emissions by 2050.
What do we not know?
Whether the fact that the election is taking place during a chilly winter day will impact voter turnout. Whether the polls have been getting their predictions right (they failed to predict Trump, Brexit and the last hung Parliament). Whether either of the parties can or will carry out their manifesto promises.

Word Watch

Dubbed
Called, known as.
Public investment
Spending money on services like the NHS, schools and the police.
Polls
Surveys of the public used to predict election results.
Points-based
An immigration process where better qualified and more “needed” individuals are given higher points than others.
Green new deal
A range of policies to limit the effects of the climate crisis and encourage a sustainable economy.
Nationalised
When a company is owned and run by the Government.
Electability
Likelihood of winning an election.
Anti-Semitism
Hatred of Jewish people.
Andrew Neill
BBC journalist famous for his aggressive interviews.
Ad nauseam
“Until it makes you sick” — in Latin.

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