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UK General Election 2017

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British General Election June 2017

What will happen, and why has an election been called?

The British Parliament, London
The "Palace of Westminster", London, home of the British Parliament


Theresa May took a gamble and has 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.
  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 already some in her own party who are calling for her to resign.

  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, is 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 popularrity, 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 will satisfy more than a minority of voters.
Even at their current best, the Conservatives only stand at about 45% in the opinion polls.  In this situation, an election becomes as much about "Who do you not want to see in power?" as about "Who do you want to form the next government?"

Collateral consequences

The Scots will organise a second independence referendum, with the big risk of a breakup of the United Kingdom. A coalition government including the SNP will look for and find a solution that will be able to keep Scotland in the UK.

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 has May called 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 were - until today - scheduled, Britain might be in a difficult situation. In this scenario, Mrs. May could well lose 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 will thus 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 is a high risk strategy. May will probably win; the Conservatives currently stand well ahead of all other parties in the latest opinion polls; but a victory, clearing the road to a more authoritative Brexit negotiation position, is not a foregone conclusion.

A risky strategy

   By calling a general election so unexpectedly, Theresa May is clearly betting on a number of points that are very much in her favour
  • The Conservative party is well ahead in the opinion polls
  • The Labour Party is currently 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, are falling apart under a new leader who completely lacks the charisma of Nigel Farage
  • Opposition parties in general are not ready for a general election.
  • In Scotland, the Conservatives are on the up, being seen as the Party most actively campaigning against a second Scottish Independence Referendum
May has thus calculated that now is the moment to strike, before the opposition parties have time to reconstitute and draw up their lines for a well prepared election campaign.
    But there are big risks.

Risk 1

A number of Conservative MPs will defect from the party or not get reelected as they cannot at the same time please all their potential electors. They cannot promise to support a hard Brexit, as wanted by hardliners, and at the same time promise not to support a hard Brexit deal that could seriously damage the UK economy, the preferred option of many Conservative moderates.
     In 2016, the majority of Conservative MPs personally voted against Brexit, and there are plenty who are still personally against it.  In particular, there is a large group of sitting Conservative MPs who voted against Brexit, and who represent parliamentaiy constituencies where a good majority of voters voted against Brexit, and were angry at the result.
   These MPs cannot have forgotten that In a by-election in Richmond Park, on the southwest edge of London last December, the Liberal Democrat party, standing on a resolutely anti-Brexit ticket, overturned a 23,000 Conservative majority, to win the seat with an 1,800 majority from the former Conservative and pro-Brexit MP Zac Goldsmith –. a swing of 21.5 points from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.
   All those Conservative MPs representing constituencies in the south of England which voted strongly against Brexit must now be wondering what to do. Stand as a Conservative candidate on a pro-Brexit ticket? Stand as an independent on an anti-Brexit ticket? Or join the Lib-Dems as the only resolutely anti-Brexit party?  None of these solutions will guarantee victory... and in resolutely anti-Brexit constituencies, standing for reelection as a pro-Brexit  Conservative could (depending parly on local factors) guarantee defeat to a sitting MP.

Risk 2

Anti-Brexit forces in the UK took several months to recover from the shock of last June's vote; but for the last six months now they ahve been regrouping, and although they do not yet have the power, nor the media backing, to create a credible or united opposition, the urgency of the situation may galvanize them into impromptu action.
   There are MPs from the three main UK parties, the Conservatives, the Lib-Dems and the Labour party, who may be willing to put "national interest" before "party loyalty" over an issue as important as Brexit, and come together to stand under a single banner.
   May will certainly be hoping that calling a general election so soon will stop any such coalescing of MPs from different sides of the centre ground, and this may well be the case. But recent events in politics worldwide have shown that the unthinkable has now become thinkable.

Risk 3

Many lifelong Conservative voters who were and remain strongly against Brexit will not vote for a pro-Brexit Conservative party, and even if there are no electoral pacts at any level, national or local, in strongly anti-Brexit constituencies in the Conservative south of England, the Conservatives may well lose seats to whatever party fields the next most credible candidate.

Risk 4

Labour, who lost quite a lot of votes to UKIP in the 2015 election, will get a lot of their traditional voters back now that UKIP is increasingly seen as a "spent force" with a rather un-charismatic leader -  who failed to win when he himself stood against Labout in a recent by-election. Ukip is currently on a sharp downward trend, and it's only sitting MP recently quite the party. Even if Jeremy Corbyn is anathema to many traditional Labour voters, he is hero-worshipped by others... and for other Labour voters he is not at all what they would want... but less of a bad deal than another Tory government.
  On 18th April, an opinion poll put the Conservatives on 46%.... 21 points ahead of Labour on 25 %.  BUT.  A month earlier, on 17th March, another poll had the Conservatives on 43% and Labour on 30% - a difference of only 13 points.
  Public opinion in the UK is highly volatile, and the polls may well show unexpected movements in the runup to the election. With support for Labour spread very unevenly over the country, Labour do not need to match the Conservatives nationally to retain or win back more seats; they just need to win back voters from UKIP and the Conservatives in their heartland.

Risk 5

Social media - whose power to influence events has become abundantly clear in the last 12 months - will manage to generate a lot of tactical voting against the Conservatives ifor seats where their majority is at risk.

Risk 6

Theresa May loses a lot of her credibility on account of her two 180° U-turns in nine months. Voters will wonder how one can trust a PM who campaigned against Brexit, then takes the UK into it, and later repeated countless times that she would not call an early general election, before doing just that.

So although Theresa May clearly imagines that she will win the upcoming general election – otherwise she would not have called it – and even if this remains at present the most likely outcome, even she must have a few doubts.


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