What a whirlwind of a conclusion to the 2017 General Election. We witnessed Theresa May trade her majority for a minority government (which is now propped up by the DUP); the SNP leaked seats left, right and centre and a potential second Independence Referendum was essentially stopped in its tracks. Big guns such as Angus Robertson, Alex Salmond and Nick Clegg lost their seats and big names such as Vince Cable returned to the House of Commons. UKIP got obliterated and their leader resigned, Labour proved that there is still a sizeable appetite for left-wing politics, Jeremy Corbyn actually strengthened his hand, Diane Abbott actually increased her majority in Hackney North and Stoke Newington and most importantly the voter turnout went up, which is only good for democracy.
I predicted that the Conservatives would fall short of an overall majority and rely on the DUP to pass legislation, so the result is not surprising. However, the way events have unfolded since the election is astonishing. Maybe now is the appropriate time to ask what the hell is going on?
The poisoned chalice
I do not think I have ever seen someone as unhappy to be re-elected to serve their constituency as Theresa May. Having seen off the challenge from Lord Buckethead, May was duly re-elected as the MP to serve Maidenhead with a 26,457 vote majority; the stern look on her face suggested that she had just lost. Her realisation that the exit poll was not wrong was evident. Her realisation that she had lost her political gamble and thrown the country into chaos was only a slice of the action packed night that continued to unfold around her.
In the wake of the result, May spoke about providing “certainty”, the irony of which is laughable. For weeks she warned us all about a “coalition of chaos” led by Jeremy Corbyn, only to turn around and attempt to form a partnership with the DUP. May’s actions have been heavily criticized by not only her opposition, but by some of her own MP’s too; Anna Sourby, the MP for Broxtowe, said that May should “consider her position.”.” May’s speech on Friday morning had the feeling that it was business as usual; it felt as though she was ignoring the tension that was rising around her, it felt as though she had ignored how disastrous her campaign really was. It has been a few days since the election and the dust has settled, but it seems as though May still has not learned her lesson; May’s over-reliance on annoying soundbites implies that she is unwilling to adapt to the situation that is evolving around her. Her two top advisors, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, may have resigned and taken responsibility for the flawed manifesto, but that does not shift responsibility onto them for an appalling campaign . May ran a Presidential-style campaign focused on catchy slogans and vicious attacks on the opposition and it backfired. She must take full responsibility for that.
May’s ‘confidence-and-supply’ deal with the DUP has ultimately sealed her fate; some commentators have perceived it to be a desperate attempt to cling to power for as long as possible, and others have seen it to be the least-worst scenario; people in favour of the agreement see it as a way to get a government in some kind of working ability with crucial Brexit negotiations due to kick off in one weeks time.
History always has a lesson to teach, and in this case we must go back to 1974 to find a situation not too dissimilar to the one we currently find ourselves in. The February election in 1974 provided the country with no majority government, as the Conservatives won 297 seats to Labour’s 301. Ted Heath, the Prime Minister at the time, called an early election with the aim of dictating what the electorate should vote for. Another election for the October was eventually called. In the October 1974 election, Labour increased the number of seats they held to 319, giving them a majority of 3. The lessons we can learn is that minority governments do not last long and no one in power comes out looking good. Expect May and her “team” to face relentless questions over her leadership over the coming months as the “weak and wobbly” DUP agreement crumbles. It is not that we all want another general election, it is that we will need one soon to provide clarity.
Labour did not win the election. However, they did gain 32 seats from their 2015 haul, bringing their total to 262. Labour did secure a record vote swing of 9.6%, up to a vote share of 40.4%. Labour also saw their seats in Scotland increase to 7, from the mere 1 they had coming into the election.
Most of this success can be attributed their leader, Jeremy Corbyn. He has dragged the party back to its roots, albeit with a lot of kicking and screaming from some of the Blairite MP’s. The election result proved that there is still a sizeable appetite for socialism in this country. It also proved that Corbyn is electable, something his main critics have blasted him for in the past. The rather remarkable result that Corbyn orchestrated prompted his former leadership rival, Owen Smith, to take his “hat off” to his former leadership rival after the result. Even Yvette Cooper admitted that she would “consider” working in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, should the leader decide to reshuffle.
The way in which Corbyn ran his campaign and galvanised support was impressive. He actively encouraged the youth to vote, he got them enthusiastic about politics through Momentum and his energetic campaign. The way in which he held campaign rallies to connect with the grassroots changed the way in which people viewed him; however it can be argued that he was preaching to the converted. A pivotal instrument to Corbyn’s success during the campaign was his thorough manifesto; he offered something to everyone. Corbyn also helped the electorate realise that there are many issues plaguing the country; he also helped them the realise that they should not let anyone dictate what selective issues should be discussed during an election.
Corbyn must now maintain this momentum gained from his impressive campaign and work in a way that holds the weakened government to account, something that he did not do very well in the lead up to the announcement of the snap election.
I predicted that the SNP would lose 11 seats during this election, but I was shocked to see that they had actually lost 21 seats. This was nearly double the amount I, and many commentators predicted. The impact of this election is damaging for the SNP, but no one knows the full extent. The one thing that is certain is that a second independence referendum has been stopped in its tracks. Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence on a second independence referendum after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU showed that there is not a big enough appetite for another referendum. A YouGov poll conduced on 5th May shows that only 45% of Scots could only vote for a party that shares the same views on independence, with 18% of those supporting an independence-backing party and 27% of those only willing to supporting a unionist party.
UKIP wiped off the map
Their existence was repeatedly questioned in the build up to the election. Their leader, Paul Nuttall, insisted that UKIP was still relevant in British politics and he promised that they would be the “guard dogs” of Brexit; it is unclear which breed of dog he was referring to. UKIP unveiled a controversial manifesto that Nuttall hoped would help retain the nearly 4 million voters who voted for UKIP in 2015. Possibly the most controversial policy that UKIP proposed was the “one in, one out” immigration policy. They also promised to scrap the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid and promised to introduce a burka ban as it prevents “intake of essential vitamin D from sunlight.”
Nuttall resigned in the aftermath of the election after failing to win a seat in the House of Commons for the second time in under a year. The party has entered an accelerated tailspin where the saviour, otherwise known as Nigel Farage, seems like the only man who can steady the ship. The effect that UKIP was once again telling, even though they lost a huge amount of votes. When the exit poll was first released on Thursday night, many senior Conservative MP’s and Tory supporters refused to believe it was true; many of them believed, and worked out, that a majority of at least 30 was still on the cards. They believed that the UKIP vote from 2015 would carry straight over to their party, with Brexit being a key issue during the campaign. What most of them did not anticipate was the splitting of the UKIP vote to Labour and the Conservatives. As the results came in throughout the night, we saw the anticipated decimation of UKIP, but we also saw an even split of where those votes went. In a number of constituencies Labour and the Conservatives saw their vote shares increase at a fairly even rate as UKIP lost a huge percentage of the vote.
There are always big names that lose out on election night and this year was no different. Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister, lost his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour’s Jared O’Mara after 12 years of holding the seat. The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson, lost his Moray seat to the Conservative candidate Douglas Ross by a massive 14% swing. Colin Clarke, the Conservative candidate for Gordon, defeated former SNP leader Alex Salmond by 2,607 votes. After the result, Salmon promised that we “had not seen the last of my bonnets and me.” Theresa May’s new Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell, lost his Croydon Central seat to Labour’s Sarah Jones. Ironically, Barwell is the author of the book How To Win A Marginal Seat, which was published last year.
We also saw somewhat of a resurgence from some old faces during this election. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat, retook his Twickenham seat after his shock loss in the 2015 election. Another Liberal Democrat, Jo Swinson, wrestled back the East Dunbartonshire seat from SNP candidate John Nicholson. Another candidate who has returned to the Commons is Zac Goldsmith, the former candidate for the Mayor of London. He managed to defeat Sarah Olney, a Lib Dem, who only won the seat from Goldsmith a matter of months ago.
The changing demographics
During this election, we saw a further progression of the trend that has started to take place. Labour set their stall with the young. Students were offered a huge weight off their shoulders with the promise to scrap tuition fees. Graduates would have also benefitted from a Labour Government in a similar way as to what students would have as Corbyn promised that he would look into ways to clear graduates of their university debts.
As Labour went up market with their target demographic, the Conservatives downscaled somewhat. During this election, May’s rhetoric of promising Brexit at all costs was clearly tailored for the older generation and working class, who both overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU last year. YouGov released an analysis of how Britain voted, and it showed that 66% of 18-19 year olds voted Labour, and 69% of people over 70 voted for the Conservatives. The trend clearly showed that the older you get, the less likely you are to vote Labour and the more likely you are to vote Conservative, with the crossover age estimated at 47.
The voter turnout also increased slightly, which is only good for democracy. The overall turnout was around 69%, with 84% of over 70s turning out. 57% of 18-19 year olds and 59% of 20-24 year olds turned up to vote, which is considerably less than the older generations but still an increase on previous elections, most notably the 1997, 2001 and 2010 elections.
The election took a while to get into gear, but its implications will have a telling impact for years to come. This election will be remembered as the one where a lookalike geography teacher rebounded from a seemingly inevitable landslide loss to deny the Prime Minister- who backtracked on her promise to not call an election- a majority government.
There is a chance that Theresa May might not last as long as Anthony Eden, the PM from 1955-1957; whilst Eden was forced out of office after his abysmal handling of the Suez Crisis, May has potentially given up her position of power freely. May has proven that any lead in the polls can be overturned, it all depends on the campaign you run.
For Labour, this election represents a swift change in the where the party stands, with Corbyn focusing more on the youth than anyone before him. This year, Labour proved that there is still an appetite for socialism and an energetic, enthusiastic campaign that reaches out to the grass roots can help swing the result massively.