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England: Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/BBC/J. Overs

Britain decides between Tories and Labour

Barbara Wesel
December 11, 2019

Britain is holding its fourth consequential nationwide vote since 2015. A fatigued electorate will consider which party would be the better steward of the health care system, the environment and, of course, Brexit.


UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are making a last concerted effort to win over voters ahead of Thursday's general election. Most recently, Johnson visited constituencies with slim Labor majorities that voted for Brexit. Corbyn, meanwhile, has been campaigning across Labour's "Red Wall" in the Midlands and north. But he has also visited university cities such as Bristol in an effort to fire up the student vote. The Tory lead over Labour has begun to shrink in recently days — causing anxiety in the sitting government. 

Never in the history of British politics have partly allegiances mattered as little as today. And never have people been so frustrated with the status quo.

Ten years of austerity politics have taken their toll on the National Health Service. Patients complain of long waits in emergency rooms; NHS officials say there's a lack of beds, staff and equipment. The Conservatives have pledged to address this by building 40 new hospitals and hiring thousands of nurses and doctors. But, when newspapers examined the pledge, it soon became clear that the promised investments would not make up for prior cuts, that the Tories were really just planning to renovate existing hospital buildings and that the dearth of medical staff would persist.

Read more: Labour's Corbyn unveils 'radical' manifesto

The Tories lack credibility with voters when it comes to the NHS. Moreover, there are fears that health care sector could be privatized if Britain leaves the European Union and reaches a trade agreement with the US. Many Brits are worried by this possible scenario — though, at the contentious NATO summit last week, President Donald Trump said the United States would not take the NHS "if you handed it to us on a silver platter."

Voters have far greater trust in Labour to preserve the NHS. The party has pledged to increase funding for the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care by 4.3% annually; the Conservatives would raise it 3.1% per year.

Read more: As Britain prepares to vote, the economy hangs in the balance

'Get Brexit done'

The most significant issue is Brexit. Labour has not succeeded in its efforts to draw attention to inequality, run-down schools and the dilapidated privatized rail system campaign topics. And voters have not been convinced by Corbyn's plan to renegotiate with the European Union and then hold a second referendum.

UK: Boris Johnson
Johnson, who became premier after an internal Tory vote, opted for a three-word sloganImage: Getty Images/C. Furlong

This is why Johnson's vow to "get Brexit done" resonates with many voters — though EU negotiators and the prime minister's own advisers doubt that he will be able to keep his promise to strike a trade deal with the European Union in 11 months and not ask for another extension in the summer. And Johnson's assertion that Brexit will not mean the introduction of border checks along the Irish border is equally implausible.

But, apparently, details, half-truths and lies like these don't seem to matter to Johnson, who has pledged to deliver what a slim majority voted for in 2016. His promise to move things forward strikes a chord with many Brits today — even Remainers — who feel that it's time to finally put the Brexit issue to rest.

In their latest campaign spot, the Tories attempt to tap into this sentiment. In the clip — a spoof on a scene from Love Actually, a 2003 Christmas-themed rom-com — a smiling Johnson plays "Silent Night" from a boombox and shows a series of cue cards to a woman standing in her doorway. "With any luck, by next year," the first card reads. "We'll have Brexit done," the second one says. "(If Parliament doesn't block it again," goes the third. And so on. The Labour lawmaker Rosena Allin-Khan says the Tories nicked the idea from a video she posted in November.

Read more: Where is Boris Johnson?

Candidates have weaknesses

Johnson is not particularly popular with female voters. He refuses to publicly talk about his children, and is notorious for his infidelities. It does not end there. Earlier this year, he dismissed the warnings of a female MP about the dangers of inflammatory language as "humbug" and railed against other female lawmakers. The UK pollster YouGov found that just 38% of women like him; only 46% of men say they do.

Jeremy Corbyn
Voters trust Corbyn's Labour to preserve the NHS — but there are other issues this yearImage: Getty Images/A. Devlin

Corbyn has battled allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour, stemming from the statements of individual members and the party's support for Palestinians. Jews have traditionally been Labour supporters, yet for this election two-thirds have said they will put their cross elsewhere. Corbyn has been criticized for an apology that some called belated and half-hearted. 

And then there is the age gap. Brits under the age of 40 tend to vote Labour; older people prefer the Conservatives. This time around, 900,000 young people have registered to vote, citing a second Brexit referendum, the fight against climate change and migration as issues important to them. Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system makes it hard to predict the outcome: A relatively small number of votes in just a few constituencies can make all the difference. It's a winner-take-all system — but who will win? 

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