#GE2017: A precariously Hung Parliament
“No way it’ll be a hung parliament.” – The words I spoke on June 7th.
Well. That was interesting.
As a critic of Theresa May – in particular of her perilous Brexit negotiations – I despaired when this election was called. It all seemed so inevitable, and so foreboding. The Tories were up more than 25 points in virtually every opinion poll. Labour’s popularity had plummeted, and it was in the hands of a man I, frankly, did not trust as a political actor. This was a brilliant tactical ploy to destroy any moderating voice and pave the way to the hard Brexit Nigel Farage lay awake at night fantasising about. This country, I thought, was in grave danger.
Theresa Mays promises lie in tatters, alongside her credibility
As it turned out, of course, I did the one thing I never thought possible with Theresa May. I overestimated her, and two weeks on from the election result, the UK still has no clear leadership and no solid direction.
To be fair, as the election drew near, I did feel safer. I expected a chastening rather than an endorsement, thanks to a spectacularly bad campaigning effort by the Prime Minister, who displayed all the charisma of a rice cake, and a manifesto which famously attacked her core support among the elderly. Ms. May kept repeating the words “strong and stable” while performing innumerable u-turns. This, in my view, would not be an irredeemable failing (I like flexible politicians) had she not repeatedly claimed that “nothing has changed”. She resembled the captain of a doomed ocean liner, ordering her passengers not to worry – her ship had been a submarine the whole time. In a word, unconvincing.
This country, is in grave danger
Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, was convincing. He stuck to his socialist principles and reaped the rewards of political authenticity, and, with it, a surge among youth voters. A notable factoid is that Canterbury went red for the first time in almost a century, thanks largely to student residents who usually don’t bother to vote.
All this led not to a mere chastening, as I dared to expect, but to something more. A hung parliament. This result might cheer some, but it made me nervous. Theresa May was right about one thing. Britain needs a period of stability. Her gamble, however, has burnt that bridge before it could be crossed. Thanks to brexit, we already lived in uncertain times. Now we live in rudderless ones as well.
So, what to expect from this brave new world which has such MPs in it? Well, in brief, I’ve done my best to answer three of the most pressing post election questions below.
1. What does this mean for brexit?
To say that a softer brexit is likely on the cards, as the Tories will have to make more concessions to Labour and the Lib Dems, but the truth is far more uncertain. Part of the reason why Theresa May campaigned for a hard brexit was that (without compromising on immigration – a move the British public would not allow) the EU was unlikely to hand her anything else – particularly during the pathetically short negotiating window.
During this election, Jeremy Corbyn chose not to fight for more migration – the Labour manifesto pledged to recruit 500 more border guards and to remove students from the immigration quota. This was a tactical decision to shift the tenor of the debate away from brexit and towards domestic policies. It worked, but also means that we can’t necessarily trust Labour to be the brexit moderators many hoped for.
One unsuspecting moderating force may come from the Tories’ new union with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party. In order to realistically enforce lower migration, a harder land border between the Republic of Ireland and its Northern neighbour would be necessary. The DUP will not have this. In fact, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (which ended The Troubles) mandated a soft border between the Irelands. That is not the type of thing you want to renege on.
2. Who are the DUP and how much should we worry?
The DUP are very socially conservative, having pushed anti abortion and anti marriage equality legislation in Northern Ireland. Here, also, is an actual DUP poster from the 1973 campaign on whether or not to join the EU. As you may have noticed, they’re a bit religious. They also have past ties to Unionist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.
This elections stands as a validation of youth democracy
All this said, it remains unlikely that they’ll be able to enforce any serious regressive agenda across the UK. For one thing, the Tories (who, it should be remembered, pushed for marriage equality legislation in 2013 and are headed in Scotland by a soon-to-be-married gay woman) seem largely uninterested in sweeping social conservatism, appearing preoccupied with fiscal matters, immigration, and Brexit. For another, legislation like the 2013 Marriage Act and the 1967 Abortions Act provide substantial bulwarks against any serious political change on these fronts.
Furthermore, the DUP combine their social conservatism with an enthusiasm for public spending. Their manifesto pledges included prioritising investment in the NHS and infrastructure, as well as education reform. In addition, they’ve continually advocated for a softer Brexit – largely thanks to their concerns regarding the Irish land border.
3. What does this mean for students/young people?
First of all the election stands as a validation of youth democracy, as student votes represented an enormous contribution to the unexpected result. In terms of consequences for young people, Jeremy Corbyn’s promises of free tuition fees and more will go unfulfilled as long as he remains in opposition – still the most likely reality. The fate of international students remains as uncertain as ever – as both major parties were willing to dismiss student immigration as an electoral concern, and the terms for Brexit are even murkier than before.
The DUP’s enthusiasm for public spending may well result in a government which spends more on house building, thus driving down property prices – but this is far from certain. The Tories remain set on austerity – a commitment which, given the choppy economic waters into which we are about to set sail, will likely only grow greater.
Brexit means nothing at all, while Jeremy Corbyn stands exalted and validated – but still leader of a losing party. The hard left has returned to British politics, while the centre right has evaporated, and the fate of the EU depends on a handful of Irish Protestants. Are we heading for another election?
It sounds like the setup for some terrible joke, with the British people as the punch line.