British politics seems unable to deliver any kind of predicted outcome of late. The 2010 coalition Government. The 2015 wrong Exit Poll which saw the Tories end in a majority. The 2016 EU Referendum where polls expected to remain, then we voted to leave.
Last night, yet another political earthquake was served in the form of a hung Parliament. May called a snap General Election in April, hoping to cash in on some very one-sided opinion polls, strengthening her majority in Parliament. It didn’t happen. In fact it backfired completely, with the end result being no single party winning the election.
She took a gamble. She lost. But no one won. If you thought things were frenetic and complicated before, British and European politics has become even more so this Friday morning.
These are the declared results at the time of writing:
Conservatives: 317 – 42.4% share – down 12 seats, vote share up 5.5%
Labour: 261 seats – 40% share – up 29 seats, vote share up 9.5%
Lib Dems: 12 seats – 7.3% share – up 4 seats, vote share down 0.5%
SNP: 35 seats – 3% share – down 21 seats, vote share down 1.7%
UKIP: 0 seats – 1.8% share – down 0 seats, vote share down 10.8%
DUP: 10 seats – up 2 seats, vote share in NI at 36%, up 10.3%
How many of us would have woke up on Friday morning to think that the DUP in Northern Ireland would be King-makers in a potential coalition Government? The party to give Theresa May her single life line. They will have a shopping list as long as my arm about things they want for Northern Ireland that Theresa May will most likely have to give in to to make sure they maintain their support, in whatever form that takes.
It’s also worth pointing out that a strong performance in Scotland has given the Tories another lifeline. It’s possible that without those wins from the SNP, it would be Labour looking to form a rainbow coalition or even a minority Government.
UKIP have been wiped off the map, with their votes going to both Labour and the Tories. You have to wonder whether it is time for the party to close their doors. That being said, Nigel Farage has hinted at returning. Make of that what you will. Paul Nutall has said he will step down, with a new leader to be announced at their conference in September.
If you’re a Unionist, the good news is that the SNP have been damaged more than enough to now be forced to kick #indyref2 well into the long grass. There is now very little risk of the UK breaking up any time soon. Of course the SNP and their supporters will tell you that they still won the election in Scotland. But there is now getting away from the fact that this is a very poor result for them, but fantastic for the Tories. Ruth Davidson easily the happiest leader in Scotland right now.
For the Lib Dems, there was no great revival. They won just four extra seats, with former Deputy PM Nick Clegg actually losing his seat. Tim Farron has already made a statement calling for Theresa May to resign. There will be questions as to whether he should be resigning too.
The youth come out to vote
Labour did better than expected in Wales. They won 5 extra seats in Scotland. They did well in middle England and the south. They can thank their success to the youth who in this general election really did come out to vote in much bigger numbers. Turnout in total was up across the board, but it was the youth vote that saw a very big upswing.
Corbyn managed to do the very thing every other political leader from all other parties failed to do and that was to reach out to the young and give them hope. He managed to energise a part of the population which felt left out and ignored. Theresa May and the Tories can be blamed for doing the exact opposite. The campaign was dire. If it was fought on positivity, if May had open up, relaxed and became less wooden in interviews and press conferences then perhaps they could have made a bit more of a personal connection.
They didn’t, and we have the result we have. And to be honest, no matter your voting preference, this is a good thing for the country. The more all of us take part in our democratic process, the more inclusive we can all be in politics and society. In previous elections the youth vote has been pretty poor. Not this time. And hopefully that has changed permanently going forwards.
Lead thrown away
May called an election to increase her majority in Parliament. Opinion polls showed a 20 point lead over Labour and Corbyn, and you can tell she sensed her opportunity.
But, she’s not a natural orator. She isn’t comfortable in front of crowds. And the manifesto published by her team and with her name on it was nowhere near positive enough. Corbyn did well by running a positive campaign, and he grew into his leadership role the longer the campaign went on. May did not, and it is herself and the campaign run that threw away what should have been an absolute landslide. This was an open goal, and the Tories managed to score an own goal instead.
Minority Government + DUP…for now
Talk about fast moving events. Just as the Exit Poll dropped, the DUP who were forecast to win 10 seats were already saying they would help the Tories if they needed to form a Government. Those calls fell quiet until the morning as it became more and more apparent that Labour were going to fall short and the Tories were going to have rely on the support of another party.
So far, the DUP have been coy about how far their support will go. But, May has felt confident enough on their support to have gone to the Queen to ask to form the next Government. Job done. Shaky coalition for a while, at least until the end of Brexit.
But perhaps not. There is already mass speculation about the collapse of this already shaky deal, and many commentators are already looking at October for the next General Election. The theory is May will be forced out, quite soon. There will be another Tory leadership contest. That will be a quickly run thing. Then the new leader will announce another election to gain a genuine mandate. The longer Friday drags on, the better the chance this scenario plays out. Even at the time of writing, a cabinet meeting is running over two ours late. Not good signs of party support.
This all might take a few weeks. The EU has made it clear they are ready to start Brexit talks on the 19th of June. And May’s frankly brazen “victory” speech earlier on Friday indicated that talks will also begin on the 19th. This may well be the case. We have appointed our negotiating team, set up the departments in Whitehall, got the staff in place. That will remain as is from here on in. A new Prime Minister probably wouldn’t dismantle that.
So, I think we’ll see the start of Brexit talks as scheduled on the 19th of June. Then soon after, a no-confidence vote will be held, May will probably lose that, triggering a Conservative leadership contest with a new Prime Minister. That new PM will then trigger another General Election to try to win a genuine mandate to boost his/her position at home and at EU talks. I might be wrong, but I bet at least some of this comes to pass in the coming weeks.
Also, if I was the DUP, I would be relishing this scenario. They will have a shopping list of requests, knowing how vital their support is to May. It’s not as if the Prime Minister is in much of a position to say no.
It’s worth remembering that there is no power sharing agreement in place in Northern Ireland at the moment. That’s a big enough mess to deal with in itself. There is a high chance that a DUP/Tory partnership will fail before it’s even begun.
Sterling and soft Brexit
As you would expect, Sterling took it badly. It dropped 2% after the Exit Poll was announced, recovered a bit, and today hovers just above the $1.27 level. It’s not a crisis by any means. In fact there were a number of “experts” predicting $1.20 if there was a hung Parliament. That again hasn’t happened. A good sign for the strength of the UK economy.
Which ever way this plays out, be it May and the DUP, or a new PM and another election, the version of Brexit we have been expecting, the “hard” Brexit, is now off the table. I also believe that the Tories will back down and be more open to including all the devolved nations and parties as part of the talks. If so, this will go some way as to repairing UK internal relations.
What it also means is that the Tories will have to give concessions to other parties. They are now in no way in any sort of command to dictate the type of Brexit. They are going to have to concede ground on a number of issues. Access to the single market will be back on the table, if not the customs union at the very least. Immigration numbers will be back up for debate. A couple of areas however I think will be off limits will be laws and also monetary contributions. These are perhaps two key areas which will give a clear indication that we have left the EU. Whilst all this is going on, the Government of the day has to remember to come good on the referendum result.
On the plus side, if this “softer” Brexit plays out, we can see the value of Sterling rise accordingly. There are numerous reports out there which see Sterling well above $1.35 if a “softer” form of Brexit plays out.
A touch of reality
Let me add a dash of realism here. No one won this election. Labour outperformed on the back of a very good campaign and some very poor opinion polls at the start. However, they were still 65 seats short of their own outright majority in Government. What is being celebrated here is a result that wasn’t as bad as predicted. If there was another election in the next 6 months, the chances of a swing of an additional 65 seats to Labour is still highly unlikely. It would be another hung Parliament.
We are also back to two-party politics. The Lib Dems are still only have a dozen seats, and the others are not on the radar. We could also be in for a series of hung Parliaments and coalitions. Holland have had this for decades. Given the tight margins between the popularity of both parties, the chances of someone winning outright get smaller each election.
Brexit will also still happen. The wheels are moving, neither the UK or the EU wish to stop. The EU has also come out to say that they want stability in the UK for the benefit of both parties.
Of course this is all mega speculation for now. We are going to have a very busy weekend of politics ahead. All scenarios are possible. So, if you were hoping for a Tory majority and a quiet weekend after yet another vote, you’re not going to get it.
Sick of politics altogether? My advice: turn off every single electronic device and go to bed for about 8 weeks!
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