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All Change, and No Change in British General Election

June 29, 2017 Leave a comment

This month’s British election result came as a surprise to most. The Conservatives surrendered a massive poll lead and lost MPs, Labour had their highest percentage vote in decades. It was a personal defeat for Theresa May even though the Tories won most of the seats. Pollsters had egg on their faces, again (except for two companies who called the outcome correctly). The 2017 election should have been the dawning of Conservative Party hegemony. Instead, May limped back into government with the help of the DUP.

The Tories ran a poor campaign. Terrorist incidents distracted from what should have been their bread and butter issue, namely the economy. But, to the exasperation of many, Tory central office were unable or unwilling to run with economic competency as a core issue. The campaign quickly reverted to tribal lines, with a twist this time; the C2s who voted, tended to vote blue, not red. May’s inability to connect with the wider electorate meant Labour was able to portray her as cold and out of touch. She proved to be a poor campaigner and is not expected to remain as Prime Minister for the next election.

Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn, had a very good ‘war’. Many, including this writer, had expected that Corbyn’s vulnerabilities would be cruelly exposed during an election campaign. Instead, the Corbynites and the Social Democrat wings of the party came together and achieved a result that few had expected. The Corbyn Factor turned out to be a huge plus in attracting younger voters, a cohort notorious for being all talk and no voting trousers. There are still significant issues of credibility and electability for the current Labour leadership, but it’s significantly more difficult now for Corbyn’s critics to depose him. The Hard Left still control the membership, the Soft Left still strong in the parliamentary party

It was a hugely disappointing result for the Liberal Democrats. They were unable to capitalise on the Remain vote; Britain’s First Past the Post electoral system once again meant that the party was could not match their overall share of the vote with seats. Tim Farron never got the Clegg bounce enjoyed by his predecessor in 2010. There were distractions, such as whether Farron’s faith influenced his politics, and their inability to hold Richmond in particular was an example of a party that didn’t enjoy a rub of the green. The dominance of the two big parties squeezed the Liberal Democrat vote.

There’s no hiding the fact that the SNP did not have a good election. There may be grounds for saying that the Scottish Conservative resurgence is a testament to the strength of Holyrood; perhaps some of the Tory vote is a recognition that Westminster politics is less important these days, and it was fine to register a protest vote accordingly. Brexit has messed everything up and the First Minister has taken heed of the outcome; namely that while most Scots do not want a second independence referendum in the near future, they know that their economic prosperity lies in the EU.

How does the result effect Brexit? The manner of the United Kingdom’s departure should be a lot ‘softer’ now, but not neccessarily. They will leave, and this is a huge let-down for the nearly half of the electorate who voted to stay. The Labour Party position is one of trying to saddle up on two horses; keeping the remainers happy, but ultimately acquiescing to a non-binding referendum to leave. Even if Labour comes to power following a second election, the journey of travel is to the departure lounge. The UK government is committed to leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. If most MPs oppose this, it’s time to stand up and be counted.

The DUP are the undoubted winners. Seasoned negotiators, they would loathe a Corbyn-led government, and by agreeing a confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives, they will provide Theresa May with some of the short-term stability she so desperately needs. The DUP are a vital bulwark against the natural attrition her government is expected to suffer in the next few years due to by-election defeats and rebellious Tories.  For now anyway, Theresa May is in office and in power. It’s a far cry from the landslide most expected.

The election should have been all about Europe. It wasn’t, and because it wasn’t, there is less certainty, not more, for EU negotiators. This is THE issue, and Labour are sticking their heads in the sand if they refuse to recognise it as such. As big as the Corn Laws, as big as Suffrage, as big as the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Yet there is little sign – currently – that there is the requisite leadership to grasp this nettle. Brexit will mean Brexit; the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.

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