May’s hubris

The British elections offered particularly surprising results — with some certainties

By: Editorial | Published: June 10, 2017 12:30:38 am

The UK has experienced an election of surprises — which also wasn’t. The swings surrounding personality politics was perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2017 general elections. Conservative Party leader and current prime minister, Theresa May, whose party won 318 seats, short of a majority 326, suffered the hardest blow. Her challenger, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, gained the most, with Labour increasing its vote-share by 10 points to 40 per cent, at 261 seats. May had called the election when Labour looked staggeringly weak. Observers suggested May was using Brexit negotiations — coming up in 10 days now — as a cynical way to secure a victory for her party and her own leadership.

But events preceding the election provided a typical British rain-shower on May’s plans, for as the pound collapsed and the country was hit by terror attacks, May’s ineptitude — she was home secretary, in charge of police and counter-terrorism, before becoming PM — showed. As May began fumbling, Corbyn gained stature. Using wide rallies, in contrast to the PM’s often sparse target group meetings, Corbyn sparked the imagination of younger voters particularly. Thus, Labour gained from younger, well-off, urban professionals — earlier considered Tory voters. And it mopped up enough UKIP voters to decimate the far-right party’s share from 13 per cent in 2015 to two percent now. The Tories offered a surprise too: They wrested crucial seats in Scotland away from the Scottish National Party (SNL). Reports now suggest May will form a coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which holds a crucial 10 seats; the DUP demands Northern Ireland receives no special EU access in Brexit talks. The DUP won’t support Corbyn owing to his prior support to Sinn Fein and the IRA. Sinn Fein performed well in Ireland, winning seven seats, but this will give Corbyn little comfort as the Irish party will continue its tradition of abstaining from the British parliament.

But even as ground-level equations change, what is certain is that Britain is still headed towards Brexit — with considerably weaker leadership. May’s plans for a “hard Brexit” might need tempering: The hung verdict indicates that Brexit is still a contested issue. Older demands, of total withdrawal from the European single market, strong immigration curbs, etc., may need fresh thinking. But while the future looks shaky, what stood out firmly now is the passionate involvement of the young British voter in her nation’s political life.

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