Editorial Board

Britain's Strange Election About Nothing

Some elections clarify choices and move politics forward. This one doesn't.

Oddly beside the point.

Photographer: Daniel Sorabji/AFP/Getty Images

Britain's vote on Thursday is set to be a textbook example of the limits of elections. When choices are clear, and articulated by strong leaders, elections can move politics forward. When choices aren't clear, and parties don't know what they stand for, votes resolve nothing.

Why the U.K. is Heading to the Polls… Again

Six weeks ago, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's call for a snap election made sense. With her popularity high and her Labour Party opponents in disarray, she hoped to strengthen her position in Parliament, undercutting her party's euroskeptic hard-liners and making it easier for her to negotiate the terms of Britain's divorce from the European Union.

Things haven't gone according to plan. New terrorist atrocities have sidelined discussion about Brexit, such as it was. May has waged a weak campaign and seen the once-commanding lead of her Conservative Party evaporate. A Labour win still looks unlikely, but anything less than a big Tory victory will leave May diminished, and the outlook for Brexit even more muddled.

Fact is, on the two main issues -- Britain's exit from the EU and the persistent threat of Islamist terrorism -- there isn't much difference between the main parties. The Labour opposition isn't promising to reverse Brexit, only to make it less disruptive. (It hasn't said how.) On counterterrorism policy, both parties have deplored the attacks with equal conviction and run up against the same familiar, intractable trade-offs between security and civil liberties.

All of which has lent a strange air of near-irrelevance to Thursday's vote. Issues of world-historical import bear down on British voters -- and the election has had almost nothing to say about them. Instead, the parties have been squabbling about May's so-called dementia tax and Labour's half-baked economic plan.

Taking the parties' programs at face value, the Tories make a far better case. Yet it's come down to a confidence vote on the two leaders, May and Jeremy Corbyn. At a moment of great political stress, Britain finds it has little confidence in either.

    --Editors: Clive Crook, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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