The UK has just delivered an earthquake in the election. The 2010 election produced no single party majority and we had a coalition for the first time since the War. Then in June last year, we had the Referendum on remaining or quitting the EU. The Exiters won against all expectation. In 2015, Cameron won a very small majority. This time around, the election has delivered a total shock. No party has a majority.
When Theresa May called the election on April 18, all experts predicted a landslide majority. Her logic was transparent. The government had a small majority, about a dozen. While the majority of MPs on both sides were Remainers, a small number of Conservatives were strong Brexiteers. They could make May’s life hell if she did not go for a hard Brexit. So she wanted that large majority. When she called the election three years early than she needed to, she took an enormous gamble. The 2015 Parliament was one of the shortest.
For the Labour Party, people were moaning that it had chosen Jeremy Corbyn, a highly idealistic, extreme Left ( 1970’s style) leader.
Many were hoping that the party would be soundly defeated, losing about hundred seats and then Corbyn could be got rid of. Theresa May also thought that all she had to say was that she promises a strong and stable government while the alternative to her would be a ‘coalition of chaos’. She personalised the campaign, kept all other Conservative leaders out and monopolised the policy.
The results are for a hung parliament. The Conservatives won 318 seats, 8 short of majority and 12 fewer than they had. Labour gets 261 , 29 more than it had, more than it had in 2015. Jeremy Corbyn has got more seats than Gordon Brown had in 2010. This defied all expectation.
The opinion polls predicted a lead of 20 per cent for May. Through the campaign, the lead stayed positive but then slipped. What made the difference was the campaign. By a happy accident, someone leaked the manifesto of the Labour party. This allowed a lot of public discussion on what the Labour party was offering. Instead of just talking of Brexit, a very radical programme was presented.
Unfashionable policies such as re-nationalisation of railways and of post office were proposed. A higher income tax on the top 5 per cent was promised. More spending on health and education. The hostile news media denounced the manifesto but that is hardly new for Labour. But, at least the manifesto was discussed. People noticed that it was different.
The Conservative manifesto by contrast was a disaster. There is a big problem of providing for social care for the elderly. The proposal was that people who have assets — a house — will be provided the care free while they are alive. But after their death, the State will collect the money spent on their care from the value of their estate except for a floor of £100,000. The Tories are not supposed to be hard on the propertied classes. The proposal was quickly withdrawn.
Corbyn has done well as a maverick from the Left. UK has a hung parliament where May will form a minority government. But nothing will last more than six months. Then another election, another government?