Notes on how the Tories won England


The Johnson Tories won the 2019 general election taking 65% of the parliamentary seats with 47% of the votes. In England, Johnson has a sixty seat majority giving the Crown virtually total control over the Commons and thus restoring Britain’s elected dictatorship after the constitutional paralysis since the 2016 referendum. “The power Johnson commands in the Commons has no precedent for decades” says John Gray (New Statement 17 January 2020).


The Tories should have lost the election after nine years of austerity, incompetence and cruelty whilst redistributing wealth to their super rich friends. Yet they won with the votes of a section of the working class who had been the victims of these same government policies. It was secured by routing Labour in its old heartlands, taking a majority of those classified as ‘C2DE’s and identified by political commentators as “Workington Man” Why did the so-called ‘Red Wall’ of Northern Labour seats fall to the Tories? How did the Tories win one hundred and sixty six seats more than Labour in England?


The roots of the 2019 Tory victory in England are deep in UK history. The party has long established historical advantages from the ‘constitutional-cultural’ practices of a state forged after the 1688 Glorious revolution. It embodies the politics of monarchy, Church, the union, the public schools, Oxbridge and the City of London. The most successful election winning machine in UK and world history (Economist 21 December 2019) has the best funding from corporate donations and rich individuals and the support of the Tory press. Whether an election takes place in 1959, 1979 or 2019, the Tories are in pole position to win even when the majority of voters don’t vote for them.


The modern history of the UK goes back to the Second World and the creation ‘social and constitutional monarchy’ after 1945. This set the boundaries for class politics until Thatcher’s neo-liberal revolution which continued with New Labour until the financial crisis in 2008. The destruction of the social monarchy over thirty years exposed the failure of the Westminster parliament to protect the economic and social rights of working people. By 2008 neo-liberal policies had bankrupted the financial system and left the Tory state with massive debts.


In 2010 the Tories won the election and with the support of the Liberal Democrats began imposing harsh austerity policies to ‘save the country’. The costs of banking failure were transferred to the State and then onto working people. A policy of Quantitative Easing restored liquidity and profitability to the City. The results were growing poverty, homelessness, and severe cuts in health, social care, libraries and local authority services etc. By 2019 the underfunding of public services, the failure of private social care, the housing shortage, and the squeeze on local authorities left these services in a state of crisis or near collapse.


Crisis of democracy


The dismantling of the social monarchy, by free market and austerity policies, exposed a long standing ‘democratic deficit’ to scrutiny. People lost faith, trust and confidence in Westminster politicians and parties especially outside the wealthier London metropolis. There was a growing ‘crisis of democracy’. In 2014 this crisis came to a head when forty five percent of the Scottish people voted to leave the UK. The constitution and the Tory government survived the shock of near defeat, much to the relief of the Prime Minister and the Queen.


In 2016 the ‘crisis of democracy’ ratcheted up to a higher level when England and Wales voted to leave the EU. The referendum gave people an opportunity to protest against deteriorating social conditions, the neglect and indifference by the ruling elite, and a Westminster ‘democracy’ unresponsive to their needs and aspirations. Nobody in power was listening. England’s vote to leave was a seismic shock to the political system. Politicians and parties divided and realigned along a leave-remain axis.


English nationalism


Working class people voting to leave were not turning to the Tories, identified with Cameron and Osborne, but away from them towards English nationalist populism led by ‘rebels’ such Johnson and Farage. The leave campaign presented itself as a national liberation movement aiming to free the country from the shackles of the EU bureaucracy. The narrative of ‘liberation’ and ‘democracy’ concealed a reactionary kind of English nationalism looking backwards to a time before joining the Common Market.


‘Brexit’ is an expression of a traditional Anglo-British nationalism in which England is assumed to be the hegemonic nation in the British Union. Yet it was in England that the democratic slogan “Take Back Control” had the greatest purchase. England would be the vanguard of a national independence movement to restore ‘democracy’ in England and the UK. The main cause of the ‘crisis of democracy’ was presented as bureaucracy in Brussels rather than an ancient constitution protecting the bureaucracy in Whitehall and the financial power of the City



The ‘crisis of democracy’ in England found expression in an emerging tide of English nationalism. In Ireland, Scotland and Wales it is expressed through a different kind of nationalism and the desire for national independence from the UK. This is not to make a simple and false equation between different nationalisms but to illustrate different ways this democratic crisis appeared in UK politics. This distinction became sharper because Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU.


Brexit crisis


English nationalism turned the ‘crisis of democracy’ into a ‘Brexit revolution’ which became stuck in a ‘Brexit crisis.’ It began with the resignation of Cameron and deepened after the 2017 election when May lost her Commons majority in a hung parliament. In 2018 the May government negotiated a Withdrawal Agreement. This was defeated three times in the Commons by an opposition from Tories, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, and Greens etc.


The ‘Brexit crisis’ came from a divided country and a political stalemate in the Commons. This grew into a ‘constitutional crisis’ as the powers of the Crown and Parliament were tested in the Supreme Court and on the streets through massive People’s Vote campaign demonstrations. The country became frustrated, angry and fed up with the paralysis in parliament. In July 2019 May resigned and Johnson became Tory leader and Prime Minister.


The ‘Brexit crisis’ highlighted the central battle between the Crown and Parliament. On the 9 September 2019 Johnson used Crown powers to prorogue or suspend parliament for five weeks. The Crown and Parliament are not equal partners because the Crown has executive power and can prevent parliament carrying out its responsibilities of bringing or holding the executive to account. Prorogation was challenged at the Supreme Court, which ruled on the 24 September that the government had acted unlawfully. ( accessed 20 January 2020).


Brexit Election


The new Johnson government set about planning the election campaign to stop Corbyn and get Brexit done. The Prime Minister expelled twenty one rebel Tory MPs on the 4 September 2019. He secured a ‘new’ Withdrawal Agreement with EU on 16 October 2019. This was achieved after agreement with the Irish Taoiseach by tweaking Theresa May’s deal, removing the Irish Backstop and redrawing the EU border down the Irish Sea. He simply betrayed his Irish DUP allies over the border question.


In 2015 Cameron and Osborne were faced with the threat from UKIP and pressure from the Tory right. They dealt with it by promising a referendum on the EU. In the election campaign they played the English nationalist card with the spectre of a coalition of chaos between the SNP and ‘Red Ed’ Milliband. It was enough to carry the day in the key marginal seats. Cameron won and the election and delivered his referendum.


The Tories repeated the same tactics in 2019 by stealing the clothes of English nationalism and wearing them. Boris Johnson claimed the mantle as leader of the fight for national independence from the EU who would “make Britain Great Again”. The Tories made the transition to an English nationalist ‘One Nation’ party committed to maintaining the Union. This shift was completed in November when Nigel Farage, the unofficial leader of English nationalism, was persuaded by his backers to stand down Brexit Party candidates in 317 Tory seats.


City traders celebrated “calculating that a hung parliament was now less likely” (Guardian 11 November 2019). In response the pound rose to a six month high against the Euro, a sure sign of how big money saw the future. By more or less unifying Brexit with the Tory Party a major tactical advantage was won. Nevertheless there was more to the ‘Brexit election than Brexit paralysis. In December 2019 the UK was facing a series of dangers, not least, climate change, war in the Middle East, the degeneration of the social monarchy, the ‘crisis of democracy’ not least in the national question, and in the growing gap between London and the rest of England.


The Johnson Tories made the ‘Brexit crisis’ the cutting edge of their campaign. They offered an ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal to leave the EU by January 2020. This would unite ‘Brexit revolutionaries’ who were desperate to leave, with conservatives fed up with the political logjam in parliament and who just wanted it to end so politics could return to normality. The Brexit crisis was linked to a crisis in our democracy because parliament was not listening. It was trying to frustrate the ‘will of the people’ by not accepting the referendum vote. Lastly the Tories promised to increase public spending on the police, NHS, and nurse training and invest in infrastructure to neutralise the effectiveness of Labour’s anti-austerity message.


This programme for government was tied into one bundle with the democratic idea that the people should elect a parliament that would ‘Get Brexit Done’. The Tories appealed across the classes. Traditional upper and middle class Tories feared the Marxist Corbyn would take their diamonds and pearls. The northern English Labour voters were attracted by a patriotic ‘One Nation’ English Brexit. Defeating Labour and leaving the EU would make England safe and Britain great again.




The Tories thus had a very different strategy from Labour. In England they prioritised democratic arguments in a constitutional-culture war which appealed to English nationalism. Labour offered a different answer to Brexit. But its main case was to end austerity and revive or restore the social monarchy through public ownership and economic and social redistribution. Hence Labour’s strongest argument focused on the NHS, which like the BBC and the Queen, is national monument to the ‘spirit’ of 1945.


Could Labour have won with its programme to restore the social monarchy? The answer has to be no. The Tories political campaign trumped Labour’s ‘economism’ which kept it wedded to the ‘spirit of 45’. Like the Tories, Labour addressed the Brexit crisis but in a flawed way. They failed to recognise the importance of the ‘crisis of democracy’ or the problem of English nationalism and did not, therefore, have a radical (i.e. republican) programme for democratic change.


This is not a fault which can be laid at Corbyn’s door, but at the entire history of Labour since it was accepted as a legitimate party of the UK state during the First World War. In 2019 Labour intended to march towards ‘socialism’ through the minefield and booby-traps of the Tory state and its constitution. In the 1980s, before New Labour, this was known as the ‘British Road to Socialism’. After 2015 it became the Corbyn road to socialism. It has now suffered a major if not fatal defeat at the hands of the Tories, Brexit and English nationalism.


20 January 2020



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