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Oh Brexit, what next?

Published: Friday, August 09, 2019

Wknd_Boris

Words by Malcolm Mackerras

Since I became the Politics Expert for Switzer eight years ago, I have been claiming to be better at predicting Australian events than any other pundit. Notwithstanding my recent setback (“This Federal election, I got it wrong”), I still make that claim. However, I would not dare to do so for overseas events as illustrated by my 2016 article “99% chance Clinton will be President” and my 2017 article “Theresa May: The first great British PM of the 21st century?”. I cannot now imagine how I ever thought May would be a great PM. She was interesting. That’s all.

Notwithstanding the above, I remind readers of two articles by me relating to those very important democracies of the Anglosphere. The articles were “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?” posted on Thursday 17 November 2016 and “Brexit and the Donald: both big mistakes, Take 2” posted on Friday 1 February 2019. The second article began by noting that the editor had placed a question mark on the first article and noted I would not have done so. I was asserting, not questioning – both Brexit and the Donald were big mistakes by the political systems of the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively.

The difference, however, is important. It is extremely unlikely that the political system of the US will make the same mistake in 2020. In the unlikely event that Trump is re-elected, it would be by getting more popular votes than the Democratic candidate. It is more likely that he will be defeated. In either event, Trump would not be President for more than two terms.

Brexit is a very different idea. The idea is that because 51.9% of 2016 referendum votes were for Leave and “only” 48.1% were for Remain, the United Kingdom should make the irrevocable and radical decision to leave the European Union. In Australia such a vote would never be considered a win for the 51.9%. Of our eight successful referendums to amend the Constitution, the affirmative vote has ranged from a high of 90.8% to a low of 54.4%. It is quite extraordinary that the British should allow a simple majority like that to prevail.

Except, of course, the British have not actually allowed that – or not yet anyway. However, I have changed my prediction. Two years ago, I thought “Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?” posted on this website on Wednesday 14 June 2017. I now fear and predict that the United Kingdom will crash out of the EU without a deal on Thursday 31 October this year. What would happen after that?

Surely there must be a general election within the next 12 months! What would happen? My estimate of the current opinion polls is that the division of the four-way party vote is this: 31% for the Conservatives, 27% for Labour, 22% for the Liberal Democrats and 20% for the Brexit Party.

However, in an actual election, the Conservative Party would almost certainly swallow up the Brexit party. That would leave Labour stranded between the pro-Brexit Conservatives and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

In a House of Commons of 650 members, a majority is 325. I see the Conservatives as getting about 340 seats, compared with 330 for David Cameron in 2015 and 317 for Theresa May in 2017. Therefore, I see Johnson crashing through, not crashing.

So, what about by-elections? Here we have the opposite picture. There have been two recently – both with bad news for the Conservatives. The first was at Peterborough on Thursday 6 June. Peterborough is a traditional Conservative seat won by an unlikely Labour candidate at the 2017 general election. The discredited Labour member was kicked out by a petition and the by-election was expected to be won by either the Conservative candidate or the Brexit Party candidate. However, they split the vote and Labour held the seat. But note that Peterborough was contested while May was in office.

More recently there was the by-election for the Welsh rural seat of Brecon and Radnorshire last Thursday. It is one of the most rural seats in the whole United Kingdom. There the Conservative member was kicked out on a petition. As generally expected the Liberal Democrats won the seat. It all goes to show what a mad system it is that has first-past-the-post voting and counting in single-member constituencies.

So, take your pick in this very unpredictable situation. My guess is that Johnson will crash through.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au. His website can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com)

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