Divided Britain goes to the polls: Can we avoid a Hobson’s choice?

The United Kingdom goes to the polls on Thursday and the result will have a profound bearing on how that entity will, or can, remain united.

Divided Britain goes to the polls: Can we avoid a Hobson’s choice?

The United Kingdom goes to the polls on Thursday and the result will have a profound bearing on how that entity will, or can, remain united. The result will also have a profound bearing on this island, and on our relationships with our nearest neighbour, our continental neighbours, and our American cousins. It may have a profound impact on relationships across this island, relationships that had, by concentrating on the future rather than the past, been far better than at any moment in modern history. It will exacerbate the polarisation that has reduced Britain to a house divided. How long it will take to transcend that polarisation, may, when the dust settles, be the most pressing question.

The result will also have a profound bearing on our economy, especially the export-dependent agriculture and food sectors. It, in time, may force a review of the well-established tax regimes that are so attractive to foreign investors considering projects in this Republic. It is no exaggeration to suggest that this election is the most important British election for Ireland in a century. Yet we have no influence over the outcome. We are result-takers rather than influencers.

To suggest that the options before Britain’s electorate are anything but a Hobson’s choice does a disservice to that Tudor ostler, who died in 1631, or maybe even any choice offered to any electorate since then. Thursday’s options seem more Russian roulette — online or otherwise — where there can be no winners. There may, however, be tens of million of real losers, not all of them subjects of a monarchy struggling to maintain its brand’s legitimacy.

The new post-truth normal has become so normalised that it is almost quaint to point out that British politics, and, by extension, British democracy, is at a nadir. One candidate, prime minister Boris Johnson, is shamelessly, relentlessly, and transparently dishonest, yet that deep flaw makes no difference to those who ‘want to get Brexit done’ — even if it is almost to pretend that they understand what that means.

Likewise, it is impossible to pretend that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has any understanding of how to exercise power or its obligations. His spineless Tadhg an dá thaobh prevarication on Brexit has probably sealed his and Labour’s fate and left moderate, largely centrist Britons high and dry and at the mercy of Johnson’s cabal of the unspeakable. Tragically, despite polls suggesting that the Tory lead is dwindling, Johnson’s position seems likely to be consolidated on Thursday.

Even if it is tempting to sneer at that implosion, we should not. We have sanctified the idea of Hobson’s choice as a political modus operandi for a century. We have chosen one party or another irrespective of their long- or short-term records. We, like the British electorate, are left with no real choices. It may be almost letter-to-Santa hopeful to wish that some sort of alliance might present itself before we go to the polls. An alliance that might, maybe, cut through the dross and, say, begin to confront the issues behind the housing crisis. That may be recklessly, almost childishly hopeful, but, then, without hope what is politics?

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