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The British election is starting to look like the U.S. presidential election

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
REUTERS/Toby Melville
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn look on as they attend a vigil for victims of a fatal attack on London Bridge in London, Britain, on Monday.

With a week and a half left before parliamentary elections, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be gliding toward a relatively easy win. The polls, although never a sure thing, look good for him. The opposition is divided, and overall voters appear to have even more doubts about Johnson’s main opponent than they do about Johnson.

What could go wrong? For one thing, his truth-challenged cousin from across the pond is arriving Monday. And if the past is any indication, he’ll want to get in on the action. 

This election may mostly be about Brexit, but in other ways it looks eerily like the U.S. presidential campaign. 

While health care is a big issue, one of the big questions is about U.S. drug companies. Specifically, if Brexit does indeed happen (as Johnson insists it will), does he then — as his opponents charge —  negotiate a free trade deal that allows U.S. drug companies to drive up prices in Britain

Johnson also is refusing to release a parliamentary report on Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum. And the Guardian newspaper caused a kerfuffle this past week with a report about contributions by rich Americans and U.S. foundations to conservative causes in the U.K.

And then, there’s President Trump. Despite the fact that he’s widely reviled in the U.K., he can’t seem to help putting himself in the middle of it all. 

Maybe this time will be different. But no one’s betting on that. Just the other day, Johnson asked Trump – publicly but very nicely – to clam up

Trump and other leaders of NATO countries are overseas to attend festivities marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the alliance. The events are largely ceremonial, but it will be a minor miracle if no one walks away mad. French President Emmanuel Macron undiplomatically asked this fall whether the alliance was in effect brain dead, earning a death stare from Germany’s Angela Merkel. Among the attendees will be Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has become something of a pariah for his repressive tactics at home, his deals with Russia and his invasion of northern Syria. For what it’s worth, Erdogan says it’s Macron who’s brain dead.

But to get back to Britain: Polling can be squishy in U.K. elections, and until the very late stages of the campaign it can tend to underestimate the strength of Johnson’s main opponent, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor Party. Labor is famous for its “ground game,” teams of party members who campaign door-to-door. No one gave Corbyn much of a chance in elections two years ago, but that ground game was crucial in denying Theresa May the majority she sought. As a result, she ended up too weak to push her version of a Brexit deal through Parliament.

Even so, the polling this time around looks dismal for Labor. A YouGov estimate on Nov. 27 showed the Conservatives finishing with 43 percent of the popular vote and 359 seats in Parliament, an absolute majority. Labor would end up with 211 seats and 32 percent of the vote. The Conservatives would add 47 seats – 44 of them taken from Labor

That’s not a reflection of how the British public feels about Brexit. If anything, opinion has moved against it slightly and consistently. It’s more about how the British election system is built, and Corbyn’s inability to get out of his own way. 

With a number of parties, including Labor, Scottish and Welsh parties, the Greens and Liberal Democrats, dividing the opposition vote, all the Conservatives have to do is end up with the highest number in enough districts. No absolute majority is needed. 

Labor is much more popular among younger voters, and Corbyn excited his base with a left-wing platform – but there probably aren’t enough of those voters. YouGov’s polling indicates that one you hit 40 years old, every age group prefers the Conservatives. Meanwhile, Corbyn never has been able to stake out a clear position on Brexit. His latest formulation is that he would stay neutral if another referendum were held. And he hasn’t been able to put accusations of anti-Semitism within Labor’s ranks behind him. This past week, Corbyn found himself on the defensive over suggestions by Britain’s chief rabbi that he is unfit for office

Where does Trump fit into all this?

Conservative Party leaders know three things. First, Trump is very unpopular in Britain. YouGov says only 18 percent of those polled have a positive opinion of him; 67 percent have a negative opinion. Those who like Trump also tend to like Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Only 10 percent of those polled said a Trump endorsement would help a British politician, while 54 percent said it would hurt. 

Even so, Trump loves to insert himself into British politics (here is a long, handy list). He added to it when he called in to a radio show hosted by staunch Brexit politician Nigel Farage on Oct. 31 to praise Johnson and trash Corbyn

Finally, Conservatives realize that because he’s so unpopular, he could hurt their cause by opening his mouth – and there is nothing they can do about it. “Trump could say anything,” a Conservative campaign official was quoted as saying. “It’s a very unwelcome disruption.”

Sound familiar? 

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/02/2019 - 09:48 am.

    So, Trump and Johnson are cousins; Johnson is headed to an easy election, but Trump is widely reviled?

    Being as my family lives in Ireland, I watch British politics perhaps more than others commenting here.

    The similarities between Trump and BoJo are, in my opinion, more a reaction to the political situations they are dealing with than an imagined hereditary joining.

    Both the UK and the US are dealing with popular mandates (Brexit and building a wall on our Southern border/ reforming immigration) that are being stymied by lefties.

    Trump and Johnson are certainly pugnacious, but they must be to overcome the opposition.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/02/2019 - 10:37 am.

      It’s certainly true that both Johnson and Trump are crude, badly-educated examples of authoritarian personalities, but I’ve yet to see wide-scale endorsement of Brexit by economists with a worldview somewhat wider than Johnson’s. In similar fashion, there’s little evidence that Trump policies around the issue of immigration amount to anything resembling “reform.”

      Both politicians are characterized by rude language and disparaging statements about people who don’t support them. They’re overgrown children. We may still have to deal with them, despite their obvious lack of fitness for high office, but there’s little to admire in either case.

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/02/2019 - 12:02 pm.

        A couple of points, sir.

        It’s certainly *not* true that both Johnson and Trump are badly-educated. Both graduated from prestigious Universities.

        Brexit is not dependent at all by economists think. In fact, the major issue that recommended it’s passage has very little to do with the economy.

        There’s little evidence that Trump policies around the issue of immigration amount to anything resembling reform, because the Democrat majority in the US House has refused to take up the issue at all.

        Finally, I understand you may not find them fit for office, but they were duly elected over your objections in a Democratic vote. You do support Democracy, don’t you sir?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/02/2019 - 10:49 am.

      Weird, because Republicans controlled congress the first two years of Trump’s administration and made zero progress on the wall.

      Actually, its not weird because most Republican legislators understand that the wall is a complete waste of money that will stop no one from entering the country. Its just political theater.

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/02/2019 - 11:56 am.

        Not weird, sir; math.

        It takes 2/3 vote to pass a budget in the US House of Representatives. The GOP didn’t have that much of a majority.

    • Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 12/02/2019 - 12:04 pm.

      No true Irishman would support the Conservatives nor Brexit.

  2. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/02/2019 - 09:52 am.

    The Media and economic elite stance in the the UK about Corbyn is similar to that in America toward Bernie – they hate him far more than they dislike Johnson or Trump. Corbyn has endured slander about being an anti-semite, a charge splashed all over the media he can in no way refute to the degree that charge sets in among the thoughtless, with that repeated as often as RussiaRussiaRussia is in this country.

    Trump and Johnson you see, put no checks on the expansion of income inequality, or the power of corporations, banks and billionaires. In that way, their policies are far more acceptable than Corbyn or Bernie.

    In America, they can’t call Bernie an anti-semite, and charges that he is a Putin stooge won’t stick, so our Media, when they aren’t tearing him down, just pretend he doesn’t exist.

    As for this statement:

    “Those who like Trump also tend to like Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.”

    That is a slander without basis or support, unbefitting these pages, or so lofty a thing called good journalism.

    • Submitted by cory johnson on 12/02/2019 - 11:56 am.

      “Those who like Trump also tend to like Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.” Another fine example of the nonpartisan journalisming here at Minnpost…..

    • Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 12/02/2019 - 12:10 pm.

      Love Mark’s writing and hope he contributes often. The comment about loving other strongmen is absolutely true. I’ve heard it directly from Trump supporters; they are completely ignorant about what constitutes a democratic republic. I’ve been amazed at how many young American men and some women are attracted to the ‘strongman’ theory of governance. It helps me understand Germany in the 1930’s.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/02/2019 - 03:35 pm.

        I personally know and have met a great many Trump supporters…and I have never heard one of them supporting Putin etc strongman. I have heard many of them question the media, Left and establishment repubs preoccupation with Russia…which translates in liberal minds as support for Putin….

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 12/02/2019 - 10:45 pm.

      “That (‘Those who like Trump also tend to like Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un’) is a slander without basis or support”

      Did you bother to look at the YouGov poll the author of this article was citing?

      You might want to check out the cites before throwing out all sorts of accusations about the artlcle’s author.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/03/2019 - 10:35 am.

        There is a statement in the link mirrored by what this article says, but then the numbers suggest Putin has only a 12% favorable rating, and Kim Jong Un support is statistically inconsequent.

        The numbers do not in any way support that statement.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 12/03/2019 - 11:43 am.

          That’s fine, but you implied the statement originated with the article’s author, Mark Porubcansky, when – in fact – he was simply stating something presented in the cite (which he provided a link to).

          The information did not originate with the author. But that didn’t stop you from calling him a bad journalist and accusing him of slander for citing it.

          • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/03/2019 - 04:58 pm.

            If a journalist is going to site a comment like that, then the journalist should check to see if it is true. The media talks a lot about fake news – those who do should be held to a high standard.

            • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 12/04/2019 - 06:03 am.

              Seriously? It’s a poll. What do you want him to do – track down all the poll respondents and ask them if they were lying?

              • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/04/2019 - 08:36 am.

                It is all right in the link. A statement that supporters of Trump generally support Putin and Kim Jong Un, and then on the very next page, stats that state this clearly to be unture, Putin at 12% and Un at apparently so low a percent it doesn’t even register. It is literally that easy, that simple.

                But my protestations mean nothing without the author and the publisher acknowledging it.

        • Submitted by Tom Crain on 12/06/2019 - 07:57 am.

          Perhaps what Porubcansky should have written is that US supporters of Putin tend to be Trump supporters. This is different than what he wrote which is that those who likeTrump tend to support Putin. ‘Tend to’ would imply > 50% support, which even his supporting poll doesn’t seem to show.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/02/2019 - 10:38 am.

    The frustrating thing for me, as an anglophile with Labor tendencies is Crobyn’s refusal to take a position on Brexit, something I see as a bold decision to provide a lack of leadership. As awful, as Boris is, at least he takes a position however insincere it might be.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/02/2019 - 10:44 am.

      Boris Johnson is terrible. Somehow Labour came up with a guy that’s even worse.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/02/2019 - 12:05 pm.

        Boris is awful but awfulness seems to be what we look for in our politicians today. We tried things like decency, honesty, integrity, and even on rare occasions, competence, and look where they got us. It’s much the same in Britain, and indeed in a lot of other countries right now.

    • Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 12/02/2019 - 12:05 pm.

      The trouble with Labour is Corbyn and his wing of the party. If they had a different leader they would have cruised to victory. A warning for the DFL about the futility of idealogical purity.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/02/2019 - 06:00 pm.


      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/03/2019 - 12:45 am.

        It’s true that the Tony Blair wing of Labour hates Corbyn, but just a couple of years ago, many of my British Facebook friends were telling one another that it would cost very little to become an official voting member of the Labour Party and vote Corbyn in as party leader.

        Corbyn and Sanders have similar sets of supporters: people who suffered or saw others suffer under the right-wing policies of Thatcher or Reagan and their successors, were disappointed at the failure of the purported “opposition” parties to undo the damage when they came into power, and are hungry for the kind of change that Tony Blair (or Clinton and Obama) vaguely talked about but didn’t really try to deliver.

        Both Labour in the UK and the Democratic Party in the U.S. are facing similar schisms, with the “be nicer but don’t rock the yachts” approach of the Establishment wing determined to prevent the “what about the rest of us?” wing from taking control.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/03/2019 - 10:36 am.

          Sanders and Corbyn are similar in that they have been in congress/parliament for years without accomplishing anything.

          But while Sanders really does mean to help those left behind, Corbyn seems absolutely determined to screw them over. Brexit is going absolutely destroy the working class in Britain, and he can’t be bothered to try and stop it.

          British Jews are also terrified at the prospect of a guy like Corbyn becoming PM. This is a guy who visited the graves where the murderers of the Israeli olympic athletes are buried. The Labour party is full of his anti-Semitic supporters, which get excused by blaming the Blairites. Corbyn is truly unfit for office.

          The Tories are so bad right now that any competent Labour candidate would win. But Corbyn is completely incompetent and has zero chance of becoming prime minister.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/13/2019 - 02:38 pm.

          Corbyn and Labour got completely destroyed. Shocker.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/02/2019 - 12:40 pm.

    The biggest parallel is that they are both unashamed liars on topics big and small.

    ….Appearing on ITV, the prime minister was asked whether he could look the presenter “in the eye” and say he had never lied in his career – spanning back to 2001 when he was first elected as an MP.

    “Absolutely not, absolutely not,” Mr Johnson replied. “I have never tried to deceive the public and I’ve always tried to be absolutely frank.”…..

  5. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 12/05/2019 - 02:02 pm.

    Why shouldn’t British elections resemble US-American elections? Both the British and the US-American electoral systems at the national level are primitive, elitist, easily gerrymanderable arrangements that make minority rule increasingly likely as political parties increase in number above two.

    I believe it is becoming increasingly obvious that the traditional Anglo-American system of representation is clunky, inaccurate, unstable, and incapable of creating a functional or even civil relationship between elected representatives and the people they are expected to represent. In both Britain and the United States, the ruling party represents only a minority of voters and does not even pretend to care about the majority because the electoral system does not compel them to. Where politicians in office are both bound to districts and empowered to draw district lines themselves, they can easily engineer electoral victories for a party that represents a minority of voters. Such a party has no motivation to seek consensus or even to deal respectfully with parties that win fewer seats, even if these parties actually represent more voters.

    Proportional representation is the only solution to this problem. Personally, I would prefer Mixed-Member Proportional Voting with a decent minimum threshold for small-party participation at the national level (five percent or so).

    Read about proportional representation at this website:

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/05/2019 - 04:08 pm.

      Nope. You see the same problems with proportional representation. Per usual (i.e. Ranked choice voting) Fairvote is being dishonest.

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