The 2017 General Election

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For the many previous questions, there are few answers

For the first time in its history, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has duly elected a Labour candidate, reflecting its Liverpudlian namesake. For all the indisputable, and indeed seismic, demographic shifts in terms of turnout that results like this in England imply, we are in a royal mess.

Let’s be clear, in real terms the general election was a loss for both the Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. A hung parliament is a failure by both parties to win a majority, and a failure to establish a clear direction of travel for the country at a time when it was needed not only domestically, but internationally. Tim Bale, professor of Politics at Queen Mary University and a leading expert on the Conservative Party has dared to say that the country could be back at the polls within a year; some are suggesting a second ballot as early as October. The youth may have come out and voted in their droves for Corbyn, but a 30 seat gain on what was a terrible base should be put into context: its closest equivalent is Gordon Brown’s defeat in 2010. It’s a result that does not put him in a position to lead a minority government; there will be no progressive alliance or ‘anti-austerity’ platform able to form a government despite a late pro-Corbyn surge.

Minority Government 

It’s not the first time we’ve had a minority government in Britain. Harold Wilson led a Labour minority government after the February 1974 election, albeit for only a period of months. In 2010, the Lib-Con coalition staggered on for a full term. Yet, the DUP are, for want of a better word, a fringe party, unlike the Liberal Democrats. Their democratic appeal is isolated to Northern Ireland and their brand of politics is also isolated in appeal to Northern Ireland. A deal with the DUP, informal or not, is disastrous and not exactly palatable for it has the capacity to reopen wounds in Northern Ireland considered relatively well sewn. In the mid-1990s John Major, charged with a similar situation to Theresa May, refused to align himself with the Unionists, and rightly so.

In real terms the general election was a loss for both the Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party

The primary issue here is the draconian image and policy proposals of the DUP in relation to a Conservative Party that had, under Cameron, to a large extent, rid itself of its image as the ‘nasty party’. And yet there is a clear necessity for support of the minority Conservative government if it is to get any sort of legislation through the House of Commons. In order to be viable, the arrangement will most likely look something like the Lab-Lib pact in 1978 under Callaghan. Its effect will do nothing but to reinforce the perception of May as an analogue Prime Minister in a digital age with her legacy being that she forced a reversion to ‘The Conservative and Unionist Party’, officially ridded in 1965. Thus, for the time being, stuck between a rock and a hard place, the government will be pressing on in gloriously misshaped form. All this when Article 50 has been triggered and negotiations to leave the EU are impending. Time is ticking. So, what does this result imply for Brexit?

Brexit

The premise of the election, at least through the eyes of Theresa May was to ensure a smoother mode of travel in the exiting of the European Union by gaining a greater popular mandate. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, unlike his unscrupulous counterpart Juncker, is a fair and decent man, keen on ensuring the principles of the European Union are protected, but also willing to negotiate with the United Kingdom upon an equal footing. For the past year, the European Union will have internally set out their position and the extent to which they will compromise (if at all). Britain will have been doing the same; in reality, an increased majority wouldn’t have actually made much difference.

For the time being, stuck between a rock and a hard place, the government will be pressing on in gloriously misshaped form

While an increased majority may not have made much difference on the British side, the result of no overall majority leaves any sense of reciprocal clarity in terms of a British negotiating stance in tatters. If we are to bring in the DUP, then this represents another barrier for the ‘hard Brexit’ route apparently desired by May’s team. ‘I may be British, but my cows are Irish’, an utterance by Ian Paisley indicating his party’s stance on the necessity of remaining inside the customs union and single market.

A confidence and supply deal with a party whose manifesto explicitly comes out against a hard Brexit does not exactly foster confidence in the ‘no deal is a bad deal’ ultimatum. This ultimatum, in its previous guise, resembled a realist approach in traditional diplomatic statecraft by a dominant political actor in so far as your opposing negotiating partner must be aware of your willingness to ultimately walk away from a deal, in turn jeopardising your own position.

The result of no overall majority leaves any sense of reciprocal clarity in terms of a British negotiating stance in tatters

But, in its current formulation, ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is now an unwelcome echo of a weakened mandate and potentially malleable set of negotiating standpoints. It is hard to envisage how a hard Brexit deal will get through the Commons, with the DUP, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP against it. Therefore, the conversations regarding the single market, the customs union and a Norway-style membership will resurface. Ken Clarke, the stalwart Europhile, who has now ‘accepted’ the outcome of the referendum and the impending exit from the European Union stated midway through the evening that even a small Tory Majority would force a fresh discussion regarding the manner of the exit based ‘less on slogans and more on cross-party cooperation’.

Many Questions, Few Answers

Although a softer Brexit is now more likely, a surge in young voters for Corbyn does not in any way, shape or form have any concrete correlation to the recently touted notion that ‘buyers remorse of the Brexiteers swayed the populous against May’. A disastrous Tory manifesto and national campaign did that. What the election of 2017 has done, is force a reassessment of the standpoint and ultimately, the electorate’s desired outcome of the United Kingdom going into Brexit negotiations. It leaves us with many more questions, and few answers in response.

 

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