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  • Brendan Shaw

The winter of discontent?: Britain's winter Brexit election

"Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

- Richard III, William Shakespeare

Could Shakespeare have scripted it any better?

One wonders what the Bard would have thought of where Britain is at with Brexit today.

Are we, indeed, at the nadir of British politics with the election set to mark the turning point in this high drama?

The House of Commons has just voted to overturn existing laws and agreed that Britons will go to the polls in a general election on 12 December.

This will be the first winter election in Britain in almost a century.

Britain's politicians have come to the conclusion that this House, at least, does need to be buried because it has failed to deliver a way forward on Brexit.

Three and a half years after the British people voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, the Parliament has not been able to agree on if, how and when to do it.

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has said that Parliament is broken and, finally, has achieved what he wanted - a general election.

As with many things in Brexit and British politics these days, there are wheels within wheels within wheels.

The main reason Boris Johnson wants an election is because he thinks he will do well in an election against his opponents.

The catch is that all the other parties believe the same thing.

Almost all MPs voted for an early election this week, perhaps in part motivated by the belief they will improve their electoral position.

One suspects that, just as Richard III discovered his own fallibility the hard way, more than one British MP may wake up to a dose of sobering reality on the morning of 13 December and realise that not everyone can win.

At least MPs only risk losing their parliamentary seats, not going the unfortunate way of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

For the last three and a half years the British people have watched as Parliament has struggled with Brexit. This period included an inconclusive election in 2017 where the previous PM, Theresa May, lost her parliamentary majority when she thought she would improve it.

And now, the British will have their first winter election since 1923.

The last time Brits trudged to the polling booth in winter in 1923 was when another recently appointed Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called an election to secure a majority and a mandate for an ambitious economic reform.

Interestingly, he lost his majority as both the Labour and Liberal parties increased their number of seats who soon after unseated the Conservative government.

Whether there is more than one ghost of 1923 haunting the impending 2019 winter election remains to be seen.

There's been some debate in the UK about the significance of a winter election this time around.

Most experts today are saying that the timing of the election will make little difference to the result.

The view is that more important are people's desire to have a say and push for change.

One wonders, though, whether the Brits, trudging through the cold, wind, rain, sleet and darkness to vote in the lead up to Christmas, might not themselves exact a bit of Richard III-type revenge on election day.

There's certainly a lot of discontent out there in the electorate, perhaps making conditions just ripe for a bit of retribution of Shakespearean proportions.

The polls, if they can be believed, suggest that with the appointment of Boris Johnson, the Conservatives have reclaimed many of the 'hard Brexit' vote from Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, while Labour has only recovered some of the Remain vote they have lost to the centrist Liberal Democrats.

Polling for UK election, poll of polls

And Brexit is the most important issue influencing this election.

Source: BBC 2019 "General election 2019: A really simple guide", 30 October,

I wrote at the beginning of the year that there was a chance that Britain would go to the polls this year if Brexit could not be resolved. This elelction comes at a time when the UK has the largest gap between the elites and the general public in trust of society's institutions compared to other countries.

In a few weeks we get to find out how all this plays out.

There are a number of possible scenarios, including:

1. The Conservatives are returned and Boris Johnson wins an election in his own right with a solid majority - This would mean Brexit is progressed quickly and the Parliament passes everything to do with Brexit on the back of a majority earned at an election where Brexit is the key issue.

2. Labour wins and Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister - while possible, I find it difficult to see this happening given the low polling numbers for Labour, Corbyn's own low popularity levels and the fact that 75% of Labour parliamentarians signed a no-confidence motion in him, but then these days anything can happen in politics.

Green = approve, Red = disapprove

3. A surge in non-traditional party vote (eg Brexit Party, Liberal Democrats) - possible but both parties would have to build on the momentum they have lost in the last few months, and

4. Continuation of a hung parliament with no majority - as painful as this sounds, given the divisions in British society as much as British politics, this could be a real prospect - another election campaign and another hung parliament, as happened in 1923, not to mention 2010 and 2017 in more recent times.

The truth is that no one really knows what the outcome will be for sure, with pundits saying it is the most unpredictable election in years.

Whatever the outcome, here's hoping that this election will help resolve the political impasse that has bedevilled British politics for the last three years.

It could be a long winter.

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