Britain stopped being a major world power once Hitler was defeated, a moment marked by the 1945 election with the shocking defeat of Winston Churchill by the Labour Party.
Back then, Canadians followed British politics closely. Britain was a major imperial power, and much of Canada's English-speaking population had roots in the "motherland." Many Conservatives felt kinship with old Blighty -- ready, aye, ready and all that malarkey -- and took their cues from the British Conservative Party of Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan.
Similarly, the CCF-NDP considered itself to be a first cousin of the British Labour Party. The great David Lewis, the Canadian party's intellectual guru, had spent years in Britain, where he became close to many leading Labourites. When I lived in London, we Canadian expats had a local NDP Club, but British capitalism survived.
All this feels like very ancient history. Britain is now a tiny island with modest influence. Brexit, for example, is a nuisance for Europe. But Frexit, had Marine Le Pen become French president, might have spelled doom for the European project. Canadian Conservatives now look almost exclusively to American reactionaries for their political inspiration, such as it is. Canadian leftists have almost nowhere to look for theirs -- certainly not the feckless Labour Party.
Yet the British election now being fought deserves attention, if only for the utter deceit that characterizes the campaigns of both the ruling Tories under Theresa May and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.
It's true that hypocrisy is often at the heart of any election campaign. But rarely is it done with the purity of Britain this month. The Labour Party is running -- so it insists -- to make Mr. Corbyn prime minister. New Democrats will immediately recognize this sham. They've heard it at every election rally in Canada in the past 80 years: "Brothers and sisters, please welcome the next prime minister of Canada, David/Ed/Tommy/Alexa/Audrey, Jack (at first)…" Anyone in grade school knew that David, Ed, Tommy, Alexa, Audrey and Jack (at first) had no more chance of becoming prime minister than my mother.
It's true that the Labour Party, to the surprise of many, has seriously increased its membership under Mr. Corbyn and improved its poll numbers. There's even a small-time Bernie Sanders phenomenon apparent among young Brits flocking to Mr. Corbyn's banner. But Labour remains far behind, where it will almost certainly stay. In fact, some observers predict a veritable wipeout of the party, which has been a serious player in Britain for more than a century.
That's exactly why Ms. May called an election years before she had to -- which brings us to the second great lie of the British campaign. Ms. May may be no man-eating Iron Lady, but her opportunism knows few limits. Clearly she's tough enough to play hardball politics with the big boys.
Why did she call an early campaign? The national interest demanded it, she solemnly says. The interests of the Conservative Party and its powerful backers were, of course, never a factor.
But at the doorstep, party canvassers for both sides tell the truth. NDPers will recognize the Labour message only too vividly. "Ignore what we say publicly. We can’t win, but we need more Labour MPs to keep the next Tory government honest." Conservatives turn this on its head. “This is our great opportunity,” they say. “Never mind the national interest. We've got a chance to finish off the Labour Party entirely and keep the Conservatives in power forever. Let’s wipe out crazy old Corbyn and his crazy far-left ideas."
Of course this is the season of the upset. From Donald Trump to Emmanuel Macron, underdogs are prevailing, causing havoc within the punditocracy. Why not add Britain to the list?
I’m off to Britain shortly to observe the last week of the campaign. Some starry-eyed leftists still cherish the dream that Mr. Corbyn will pull off a miracle. Don't bet your house on it. Ms. May wants badly to be prime minister. And Mr. Corbyn, as he repeatedly demonstrates, is happiest in opposition, repeating the stale left-wing nostrums of a lifetime.
It appears both are likely to get their wish on June 9.
This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.
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