The United Kingdom faces an uncertain political future following the recent General Election, that has forced Theresa May and her Conservative Party into Minority Government.
Despite entering the campaign with a poll lead in excess of 20 points, the Conservatives suffered an embarrassing result which has forced them into a Minority Government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
There are a number of interesting observations that can be made from the June 8 result, some of which shatter the conventional wisdom of British politics.
Without question, the over-arching issue of the campaign was Britain’s decision to undertake the process of leaving the European Union, more commonly referred to as ‘Brexit’. Almost a year on from the Referendum that saw a majority of Brits vote to leave the EU, this continues to be a polarising issue throughout the country.
It also throws up one of the most peculiar paradoxes in recent memory. Despite the Leave vote receiving strong support from Right-wing Tory MPs, many traditional Conservative voters in the South of England are quite sceptical about abandoning the EU. Moreover, Brexit is also a delicate issue for Labour given that a number of working close areas in the North of England and the South of Wales voted strongly to Leave, despite the Party staunchly supporting the Remain campaign.
It is difficult to ascertain which Party the issue of Brexit favoured more, however, one should be cautious in assuming that the surprise result is a repudiation of Brexit given both major Parties committed to leaving the EU in their respective manifestos.
Prior to the election Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn – who hails from the hard-left of the Party – was widely considered to be unelectable. The last time Labour went to the electorate with a leader of similar views to Mr Corbyn was Michael Foot in 1983, who suffered one of the biggest landslide defeats in British history at the hands of Margaret Thatcher.
Mr Corbyn’s success in increasing Labour’s overall seat tally can principally be put down to the Party’s ability to not just win over, but to also mobilise the youth vote. Indeed, there was a 72% voter turnout among the British youth, which was up from 45% in the previous election. An overwhelming number of these young voters backed Mr Corbyn and Labour due to his pledge to scrap tuition fees. In addition, Labour were able to perform better than expected throughout England, even winning what were considered safe Tory seats such as Kensington and Chelsea.
While Mr Corbyn has been successful in increasing Labour’s number of seats, it still remains to be seen if he is able to secure broad enough appeal to win a General Election.
In retrospect, it can be argued that the calling of an early election severely backfired on Theresa May. The PM claimed that the election was necessary to provide stability heading into the Brexit negotiations with the EU, however, the electorate viewed the move as a cynical attempt to capitalise on an unpopular Labour leader.
The turning point in the campaign came following the unveiling of the poorly received Tory manifesto. The document contained such proposals as to abandon the cap on social care costs, means-test winter fuel payments and to revisit the issue of fox hunting.
This lead to a steady erosion of the Tory vote and allowed Jeremy Corbyn and Labour with a golden opportunity to paint the Conservatives as mean and nasty. Furthermore, it was the Conservative Party attacking one of its key voting bases (sound familiar), not a wise move given that voting is voluntary in the UK and many rock-solid, elderly Tory voters no doubt decided to stay home on election day.
Perhaps the most interesting outcome of the election has been the remarkable revival of the Conservative brand in Scotland under leader Ruth Davidson. For the last 20 years Scotland has been a graveyard for the Tories, wiped out by Tony Blair in 1997 and struggling to win more than one seat at each subsequent election.
On June 8 the Tories won a total of 13 seats in Scotland and received more votes and seats than Labour, finishing second overall to the Scottish National Party (SNP). Not only was the result in Scotland a watershed moment for the Conservatives, it has in all likelihood saved the Government.
How have the Conservatives been able to reverse their fortunes in Scotland? Simple – they have capitalised on the polarising debate that has emerged on the matter of Scottish independence.
With the SNP obviously advocating for the country to leave the UK and the Scottish Labour Party in a shambles, the Tories in Scotland have been able to present themselves as the natural home of any Scot who believes in staying part of the United Kingdom. The June 8 result cements the Scottish Conservative Party as the main opposition to not only the SNP, but to the independence movement in Scotland.
Furthermore, the election saw the overall vote for the two major parties consolidate as voters deserted minor parties in their droves. Both The Conservatives and Labour increased their vote share dramatically on the 2015 election, finishing with 42.4% and 40.0% of the overall vote respectively.
In a time in other Western Democracies where the vote share of the traditional major parties has steadily eroded to more extreme minor parties on both the left and right, the 2017 UK election result shows that major parties are still capable of attracting the support of the vast majority of voters.
Many conclusions can be drawn from this bizarre result, however, the most certain one is that Theresa May has come away from this election with her authority mortally wounded. Ironically, the only thing preventing her from vacating the Prime Ministership at this very point is the fact that it would no doubt lead to yet further instability in British politics.
This result has plunged British politics into an increasingly uncertain state of affairs, so much so that the country may well be back to the polls within the next 12 months with yet another Prime Minister at the helm.