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“Dark Day for Everyone Who Believes in Justice”: U.K. Tories Defeat Labour in Landslide Election

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The British Conservative Party has won a decisive majority in Thursday’s general election, winning seats in Labour Party strongholds and paving the way for Britain’s exit from the European Union by January 31. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is projected to have 364 seats in the House of Commons compared to Labour’s 203 seats. That would give the Conservatives about a 75-seat majority, the largest since Margaret Thatcher’s landslide in the 1987 election. Johnson’s message throughout the campaign was focused on “getting Brexit done,” reflecting public exhaustion with the issue that has paralyzed British politics ever since the 2016 referendum. His win comes despite his long record of racist and anti-Muslim statements, as well as accusations of sexual harassment. Following the election, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn announced he will resign as party leader, though he will continue to sit as an MP. The Labour membership grew dramatically during Corbyn’s tenure, with the party adopting radical policies focused on ending austerity, reinvesting in the National Health Service and promoting social justice. We get response from George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian and author of “Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis,” and Priya Gopal, university lecturer in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge and author of the new book “Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re broadcasting from inside the United Nations Climate Change Conference here in Madrid, Spain. But we begin today’s show in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party have won a decisive majority in the highly anticipated general election, winning seats in Labour Party strongholds and all but guaranteeing Britain’s exit from the European Union by early next year.

AMY GOODMAN: In the Labour Party’s worst electoral defeat in 84 years, the Conservatives are projected to win 364 seats in the British House of Commons versus only 203 for the Labour Party. This would give the Conservatives the largest majority since 1987, when Margaret Thatcher was in power.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation this morning.

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: With this mandate and this majority, we will at last be able to do what?

CROWD: Get Brexit done!

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: You’ve been paying attention. Because this election means that getting Brexit done is now the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people. … We will get Brexit done on time by the 31st of January — no ifs, no buts, no maybes — leaving the European Union as one United Kingdom, taking back control of our laws, borders, money, our trade, immigration system, delivering on the democratic mandate of the people. And at the same time, this one nation Conservative government will massively increase our investment in the NHS, the health service that represents the very best of our country with a single beautiful idea.

AMY GOODMAN: The election marks a crushing defeat for Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said Thursday night he would step down as the party’s leader after a “period of reflection.”

JEREMY CORBYN: Social justice and the issues of needs of people will not go away just because Brexit is dealt with in the way in which Boris Johnson presumably plans to deal with it in the moment. All those issues will come back center stage in the debate, and the fundamental Labour message about justice and equality within our society is going to be one that is there for all time, because it’s the very core of what my party believes in and what I will always advocate on behalf of my constituency and on behalf of my party. I want to also make it clear that I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The British election also delivered a decisive win for Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who said Friday the election was, quote, “an overwhelming endorsement of a second referendum on Scottish independence.” Also in Scotland, Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson has stepped down after losing her seat in an election night that left her party with only 11 seats.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on what this election means for Brexit, the climate crisis, national healthcare and much more, we’re joined by two guests. We go to England, to Oxford, where we’re joined by George Monbiot, columnist for The Guardian, author of Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. And joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Bangalore, India, is Priya Gopal, university lecturer in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, author of the new book Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.

George Monbiot, let’s go to you in Oxford first. Well, if you can just respond to what took place in your country?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, it is a very dark day for everyone who believes in justice, for everyone here who wants a kinder, fairer, greener nation, arguably the darkest day that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War in this country. And we’ve now stepped into the same political arena as the U.S. has with Trump, India has with Modi, as the Philippines have with Duterte, and Brazil with Bolsonaro. These are very dangerous times. Just when we need to confront the greatest predicament humankind has ever faced, which is the collapse of our life support systems, our governments are in the hands of giant toddlers who just want to smash up all our public protections, our public services, any means by which the power of capital and those who accumulate it can be restrained.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: George, can you talk, though, speculate about what you think accounts for the scale of the victory? I mean, many thought that Boris Johnson would win this election, but not by such a major landslide.

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, I think there are several factors. One is that they have learned from Trump, they have learned from Modi, they have learned from the referendum result in the U.K. three years ago, basically, cheating and lying wins, particularly when you can weaponize it through social media on a massive scale with unaccountable dark ads where nobody knows what anybody else is seeing. That is a highly effective and highly dangerous tactic. And they have refined it and refined it, so that it is now winning elections all over the world. These are really perilous times for democracy.

We also had an opposition in the form of the Labour Party that was quite internally divided. That didn’t help at all. It failed for far too long to articulate a clear position on Brexit. It failed to deal with some of its own crises, particularly the anti-Semitism crisis, which it should have moved on much more swiftly and firmly than it did. But we also — you know, it was really swimming against the tide, particularly the power of the billionaire press in this country, the enormous amount of funding poured into the Conservative Party, and a series of other democratic — undemocratic forces that align with the radical right now, which has taken over the Conservative Party.

AMY GOODMAN: Priya Gopal, you’re usually at Cambridge University. You’re now in Bangalore, India, but it’s certainly interesting to see Britain from that perspective, as well. Were you surprised by the results of the election? And what message do you think that it sent?

PRIYA GOPAL: India, where we’ve just had the Citizenship Amendment Bill, where ethnonationalist, authoritarian forces have won an election for a second time earlier this year. I think that I simply see Britain as the latest footnote, if you like, in what George just referred to as the global perilous state that democracy is in. What we’re seeing is the authoritarian right rampaging across the globe. And in a way, Britain has simply joined Brazil, India and Hungary, Poland and, of course, the U.S.A. So, we do need to see what is happening in Britain in a global context, and that should worry us very greatly.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Priya, could you talk specifically about what George said about the Labour Party itself being internally divided, and also the fact the Labour Party doesn’t quite represent the working classes or was abandoned by the working classes? Do you agree with that?

PRIYA GOPAL: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that the argument that it was abandoned by the working classes is greatly overstated. I mean, for one thing, we have yet to get the final numbers, the final voting demographics. I think that when people say that Labour was abandoned by the working classes, they’re actually often making a slightly racialized statement. What they’re saying is that people who consider themselves white and so-called indigenous Britons have voted against migrants and ethnic minorities. And it is important to point out here that the working classes in Britain, like the working classes pretty much anywhere else, including the U.S.A., is not homogenous. It consists of different communities. It consists of different religions. And so there is no yardstick by which you can say Labour was abandoned as a whole by the working classes. We don’t know that for sure. And even with the Brexit referendum, the working class vote, I would say, was divided. Yes, there were certain Labour strongholds that did vote leave and that did vote leave on an explicitly xenophobic, anti-migrant platform, which was furthered by the kinds of lying and cheating on the part of the media that George referred to earlier.

As far as Labour itself is concerned, yes, it is a party that is divided against itself, but it is also true that they failed to take not just a clear position on Brexit, but I think they failed to educate people. They failed to educate their own constituency about what sorts of lies were being spread, particularly the lie that austerity was somehow the responsibility of Europe, when in fact the austerity that people were pushing back against is very much a Tory program. And this was a very successful lie. And I think that because they didn’t take a sufficiently clear position on Brexit early on, they also failed to educate their own constituencies about the ins and outs of Brexit. And I think that that has rebounded against them at the end of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, Gary Younge writes in The Guardian Labour will now “have to face the fact that the electorate did not abandon Labour for the centre. They went either to the far right, in England and Wales, or to the social democratic nationalist alternative, in Scotland.” You have called this election the “climate election.” Do you now think that’s what this was about?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, it’s really disappointing that, you know, for the first time, we had some very strong climate and environmental policies in the platforms of several of the major parties. And that, to me, was quite exciting. But you would hardly have known it from the media coverage. It was scarcely touched on. You know, just as the politicians are finally taking these issues seriously, the media, as always, turns its back on them and looks the other way and talks about Brexit and talks about immigration and the economy and crime and all the old 20th century issues. And so, yeah, I mean, this great opportunity we had, finally, to take action on our greatest-ever crisis has once more been lost. And that is tremendously disappointing.

I mean, I don’t — well, obviously, I don’t trust Johnson on anything, but I particularly don’t trust him on environmental issues. You know, his whole shtick is really to just give the oligarchs what they want. Whether they’re onshore oligarchs or offshore oligarchs, it doesn’t matter, because they support his party, and he, in turn, supports them. And they want a free hand to treat the living planet as their dustbin and to treat the people of the planet as their underpaid and exploited workforce or consumers. And so, the idea that he would be a champion of environmental values, unfortunately, is a very remote hope indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to return to Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking this morning.

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: You, the people of this country, voted to be carbon neutral in this election. You voted to be carbon neutral by 2050. And we’ll do it! You also voted to be Corbyn neutral by Christmas, by the way. And we’ll do — we’ll do that, too.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, if you would respond to what he just said?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah, well, that is the government’s official position, carbon neutral by 2050. It’s far too little, far too late. Unfortunately, the science tells us we have to move much faster than that.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, playing on “Corbyn neutral.”

GEORGE MONBIOT: Oh, well, yeah, just that’s Boris Johnson with his silly soundbites. Look, you know, one thing we’ve learnt in this election is you cannot believe a word that Johnson says. He is an inveterate liar. He lies and lies and lies and cheats and lies and cheats and lies. So, if he says we’re going to be carbon neutral by 2050, it’s not true, because nothing he says is true. He will say whatever he needs to say to get through the situation that he happens to be in.

But it’s up to us, those of us who are now the resistance in this country — that’s how I see us — to fight him every step of the way. Whether it’s on environmental, climate issues — and it’s critical that we do so — whether it’s on social justice issues, whether it’s on the defense of our public services, we will fight him and fight him. And we will develop alternatives, and we will resist, and we will rebuild, and we will come out of this stronger than before. But we’re going to have to show a lot of unity. We’re going to have to drop the recriminations. We’re going to have to invest in solidarity, invest in mutual aid, help each other out of this appalling mess that we’ve fallen into in the U.K. We can do that, but we’re going to have to climb out of a pretty deep well of despair first.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, George, could you explain what the implications of Boris Johnson’s electoral win is, I mean, this massive majority that the Conservatives have won? The results mean that Johnson will be the most powerful prime minister since Tony Blair won a landslide for Labour in 1997. What do you anticipate Johnson will do with this landslide? What kinds of legislation will he put forward?

GEORGE MONBIOT: So, Johnson has no vision for the country. He has a vision for a particular powerful class who are basically oligarchs, extremely rich people who use their money, often unrecorded, to fund the lobby groups, to fund the Conservative Party directly, to fund our equivalent of political action committees, which are just beginning to take off in the U.K., to get what they want. And he’s been in their pocket throughout his political career. And he knows what they want.

They want an offshore, deregulated economy where public protections are toned down, where public services are ripped open to competition with the private sector or indeed to direct privatization and capture by the private sector. And environmental regulations will go to the wall, because those restrict the ability of the oligarchs to make even more money. You know, they want to be able to dump their pollutants. They want to be able to seize natural wealth without paying for it.

We are in a very dangerous position indeed, because this charlatan, this liar, this cheat has taken power with a massive majority in this country. And we don’t even have the brakes on the system that you have in the U.S. You know, at least there are institutional means of resisting Donald Trump, not least Congress. But we don’t have any such brakes, because we don’t have a clear separation of powers in this country. We don’t have a formal constitution in this country. Basically, a prime minister with a large majority can take almost sovereign powers. He can capture the old powers that the monarch used to have. This is a very perilous situation indeed.

AMY GOODMAN: Priya Gopal, if you can talk more about Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who says he’s going to step down after a “period of reflection” the party goes through? Where do you think they should be focusing? What do you think he, and we should look overall at the Labour Party, did right and wrong? And also, what do you think this means about the balance of power with Britain, I mean, with Brexit about to happen and both Boris Johnson and Trump such close allies, what that alliance will mean? But start with Corbyn.

PRIYA GOPAL: Well, I think there are two Jeremy Corbyns we should be talking about, in all honesty. There is the Jeremy Corbyn, the man, who is a — like any other political leader, he’s made his mistakes. He also did produce a vision for a significantly more progressive and reformed social democratic system, and he did put the idea out there. And I think that we should, in some sense, acknowledge the fact that in these extremely right-wing, perilous times, where in many countries there isn’t an alternative — I mean, India is a good example; there isn’t a viable opposition — he did — he and others in the Labour Party did put forward a viable oppositional program, a viable imaginative alternative, a viable progressive vision. And Jeremy Corbyn, the man, mistakes and warts and failures notwithstanding, I think, is owed a debt of gratitude for having put an alternative out there.

There is also Jeremy Corbyn, the media myth. And I do think we should not underestimate how deeply vicious, how deeply mendacious the media, the billionaire plutocratic media in Britain, has been. And the construction of Corbyn as a far-left anti-Semite, notwithstanding his not very good handling of the anti-Semitism issue in the Labour Party, the painting of him personally as an anti-Semite and as a kind of far-left ideologue — I mean, he’s even been described on the BBC as a blazing ideologue, which is just utterly ludicrous, given that he is essentially a fairly middle-of-the-road social democrat, committed to fairly middle-of-the-road social democratic reforms. So I think there are two Jeremy Corbyns. And I think the real Jeremy Corbyn, mistakes notwithstanding, is owed a debt of thanks.

In terms of the larger global picture, I think what we really need to worry about is a global right wing. I mean, already in these elections we have seen the interference of groups linked to the BJP, who mobilized fiercely amongst British Indians, claiming that the Labour Party, in addition to being anti-Semitic, was also supposedly anti-Hindu. Now, in part, this is because Corbyn is a long-standing critic of Modi, and in part because the Labour Party took a principled position on the lockdown in Kashmir. But what we do see is a global right wing. We’ve seen Trump more or less interfere with British electoral politics, and we have seen the Indian right wing interfere with British electoral politics, in ways that I think would have been condemned immediately if this had been happening in any other kind of country with any other kind of foreign power. So, I think we really need to be on the alert for what is happening internationally and on a global scale, and the extent to which the right-wing forces, you know, ethnonationalist, authoritarian forces, are working hand in hand, and the extent to which they have already bolstered Boris Johnson and his undoubtedly deeply damaging program that is ahead of us now.

AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, right now we’re just looking at an article by — or comments by Mehdi Hasan, who wrote about what this means particularly for Muslims, for women. He wrote, “Dark day for minorities in the UK. Especially for British Muslims who watched as a man who said 'Islam was the problem,' mocked veiled Muslim women, & also turned a blind eye to massive anti-Muslim hatred in his party, was just given a landslide majority by their fellow Britons.” George, your response?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, it’s a long time since we’ve had an overtly racist prime minister in this country. There’s been dog whistle racism, but in this case he just comes out and says it, similar to the way that Trump does. And this is a very frightening time indeed — the stuff he said about Muslims, the stuff he said about people of color, and then in the manifesto an actual stated commitment effectively to wipe out another threatened group, which are the Romani Gypsies and Travelers in this country, who are protected ethnic group. They were also subject to the Holocaust: About 500,000 Romanis and Sinti were killed by the Nazis. And yet, here they are actually in the Conservative manifesto, which basically says we’re going to drive them out; we’re going to engage in a cultural cleansing, effectively, of these people from our country, and either they’re going to go and just live in houses and not pursue their culture anymore, or they’re going to be in prison; we’re going to jail them for pursuing their culture. It couldn’t be more blatant. It couldn’t be more terrifying. But it’s there, right in black and white, in their platform. So, you know, this is really, really frightening.

And we know that whenever he runs into trouble, Johnson is going to use xenophobia and racism and scapegoating of immigrants, of Muslims, of the poor and the weak in general, of Romani and Travelers in particular. He’s going to use all that to deflect attention from the many problems that he’s going to run into, particularly as he tries to implement Brexit, particularly as some of his lies and cheating are exposed. He’s going to turn it towards the classic scapegoating of minority peoples, with potentially very frightening implications for those peoples. And it’s up to all of us who believe in social justice to stand in solidarity with those peoples and defend them from the inevitable attacks.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, George, we just have a minute now, but if you could comment on what you think the majority, the massive majority, for the Tories means for Scotland? Does this mean that there will be a second referendum, or that there ought to be, on independence?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, I’m pretty sure that there will be. I mean, certainly, the Scots are going to be pushing for it very hard now. Scotland was very much anti-Brexit. The large majority want to stay in the European Union. With independence, they would be able to do that. They would be able to become an independent member of the European Union, and they won’t be in the position of having the block of concrete, which is the U.K., thrown out of the boat with their ankle attached to it, which is how it’s going to be with them for Brexit if they stay within the union, within the United Kingdom. So, I would be surprised if Scotland does not leave the United Kingdom before long. We could potentially see Northern Ireland going the same way. That’s a possibility. We’re looking at the breakup of the United Kingdom, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I support the Scots in their pursuit of independence. But it’s just one of the many implications of these really volatile times which we now face.

AMY GOODMAN: And we have 30 seconds for Priya Gopal in Bangalore, usually in Cambridge, England. You tweeted, the coming months, two things are vital everywhere: coalitions and alliances, and a global perspective and real internationalism. What gives you hope at this point?

PRIYA GOPAL: What gives me hope is people organizing, for instance, in India, where the situation is extremely dire — people calling for civil disobedience against the new racist, discriminatory law against Muslims; people calling — civil servants and police officers resigning from their positions; people refusing to accept what is happening to Kashmir and in Kashmir; people forming alliances to stand between the state and vulnerable populations; and people making alliances across civil society organizations; indigenous peoples who are standing up to protect resources and forests. And I think that we need alliances within countries and across countries, and we need to resist. Civil disobedience, I think, would be a very good start.

AMY GOODMAN: Priya Gopal, we want to thank you so much for being with us, university lecturer in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, her new book, Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent, and George Monbiot, journalist, author, columnist with The Guardian, his most recent book, Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis.

When we come back, we look at how rich countries are continuing to evade cutting emissions in these final days of the climate summit. COPOUT25? Stay with us.

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