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UK General Election 2017

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British General Election June 2017

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Theresa May took a gamble and  lost.

She called an unnecessary General Election with the aim of increasing her majority in the House of Commons; but the Conservatives have ended up with less seats than they had before, and without an absolute majority.
   To form a majority government, she has had to form an alliance (not a coalition) with the far-right Protestant "Democratic Unionist Party"  of Northern Ireland. It is an extremely fragile alliance, as the DUP is far too right-wing and socially-conservative even for many Conservatives. There are plenty of points on which the DUP might not vote with the Conservatives, and other points on which some Conservatives will not vote with their own government.
  The Conservatives remain the largest party in the House of Commons, and Theresa May has vowed to continue as prime minister; but how long can she remain in power? And why did she lose her gamble? And what happens next ?
  In theory, Theresa May can continue as prime minister for the next five years, but that is unlikely to happen. Without a majority in Parliament, her government is fragile and is likely to have to make concessions to other parties on many issues. There are many in the Conservative party who now consider that she is a liability to the party, not an asset.

  Why did the Conservatives lose seats? Basically for four reasons:

  1. Voters massively abandoned the right-wing UKIP party, but they did not all vote Conservative instead. Many voted Labour.
  2. The Labour party fought a good campaign, and picked up a large number of votes from young people.
  3. Many young people felt cheated by the Brexit referendum, and took the chance of this unexpected election to vote against the Conservatives.
  4. In Scotland, the Nationalists lost 19 seats, most of them going either to Labour or to the Liberal Democrats
The net result is that Labour have gained 30 seats and the Conservatives have lost 13, depriving them of the parliamentary majority that they had before the election.

What happens next?

Nothing is sure. Some analysts believe that there will be yet another general election in less than a year – but with the countdown to Brexit already well underway, the last thing that any UK government will want will be yet another general election campaign.
  As for Brexit, it is now a massive unknown. While it seems unlikely that anything can now stop the process, the nature of the eventual Brexit deal that the UK will try to negotiate with Brussels may be different. The "hard Brexit" wanted by UKIP and the right-wing of the Conservative party may now not happen. May was determined not just to implement Brexit, but to take the UK out of the European Single Market and out of the Customs Union; as a result of this election, the question of the Single Market is now  once again on the table. But as for what will actually happen, that is absolutely unclear.

Britain even more divided

The result of the election shows that Britain is now even more divided than it was before the Brexit referendum. Far from bringing the country together, Theresa May has amplified the divisions in Britain – between North and South, between England and Wales, between young and old, between pro- and anti-Brexit groups, between the highly qualified and educated, and the poorly qualified and educated.
  In many parts of England that voted most strongly for Brexit, notably the industrial northeast, the Conservatives actually increased their share of the vote. But in the more prosperous south, in areas that voted last year to remain in the European Union, there was a surge in votes for the Labour party.
  It is now beginning to look as if the nature of the two main electoral groups in England has changed. Labour, who were once the party of the working classes, have lost a lot of their appeal among blue-collar voters in the north of England, and are now appealing much more to better-educated young voters throughout the UK. Conversely, and particularly in the north of England, the Conservatives have captured a lot of disenchanted working class voters who first abandoned Labour in favour of UKIP, but have now moved on.
  In other words, the British electorate, like electorates in other countries, appears to be remarkably volatile. The days when politicians could accurately predict the results of elections long before they took place, are over.
  Theresa May ought to have realised this before she called an unnecessary election. There were enough signs; she just needed to reflect on what happened last year to David Cameron... or to Hillary Clinton.... or earlier this year to the French Republicans. Instead, she imagined that she was invincible, and has paid the price.

On 18th April 2017, in a move that took everyone, including most members of her own party, by surprise, Theresa May announced  a snap general election for 8th June.
    Ever since the narrow victory for Brexit in the 2016 Referendum, Mrs. May had been adamant that she would NOT call a surprise general election.  
   So what, in a nutshell, was the choice?  What made Mrs. May do a dramatic U-turn and call a general election for 8th June? And is she guaranteed to win ?

British 2017 general election : the choice

The intended scenario

The alternative scenario

Voters will vote massively for the Conservatives, because they will be persuaded that the only alternative is a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn, which would be a disaster.
   Theresa May believes that the Tories can use Corbyn as a spectre to frighten people off voting for Labour.
   Thus Mrs. May will consolidate her position as the leader of the Conservative government.  She will be able to claim in the UK and in Europe that she now has a "mandate" from the British electorate to negotiate the Best Brexit deal for Britain.
   With a larger Conservative majority in Parliament, and the support of a large part of the press, Theresa May will be able to conduct negotiations with less risk of parliamentary opposition on any points or details of the deal that she may be able to negotiate. .Even if the result of the negotiations is a bad deal or no deal at all, with no trade agreement, Parliament will have a big enough Tory majority to approve it.
   Also, until 2022, the Conservatives will hold complete power to carry out changes in all fields, including the NHS, grammar schools, taxes, the economy and the environment.
   There will be no effective parliamentary opposition, as the Conservatives are likely to have a majority of over 100 seats. Even if UKIP win a seat or two, which remains unlikely given their falling popularity, they will be powerless.
The media will eventually stop repeating the mantra that the only alternative to a new Conservative government is a disastrous Labour government under Corbyn... since this is blatantly not true.
  Labour  cannot obtain a majority in Parliament without taking back dozens of seats from the SNP in Scotland – which is not going to happen. So a Labour government under Corbyn is just not going to happen either.
  The only alternative to a Conservative victory is a coalition of opposition parties, but not under Jeremy Corbyn. Opposition parties will have to agree on a consensual leader. It will not be Corbyn.
  Many countries have successful coalition governments. Angela Merckel  has led Germany for 12 years, though two of her three governments have been coalitions.
  It is possible that many voters, alarmed by the Conservative agenda, may resort to "tactical voting" in favour of the candidates most likely to beat their Conservative opponent.
  The Lib Dems have said clearly that they will not goi into a coalition with Labour under Corbyn. They have not said they will not go into a coalition.
   The only alternative to another Conservative government is a coalition under someone other than Jeremy Corbyn. And even if Corbyn were to lead the next government, he could not pass "loony left" legislation, as coalition partners would be there to block it.
Neither result would have satisfied more than a minority of voters.
Even at their  best in early 2017, the Conservatives only stood at about 45% in the opinion polls.  In this situation, the election was as much about "Who do you not want to see in power?" as about "Who do you want to form the next government?"

If May wins, is Brexit inevitable? Probably, but May has already done at least three significant U-turns... so she could do another. See  Is Brexit inevitable?

Why did May call an election for June ?

There are two short answers: opportunity and fear.
   The opportunity: since the 2015 General Election, and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour opposition has been bitterly divided. In April, opinion polls showed Labour at a historic low level of support - just 25% – presenting May with a great opportunity to increase her parliamentary majority.
   The fear: during and shortly after the Brexit referendum, "Brexiteers" either claimed, or really believed, that taking Britain out of the EU would be a simple process which could be achieved quite rapidly, to Britain's advantage. Some still believe this.
   However since triggering Article 50, Mrs. May herself has admitted that the Brexit negotiations may not be completed in the two-year time frame following the activation of Article 50.  She has talked of a "three year" transitional period up to 2021, during which the UK will remain part-in part-out of the EU, to avoid the "cliff edge" of a sudden exit, which could do enormous damage to the UK economy.
   May and her team thus fear that negotiations may well not go as fast nor as well as the "Out" campaigners had suggested, and that by 2020, when the next elections wereoriginally scheduled, Britain might be in a difficult situation. In this scenario, Mrs. May could well have lost a general election in 2020, an election won by a government committed to stopping Brexit before the process is complete.  
   By calling an election in 2017, Mrs. May wanted to give her government until 2022 to fully extricate the UK from the European Union, avoiding a general election in 2020 while negotiations may be very difficult.
   But calling an election in June 2017 was a high risk strategy.

A risky strategy

   By calling a general election so unexpectedly, Theresa May was clearly betting on a number of points that were very much in her favour
  • The Conservative party was well ahead in the opinion polls
  • The Labour Party was highly divided, under a leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who does not have the backing of a lot of his own MPs, and is not at all seen as a potential prime minister.
  • UKIP, the Conservatives' rivals on the right, have fallen apart under a new leader who completely lacks the charisma of Nigel Farage
  • Opposition parties in general were not ready for a general election.
  • In Scotland, the Conservatives were on the up, being seen as the Party most actively campaigning against a second Scottish Independence Referendum
May  thus calculated that it was the moment to strike, before the opposition parties had time to reconstitute and draw up their lines for a well prepared election campaign.
But although Theresa May clearly imagined that she would win the general election – otherwise she would not have called it – she did not take account of the volatility of public opinion in the UK.  She should have known better.
  • In 2015, nobody expected David Cameron to wih the general election with a large enough majority to be able to form a pure Conservative government – but he did.
  • In 2016, none of the opinion polls suggested that British voters would actually vote for Brexit – but they did.
  • In 2017, all the opinion polls pointed to a big election victory for Theresa May; but instead of gaining more seats, the Conservatives lost seats.
  • And in 2018   ?


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