The UK General Election 2017: Well, that went well!

  • ORIENTUL EXTINS
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  • 11 June 2017

Since this article will largely have a Romanian and Russian audience, I will spell it out: this election may become known as the ‘election of expectations’. The Conservatives expected to walk to power and have an increased majority, whereas Labour were a walking disaster expected to be wiped out. The UK was expected to take the so-called ‘hard-Brexit’ model; but ‘hard-Brexit’ is now an open question.

Theresa May has returned to government without power. She called an election to increase her majority in order to push through her Brexit vision and it backfired spectacularly. Few people are pretending otherwise.

The robotic slogans of “at least we’re not crazy” did not work. Their manifesto was ill thought out and prepared, assuming they would return with a massive majority. The main opposition party was after all starring death in the face; even they did not expect to win.The poor campaign aside, failing to secure a majority means the Tories are ironing out the details of an alliance with Northern Ireland unionists.

Who are these unionists? In one sentence, a group of protestant pro-Brexit climate change sceptics generally opposed to gay marriage, abortion and ever re-uniting with the South. The BBC described this informal support as a ‘natural alliance’. This is certain to end in humiliation, however. May impulsively rushed to set up a government and move on trying to ignore the result. There was no attempt to reach out further and her own position is considerably weakened. Never mind walking on eggshells or thin ice, she is also surrounded by a firing squad.

Concerning Northern Irish politics, the country is in a political crisis. There is currently no government as the parties refuse to work with each other. The UK government in this case acts as a mediator, and now one side is essentially holding a revolver to the government’s head (the Republicans boycott Westminster). As former Chancellor and Evening Standard editor, George Osborne, cynically but not unfairly remarked this will result in “London money being sent to Belfast” and “British law being dictated by Belfast”.

As mentioned, however, this is an informal alliance, and The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is notoriously difficult. A ‘supply and demand’ relationship essentially means support at the price of carrying out the other side’s wishes (or some of them). They have agreed to co-operate on the grounds that Northern Ireland gets no special status post-Brexit, as the DUP fear it will drive a wedge between Ireland and the mainland. The Guardian also reported that one sweetener could be elevating a former DUP leader to the House of Lords. Politicians across the board also hope to achieve no hard border between the North and South, and for tariff free trade to continue post-Brexit. The DUP will likely put this notion forward. Throw in some policies concerning pensions and ending welfare cuts, the Tory manifesto is now all but impossible to carry out.

So what about her opponents and the British left? Jeremy Corbyn who was a predicted to be walking disaster got 41% of the popular vote. Let’s put this into perspective and compare it with his predecessors: this was more than Gordon Brown in 2010 and Ed Miliband in 2015. He also got more seats than bothmen did. This 41% figure is about the same as Labour’s share of the vote in 2005 when his former boss and staunch critic, Tony Blair, won with a majority. Alas, our system is rigged. Labour also won in places like Canterbury, which has been Conservative since 1918, as well as affluent Kensington where Harrods is located; Blair never did that! In fact, in terms of Labour’s vote rise, Corbyn has achieved a higher vote rise than any leader since the post-War Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. Still, it does not stop and gets more embarrassing; Margaret Thatcher got 44% of the vote in her landslide 1983 victory, the same Mrs. May just achieved. Despite all this and the jubilant noise, Labour did not win the election. Corbyn’s critics on both sides will keep pointing this out forgetting nobody expected a Labour victory. Expectations shattered, but the job is only half finished.

Partisan politics aside, one cannot stress enough that this election is a disaster for the incumbent who on returning to Downing Street appeared testy, impatient and would not even acknowledge the result and seats lost by her party. Hardly the demeanor of a victorious strong and stable leader.The only redeeming feature of this election is that Scottish independence has gone away for the time being. The Conservative Party is now internally tearing itself apart as Labour gathers firewood to set up camp and advance on the enemy at dawn.

Now to Brexit. Remember that? After all, it was the reason Brits went to the polls on Thursday. The so-called ‘hard-Brexiteers’ opponents she was attempting to force on the British people will no longer fly through Parliament as expected. Certain aspects of the negotiations will change and the outcomes will soften; but what will these be? One might initially think the Customs Union, but the DUP oppose it. Next would be the Human Rights Bill that May wants to tear up; that is no longer going anywhere. Worst (or best) case scenario, EEA membership could be the outcome. However, this means the UK has to deal with Nigel Farage returning to public life, and nobody wants to see that.

May in a weakened position will likely have to accept certain terms from Brussels, like a hefty exit bill. Ambitions she may have held Wednesday night are now gone. Some sort of hard Brexit that is soft in the middle would still bring her many problems. Hard-line Brexiteers in Parliament, predominantly Conservative back-benchers, are meticulously organised and will give Mrs. May a rough ride. Especially after what she has just done to her party. Moreover, the public need only wait for the DUP to get impatient and her plans will instantly derail.

As such, here the UK is in an unenviable position. May sits on a manifesto she cannot hope to get through Parliament, her reputation is in tatters and the man who experts said would now be on the dust heap of history, enjoys a stronger position than anyone predicted, and he lost. Never mind what happens next, the UK in stuck dealing with the question ‘what happens now?’ for the near future. I asked Siri this question and she said, “I’m fucked if I know”.

What lessons did each party learn? Labour can be ambitious, honest and talk to young people. Now it must come together and look like a government in waiting. Talk of another independence referendum cost the SNP who now need a new line of attack. The Conservatives meanwhile pushed their luck too far and remembered that policies matter.

British politics is in a transition to an unknown destination with a pilot likely to crash the plane.

Tea, anyone?

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