Yesterday, I predicted that Labour was heading for an electoral defeat at the hands of the Tories. In specific, I stated that:
Whilst I do not think it will be as disastrous as some of the predictions imply, I do think that they will fail to close the gap to the Tories, and that gap may indeed widen despite May’s disastrous campaign due to Labour losses in the north and the Midlands.
As it turns out, I was wrong. Labour did reduce their gap in parliament to the Tories, and by a pretty significant margin. Previously, Labour held 229 seats in Parliament to the Conservatives’s 330 — a deficit of 101. When Parliament next takes session, there will be 261 Labour MPs and 318 Tories — a deficit of 57.
More important than that is the fact that PM Theresa May’s Conservatives failed to secure an outright parliamentary majority. The entire purpose of this election was to increase May’s majority, thereby strengthening her position before the Brexit negotiations whilst weakening Labour and delaying the next general election in the process. These results, therefore, represent a total strategic failure on the part of May and the Conservatives.
Theresa May will likely continue as Prime Minister, at the head of a minority government that has the backing of (if not a formal coalition with) the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. This, however, will be a severely weakened government, damaging her hand during the Brexit negotiations and raising the chance of her being backstabbed and replaced by her own party. In normal circumstances, the process for the latter would likely be underway already. What may keep May in office for a while longer is the reluctance on the part of would-be leaders to take on the political and personal responsibility of negotiating Brexit — truly a poisoned chalice.
My initial thoughts on these results a bit of a jumble. As I mentioned yesterday, Corbyn ran a very competent campaign, whilst May floundered in her attempts to make her case to the British electorate. It seems that I underestimated both the effectiveness of Corbyn’s campaign and message and the incompetency of the May campaign. Quite frankly, I simply did not believe that a modern Tory campaign could get it so wrong. I could see that May is a poor candidate, but I figured that her party would be able to compensate for that with the political cunning they’ve shown in past elections, Brexit aside. I was wrong.
For Corbyn, this is a victory. Or is it? It is, and it isn’t. It is, because Labour not only managed to capture 29 additional seats, but also win 40% of the popular vote — a significant increase over 2015 and their best showing in the popular vote since the Blair years. Whilst popular vote is not what wins elections in the UK, when combined with the overall higher turnout and the specific higher turnout amongst younger voters, it is clear that Corbyn really did get more people to the polls than Miliband managed in 2015.
For all of Labour’s successes, however, there is still the reality that they finished runners-up, still 57 seats behind the worst Tory candidate in recent memory. This is the third general election in a row that Labour has lost. Corbyn lost, in that Labour won’t have a majority and they won’t form the next government. May will stay on as PM, or be replaced by another Tory. Corbyn’s best hope for becoming PM in the short run is that the new government proves unstable enough to provoke another general election later this year, or perhaps in 2018, but that is quite the hypothetical.
The Conservatives also increased their share of the popular vote, as the biggest losers of last night — apart from May — were many of Britain’s third parties, particularly UKIP and the SNP. The Lib Dems at least managed to gain three seats in Parliament, going from 9 to 12, despite slipping in the popular vote. UKIP, on the other hand, was demolished, its voters going to the Tories and to Labour. Indeed, Labour’s success can partially be explained by UKIP voters going to that party in larger numbers than expected.
Overall, I’d say that Labour came out of this pretty well, despite still finishing runners-up to the Tories. It will be significantly harder for May to pass any legislation now than it was before the election. The idea that the Tories would have a permanent majority for decades to come has been shattered. The idea that all those UKIP voters would vote Conservative has been shattered. The idea that the youth vote will let you down if you rely on it has been shattered. Most importantly, the idea that Corbyn is not a credible candidate and that Labour is not a credible political party has been shattered. The Tories have long enjoyed the advantage of seeming more cohesive and responsible than Labour. That May’s campaign slogan, “Strong and Stable,” now exists solely as a punchline indicates the status of that once-potent advantage.
So, May was poor, Corbyn was effective but perhaps not effective enough, the Lib Dems managed some meager gains, the SNP suffered a severe blow, and the two-party system looks stronger than it has at any point since the 1970s. I wouldn’t declare a return to politics as usual just yet, though, as whilst FPTP inherently favours a two-party system, one of the main the lessons I’ve learnt from following British politics these past few years is that making long-term predictions is a fool’s game.
I’ve titled this post “1.5” because I do plan on writing more in detail about these results at a later time. I want to wait for more details to come in before I try to come to solid conclusions about the votes, and quite frankly I am tired after having stayed up all night following this election. In the meanwhile, I’ll say that it has been a very interesting election, one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever witnessed.