A Tory Triumph in Britain
Boris Johnson benefits from taking voters at their word on Brexit.
British voters sent a message to its reluctant politicians, to Europe and around the world Thursday by delivering Boris Johnson’s Tories a thorough and historic victory. The Conservatives won 364 of the 650 seats in Parliament, with one more still to be decided, their biggest majority since the sainted Margaret Thatcher era.
This paves the way for Britain’s divorce from the European Union that voters first backed in June 2016. That goal has been stymied by feckless leadership and elite opposition in Parliament, but Mr. Johnson promised to “get Brexit done” after becoming Prime Minister this year and voters seem to have rewarded him for it.
The Tories gained seats even in parts of the country that have backed the opposition Labour Party for decades. This more than compensated for the departure elsewhere of voters who abandoned Mr. Johnson’s Conservatives in favor of pro-EU parties such as the center-left Liberal Democrats.
This vindicates Mr. Johnson’s gamble on throwing the Brexit question back to the voters by seeking a mandate for his revised deal with Brussels. Plenty of anti-Brexit politicians and commentators have argued since the 2016 referendum that the voters had been misinformed about Brexit, or hadn’t fully thought through the issue, or don’t want the specific type of Brexit Mr. Johnson proposes, or have changed their minds. Mr. Johnson took voters at their word that they wanted Brexit then and still want it now, and he was willing to buck the London intelligentsia in the bargain.
The large Tory gains also offer hope of restoring some semblance of sanity to British politics. The anti-Brexit resistance should now admit they have lost the argument. Instead of endlessly and tediously relitigating the 2016 referendum, the focus can shift to Britain’s future outside the EU.
On that score, too, the vote was decisive. Beyond Brexit, voters faced an economic-policy choice between Mr. Johnson’s generally pro-business pitch and the aggressive socialism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The exit polls suggest Labour won 203 seats, its lowest number since the 1935.
Voters rejected Mr. Corbyn’s promise—or threat—to nationalize large segments of the U.K. economy such as railways, broadband and the post office. They figured out that he’d be able to pay for that and an expansion of social-welfare benefits only by taxing the middle class and lower earners more heavily, no matter what he said about “taxing the rich.”
They also refused to be led by a radical leftist who has winked and nodded at rampant anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. Mr. Corbyn said Friday he won’t stand for election again as the Labour leader, but the party also needs to exile his radical cronies and offer voters a more plausible centrist alternative.
Labour’s thumping by Britain’s middle class is also a warning to American Democrats who think left-wing populism is the way to defeat Donald Trump’s right-wing populism. Corbynism left the middle of British politics to be filled by Mr. Johnson’s Tories. A Democratic Party that veers to the Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren left could let Mr. Trump win again by frightening suburban voters who dislike the President personally but don’t want socialism.
While British voters rejected Corbynism, they are less clear about what they want beyond Brexit. The weakness of Mr. Johnson’s campaign was to hesitate from offering a bolder pro-market, pro-growth agenda for fear of alienating left-leaning former Labour voters who support Brexit. His main offer to voters was a package of modest tax tweaks and vague promises to negotiate free-trade deals around the world after Brexit, coupled with modest spending increases on public services such as police and health care.
That helped Mr. Johnson keep the focus on Brexit and Mr. Corbyn’s radicalism, but it will make the task of post-Brexit economic reform more difficult. His challenge will be to persuade Leave voters that Britain can best reap the dividends of independence from the EU with a range of domestic economic overhauls to taxation and regulation.
One early place to start would be negotiating a trade deal with the U.S. Mr. Trump, the Anglophile, welcomed the prospect in a tweet after the election results were clear. Mr. Johnson should leap to get it done while he has maximum political capital and Mr. Trump is looking for political and economic victories before November’s U.S. election.
We should also thank British voters for their show of democratic vigor. Western democracies haven’t been functioning well of late, Westminster included. Mr. Johnson’s leadership, and his show of respect for Brexit voters, is proving that democracies can be moved to make a decisive choice. Mr. Johnson will have to reward that faith as he governs in a post-Brexit era, but his triumph offers a broader lesson for democratic leaders in this populist era.