“The British people have spoken, and it is clear that what the British people want is absolute pandemonium”
While this is the situation as it currently stands, it remains to be seen if Theresa May’s position continues to be viable. She has already faced criticism for being in denial based on the speech she gave on the steps on Downing Street today, in which she seemed to be adopting an approach of ‘business as usual’, almost oblivious to the major events that took place overnight. As she seeks to form a new Cabinet over the weekend (and replaces the 10 ministers that lost seats), it will become apparent whether she can stay in position, and indeed, whether the party is willing to continue to back her.
Overall turnout 69% (up 2% on 2015)
Conservatives – 318 seats (down 12 on 2015) / 42.4%
Labour – 261 seats (up 29 on 2015) / 40%
SNP – 35 seats (down 21 on 2015) / 3%
Lib Dems – 12 seats (up 4 on 2015) / 7.4%
With 318 seats, the Conservatives are not in a position to form a majority Government. Instead, Theresa May is seeking to form a minority Government with support from the DUP. Her first real test will come at the Queen’s Speech on 19th June where she will need to get her legislative agenda past the Opposition. If she fails to do this, we could be looking at a situation where the Opposition will seek to form a ‘rainbow coalition’, although at this stage this looks unlikely.
What went wrong?
- Austerity – after many years of austerity, voters are feeling increasingly squeezed and this was an issue that came up time and again on the doorstep, with the blame lying squarely at the feet of the Conservatives.
- Brexit – after positioning herself as the only woman to lead the country through Brexit, it turns out that voters either didn’t believe her, or didn’t care enough about Brexit to be won over by this argument.
- Leadership – by far the biggest factor in the Tories poor result is Theresa May’s leadership. Having presented herself as ‘strong and stable’, this image soon unravelled throughout the campaign and voters failed to warm to her personally, or trust her politically.
- Expectations – The result returned last night is very similar to David Cameron’s achievement in 2015. Two years ago, this was a great success because all expectations lay with the Labour Party. This time around the Tories started from a 20 point lead and expectations were sky high. In contrast, from a stunningly low base, Jeremy Corbyn’s result has been read as a great success, despite achieving a poorer result than Gordon Brown in 2010.
What went right?
- King Corbyn – Jeremy Corbyn led an incredibly focused campaign and succeeded in shifting his public approval ratings significantly over the course of the campaign.
- Message discipline – his message was incredibly focused on public services, which cut through with voters of all political persuasions as a key, relevant issue to most voters. The Tories did little to counter this message.
- Radical positivity – Labour led on a far more positive platform than the Conservatives and voters really responded to this. After years of austerity, the Labour Party positioned themselves as the party that was actually listening to voters’ concerns, and offering a hopeful alternative.
What next for Labour?
Corbyn is likely to remain leader of the party for the foreseeable future. His perceived success has given him breathing space and the opportunity to continue to pursue a more left wing policy agenda, as he can point to significant voter support. It is likely that moderate MPs will fall in line, although there will still be tensions in the party. One important point to note – Jeremy has shown he is an effective campaigner, but he is far less accomplished at managed the Parliamentary Labour Party. If Labour is to be a credible opposition, he will have to relinquish some power to those such as Tom Watson and Nick Brown who know how to effectively manage the party in Parliament.
What next for Government?
While Theresa May currently seems determined to continue, it is likely her position will not remain tenable for much longer. There are a number of runners and riders that are likely to emerge in the coming days. Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and David Davies are a few names being talked about – although each have limitations.
While Brexit talks are slated to commence on 19th June, it is likely that things will have to be delayed. It may be that a negotiating team is sent in order to keep up appearances but it is unlikely that anything substantive will be agreed. With European summer holidays in July and August, German elections in September and UK party conferences in September and October, it is unlikely that we will see much progress before the end of the year. All of which, of course, puts increasing pressure on the short negotiating timetable and increases the risk of the UK leaving with a worse deal.
The Good News
- Scotland – no longer a one party state, there is now representation from Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland. The risk of a second independence referendum now seems greatly diminished.
- The Young Ones – early figures indicate that young people came out to vote in their droves, with some citing more than 70% turnout among 18-24 year olds.
- Women in Westminster – this election returned the highest number of female MPs to Parliament, with over 200 women due to take their seats on Tuesday.
- Decline of UKIP – the UKIP vote completely collapsed, with a swing of over 10%. Leader of the party, Paul Nuttall, announced this morning that he was resigning and the future of the party is now in doubt.