|Joey Jones, Head of Public Affairs, analyses the election results and what it means for the Conservatives, Labour and Brexit.
Never Take People for Granted
Last night, before the exit poll, I tentatively planned to call this piece “Job Done?” and I was not quite sure of what the answer might be. At least the result has clarified one thing. So, that will be a “No!”
Here are my initial thoughts….
Theresa May is finished. Her departure is only a matter of time. Everything about this election was in her favour – she chose the timing and the manner of the campaign, her opponents were weak and off guard… failure was not even an afterthought. The only question was the scale of her majority. This is the most spectacular political own goal in living memory, far surpassing the EU referendum that consigned her predecessor’s reputation to the dustbin.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
We now know swing voters were never quite persuaded of the merits of this election. People have moved on from the referendum vote (a touch alarmingly, given that the negotiations have not even started) and they shrugged their shoulders at the central proposition of the Tory campaign – the need for a strong negotiator in Brussels.
What About the New Iron Lady?
The past few weeks were supposed to allow Theresa May to flourish; to demonstrate that she had not blundered into Downing Street through others’ mistakes and mishaps merely as the last woman standing after the referendum. But as soon as the PM came under pressure over social care, the campaign withered. U-turns, a lack of straight-talking and an unwillingness to confront her critics and opponents in debate have (it seems) been far more corrosive than anyone imagined.
What Next For the Tories?
Even if Theresa May stays as Prime Minister, it will be as caretaker while the Conservative Party considers who represents the best long-term proposition. I have heard a lot of talk about Boris Johnson, but he had a horrible campaign. Amber Rudd is still largely unknown as far as voters are concerned. The party and the country needs someone with experience and steel for the Brexit task ahead.
What Next For Brexit?
The civil service is having an almighty panic attack because the Brexit negotiations (bound legally to a strict timetable) have now been thrown into complete chaos. This is uncharted territory, but my own view is Michel Barnier and co will just have to wait while we get our act together. The stakes are too high on both sides to allow things to be derailed over matters of procedure. The UK is simply not ready, and will not be for some time.
Could Brexit be Averted?
It remains unlikely, but should not be discounted. (Nothing should be discounted!) The election showed there is no appetite for revisiting the referendum issue as the Lib Dems had hoped, but there is no enthusiasm for the negotiation, which had been the central Conservative assumption either. Brexit-fatigue is a real problem – the people voted for it, but we are barely in the foothills of the negotiation and they seem to have lost interest. Our political leaders now need to find a way of gathering support around a protracted and knotty process, or finding a way out of it.
At every stage of Jeremy Corbyn’s recent political career, I have called it wrong – doubting his credentials as candidate, as leader and now as potential Prime Minister. Health warning over… I still do not believe the country is ready to elect him as leader, and that leaves the bulk of Corbyn-sceptic Labour MPs with a headache just as big as their Tory counterparts. They are bound to Corbyn in a triumph that most think was not of his making, but handed on a plate by Theresa May.
We expect events to continue to unfold over the next couple of days and we will provide further analysis as they do.