UK General Election Brief: The Result
“Historic”, “unprecedented” and “disastrous” are overworked adjectives that form a necessary part of the lexicon of intellectually lazy and incurious hacks.
Rarely, in the modern era, have all three shorthand terms been more aptly applied, however, to the truly disastrous outcome of 8 June 2017 General Election, a date that will be recorded for posterity in the annals of British psephological history.
This was an election that no one expected or wished for – apart from Theresa May, of course, who willed this snap General Election into being and visited it on a bemused and, initially, largely indifferent public. But the ramifications of this General Election are going to reverberate for months and years to come.
It takes some doing to go into a general election as Prime Minister, throw away a 20-plus point percentage poll lead in the space of five weeks, alienate many of your core supporters along the way, end the campaign with fewer MPs than you started off with, and then have to make overtures to a minor regional party – Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – in order to persuade The Queen that you can continue to command a parliamentary majority in the House of Commons.
At the time of writing, the Conservatives have limped home with 318 parliamentary seats; Labour have won 261 seats; the SNP have 35; the LibDems 12 and UKIP precisely none. One seat, Kensington – that well known hotbed of metropolitan radicalism – is still undeclared and subject to a recount, as an historically solidly Conservative-held seat contemplates for the first time having a non-blue occupant. Labour finds itself, in terms of Commons seats total, roughly in the same place as Gordon Brown in 2010 and slightly ahead of Neil Kinnock in 1992. But they also emerge from the 2017 General Election with a massive vote swing in their favour in many parts of the country.
Dozens of hardworking Conservative Parliamentary Candidates (and, in some cases, former MPs and Ministers) have been unexpectedly engulfed in the electoral tumult and swept away. In a night of otherwise unrelieved gloom, the Conservatives have pulled off the impressive feat of damaging the Scottish Nationalists’ credentials as the guardians of Scotland’s democratic rights and may (though time will tell) have stopped the independence juggernaut dead in its tracks. The Tartan Tories secured, under their charismatic leader Ruth Davidson, 13 seats in Scotland – their best performance North of the Border since 1983. The Scot Nats saw their parliamentary representation radically cut from 50 of 56 Scottish seats to a much more modest 35. In truth, were it not for this extraordinary and impressive electoral renaissance, the Conservatives’ national performance would have been even more depressed and depressing. Brazening out this political reverse, Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time in claiming that “undoubtedly the issue of an independence referendum was a factor in this election result” – in this way turning on its head the essential truth that the Tories’ performance was largely to do with many Scots’ deep desire to preserve the Union.
On the steps of Downing Street, a rather drawn, unsmiling Theresa May, this afternoon claimed that only her government was capable of providing voters with certainty, that Brexit would go ahead as planned and that, over the next five years, “no one will be left behind”. There was practically no detail. There was scant reference to yesterday’s vote or the implications of its outcome on the delivery of the Government’s programme. There were also, noticeably, no questions accepted from the expectant press corps.
So what does the Election’s outcome mean for Brexit precisely? Well, it’s difficult at this stage to know. But it is certainly worth noting that, under Arlene Foster’s leadership, the DUP, on whom the Conservatives will now rely in order to get their programme through Parliament, are supporters of Brexit but opposed to a hard Brexit. So it may come to pass that Remainers will see this working arrangement as delivering potentially significant and unexpected benefits.
The General Election’s outcome has already been greeted with visible shock around Europe. There are, too, almost inevitably, mixed messages emanating from the EU institutions. Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit negotiator in the European Parliament, has already tweeted tartly: “yet another own goal, after Cameron now May, will make already complex negotiations even more complicated.” On the other hand, Michel Barnier, Juncker’s chief negotiator has chosen to parade an air of implacable reasonableness: "Brexit negotiations should start when UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear. Let's put our minds together on striking a deal." Time, as always, will tell.
For many years to come, 8 June 2017 is a date that pollsters, politicians, pundits and, most importantly, voters will remember. It’s unlikely it will be a date that many will recall with particularly fond or nostalgic memories.