Given the results of the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister’s attempt to gain a greater majority in Parliament decisively failed. What happened at the polls yesterday was nothing short of a political blunder by the Conservative Party.
In April, Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap election. Amidst concerns of great divisions in Westminster, May saw an early election as an opportunity to “guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead,” as well as to gain an upperhand in Brexit negotiations. Certainly, the prospect of holding another election was perhaps justifiable back in April when polls assured the Conservative Party that it was polling at some 49 percent. Meanwhile, the Labour Party trailed far behind at 26 percent. But by early June, Labour broke the 40 percent threshold that presented a threat to the Conservative majority in Parliament. Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, achieved what few thought could be done: challenge the incumbent administration.
By June 9, the day after the election, the votes from the 650 constituencies had been tabulated and the Conservatives had won 318 seats. Short of the 326 necessary for a majority, they maintained their significant — albeit smaller — lead over Labour, who had obtained 262 seats, (+30 seats from the previous election). The Scottish National Party trailed behind at 35 (-21), and the Liberal Democrats at 12 (+4).
Several pundits remarked how Corbyn was the real winner of the election, citing his efforts as significant in “bring[ing] Labour’s economic and social agenda to Britain.” True, he has amassed support for his policies on tuition fees, free school meals, and National Health Service (NHS) spending. Although Corbyn still holds fewer seats than the Conservatives, he was able to deliver successful televised debates in the week prior to the election and obtain a swath of new voters, especially from the younger generation.
And, in turn, although the Conservatives had won the election, May will be continually challenged in both Westminster and in Brussels. Former Prime Minister David Cameron had won 330 seats, granting them significant leeway in the House. May’s inability to gain more seats, as she had originally hoped, was a devastating blow to her popularity. Moreso, losing thirteen seats was not simply a lost majority in Parliament, but also marks the beginning of continual criticism she will receive from within and outside of the party. Iain Duncan Smith, former Leader of the Conservatives, remarked that May’s position and leadership had been greatly diminished by the results of the election. Quelling dissent at Brexit negotiations was her original idea, but instead, she ended up losing 13 important seats.
May plans to align her party with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest in northern Ireland. Led by Arlene Foster, the DUP won 10 seats (+2 after winning Belfast South and South Antrim), which will allow the Conservatives to obtain a majority in the House of Commons. The DUP supported a Brexit in the EU referendum, and so the partnership does not come as a surprise to many. Moreover, the DUP will likely support May’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” plan for they have echoed similar sentiments in the past. Nigel Dodds, MP of North Belfast, suggested that there should be no attempt to achieve “special status” in the European Union, as the opposing Sinn Féin desired. Notwithstanding the “Pandora’s box” that would ensue for other European countries’ membership in the EU, the special status remains a point of contention. Fears that overbearing political institutions in mainland Europe will continue to be a threat to a successful Brexit, or at the very least counter-productive to the interests of Northern Ireland, have also materialized.
May’s leadership has also been criticized by her opponents for putting “Brexit in jeopardy,” as Paul Nuttall of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) decried. Although Nuttall resigned the morning after the election, it still remains to be seen how May can continue to lead an uncertain negotiation process in Brussels.
There are even talks that May should resign amidst a disastrous political decision comparable perhaps to Cameron’s decision to hold a EU referendum last year. Even Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, proposed that if May had “an ounce of self-respect, she will resign.” The pushback has been strong, and even her own MPs have suggested a resignation would be beneficial for the conservation of the Conservatives. Yet, despite these remarks, May has chosen to stay in government and asserted that she had “no intention of resigning.” Over the next two years, she will attempt to recover much of this lost credibility through successful Brexit negotiations. She will undoubtedly strive to get the best deal even without her Parliamentary majority. Maybe only at that moment will she regain some confidence from her constituents. But until such talks begin and end, the call for a snap election can still be regarded as a political failure and an unretractable mistake.
Image Credit: Chelmsford Conservatives