It has been a few days now and the dust is beginning to settle on a new political landscape. The election did not go to plan, for anyone. The conservatives had substantial losses, as did the SNP. Labour made gains and UKIP was, in essence, wiped up. So let us have a look and see how this all happened.
While Labour didn’t win on Thursday it seemed like a victory for them. Increasing their number of seats and share of the vote, as well as taking away the Tories majority, is no mean feat for a party that last year was looking like it could split in two.
There are a few reasons that Labour did so much better than everyone was expecting. First, they tapped into the youth vote. After last years Brexit Referendum young people felt that they hadn’t been heard. For many, it was the first time that they could feel the effect of a vote and it went against what many of them would have wanted. This galvanised them for this election. They weren’t going to let an older generation dictate to them for the next five years. Hopefully, they maintain this newfound political interest as it is highly probable that we’ll have another election in the not too distant future. If they do then we can expect to see more parties looking to appeal to the young.
It wasn’t just the youth vote that ensured that the election went well for Labour. Before the election, it was widely thought that the UKIP vote would collapse and go to the Conservatives. While the UKIP vote did collapse, the redistribution did not go the way that most expected. It was split roughly 50-50 between Labour and the Tories. This meant that the Tories didn’t get the automatic boost that they would have expected, but instead, both sides got a roughly equal boost in vote share. This helped to make the youth vote even more influential to the outcome of the result.
The final piece of the puzzle for Labour was their leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In his short time as leader, he has become a seasoned campaigner, having now fought three election campaigns (two for his party leadership and this general election). He was also part of the Remain campaign last year, even if his heart wasn’t in it. So the question is, why has he been more successful? Personally, I think it’s a mixture of a few things. First of all, he is a very personable individual. People like him and he seems to like spending time with real people. He listens to them and has tried to show the public that there might just be a better way forward. Perhaps there really is an appetite for socialism in the UK. Secondly, I think his campaign was planned fantastically. He used the power of social media in a way that showed the best of Britain, unlike the Tories who predominantly used it for attack ads. Looking at Corbyns Snapchat you could see him talking to common folk on the street, addressing crowds of thousands (which is why I think he only went to mainly safe Labour seats) and celebrity endorsements throughout. He has tapped into a new way of reaching out to the public, which I think will soon become the norm.
Finally, it was the manifesto and the way in which it was released. It was a manifesto that looked to bring hope back to working people and the young. But as well as that leaking it (I do not doubt that it was intentional) allowed them to see how the public would respond whilst not answering questions about how it would be implemented. This was a powerful tool, as they could then cherry pick the bits that work to make the strongest manifesto possible.
As well as Labour did the Tories had a terrible night and a worse campaign. Having a head start of at least 20 points in most polls it seemed like they would go on to crush Labour and those other pesky saboteurs. So what ended up going so wrong for the Tories?
Well, the problem really started when the released their manifesto. It seemed like they had given no consideration to their traditional supporters; the older generation. Why they thought it was a good idea to start means-testing the winter fuel allowance or announce the “dementia tax” will remain one of the biggest political mysteries of modern times. It’s not even like they decided to switch base and try and attract young voters. As I write this I can’t actually think of any policy that would be of benefit or interest to anyone under the age of at least 30, if not more. If there is one thing you don’t do in politics it is disgruntle your base support.
But there was more to Theresa Mays humbling than just a poor manifesto. It was the tone of the campaign itself that caused such a disastrous result. The electorate has had enough of slogans and attack ads. “Strong and Stable” means nothing and the Tories insulted the public by trying to tell them that it did. “The magic money tree” was another such failure. But it wasn’t just the way in which the campaign was executed that was flawed but the presidential style in which it was carried out that flopped. Mrs May, unlike Mr Corybn, just didn’t connect with the public in the correct way. The robotic manner in which she uttered words but said nothing of substance did nothing to endear her to the nation. Perhaps she would have been better staying in Downing Street showing strength and stability by running the country, rather than going out into the trenches and failing to connect.
Overall state of play
At the end of the day, not an awful lot seems to have changed. Labour have not quite claimed it as a win but framed it as though they haven’t lost. Which to an extent is true. What is more complicated is what the Tories will now do. They have entered into a “supply and confidence” deal with the DUP, which is likely to throw up a number of problems in the short and long term. Short term, they actually don’t agree on all that much. The DUP fundamentally disagree with a number of the social policies of the Conservative manifesto. And the Conservatives will have a tricky time reconciling the DUP’s homophobic view with Ruth Davidson, who is likely to play a key role in maintaining a Tory government due to the fact that if the Scottish Tory MP’s rebel then the majority is gone. Because of this Scotland’s voice in the upcoming Brexit negotiations is likely to be stronger, if the Scottish contingent stands up for the overwhelming number of Scots that voted to remain.
In the longer term, Northern Ireland might become a major problem. The Good Friday Agreement is based around the British government playing a neutral role in the governing of Northern Ireland. With Tories going into, even an informal, coalition with the DUP, Irish Republicans are likely going to be incensed. Topping it all off is the current negotiations trying to resolve the issues regarding power-sharing at Stormont. While it would take another issue to push it over the top, it does seem like the Troubles aren’t all that distant.
With the Brexit negotiations looming in the background, I believe it is time for British politics to grow up and mature. The days in which we can afford the partisan divide are dwindling. In order to ensure that Brexit is, at the very least, not a disaster, Theresa May has to put aside her pride. Conservatives claim to be pragmatic in their politics, so it is time to put it to the test. They should reach out across party lines and form a consensus as to what Brexit will be. Not everyone will get all that they want but that was never going to happen anyway. If all sides are willing to compromise, then perhaps the deal that we can get won’t be a total disaster. Maybe Theresa May won’t go down as the worst Prime Minister ever.