Editor's comment: Election results

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

09 June 2017

Well, no-one saw that coming. Probably not Jeremy Corbyn, certainly not any of the political pundits and 100% definitely not Theresa May.

Last night’s election result joins Trump, Macron and Brexit as a powerful example of how hard it is currently to read the will of the people. It’s also a good illustration of the dangers of using the ballot box to play party political games.

Cameron introduced the EU referendum as a means of quelling the rise of UKIP; May took advantage of an apparently unassailable 20-point lead in the opinion polls to shore up her parliamentary majority.

It didn’t end well for either of them. Cameron spent this election on the beach, while the speed of May’s descent from Mrs Strong-and-Stable to Mrs Weak-and-Wobbly has been extraordinary.

Though they might still be the largest party in Westminster, the Tories no longer even have a majority and will probably have to rely on some form of relationship with the Ulster Unionists to govern at all. They are significantly worse off now than six weeks ago.

Labour, meanwhile, are not going quietly and are making noises about wanting to form some kind of minority government, relying on a combination of the other opposition parties and left-wing Conservatives to get legislation through the Commons.

There is, of course, a certain vicious joy in watching over-confident politicians have the smile wiped off their faces, but there are enormous question marks over what this all means.

What we can say is that, following the kicking the SNP got in Scotland, it’s probably true that a second Scottish independence referendum is off the table for a while.

Equally, it looks like UKIP’s work on this earth is done, which – it’s to be hoped – means we won’t have Nigel Farage popping up on our TV screens every five minutes.

Labour MPs, meanwhile, are now guaranteed five more years of Jeremy Corbyn which, I’m sure, wasn’t in the script for a lot of them.

What it means

But beyond that, who knows? Nobody saw this coming, nobody planned for it, and, having seen what happened to the Liberal Democrats in 2010, parties probably won’t be rushing to join a coalition.

The most serious question mark hangs over our disentanglement from the EU. Corbyn was probably right the morning after the polls when he said that Labour’s relative success meant that 'people have had enough of austerity and hard Brexit'.

Certainly the country is more equivocal on the issue than May (possibly fatally) assumed. But where last night’s result leaves us on the issue is anybody’s guess.

Had May got her enlarged majority, as we all thought was likely six weeks ago, it would have liberated her from having to appease her noisy minority of Eurosceptics, led to a stronger negotiating position and, potentially, (and paradoxically) given her the freedom to deliver a softer Brexit.

Round the negotiating table, she would have cut a strong figure.

But whoever is dealing with the EU now will inevitably be compromised. It is far harder for Brussels to work with a weak leader than a strong one, because they can’t guarantee being able to deliver what is negotiated.

With barely 18 months to go – and negotiations not even started yet – we don’t even have a workable government

And while it’s obvious that the country does not back the nuclear option of a no-deal hard Brexit, it’s far from clear where our talks with Brussesls go from here.

Without a majority, neither party is in a position to negotiate anything, still less something as complex and emotive as Brexit, which, lest we forget, is meant to be finalised by March 2019.

With barely 18 months to go – and negotiations not even started yet – we don’t even have a workable government.

In pretty short order, we could see a second general election, a new Conservative leader and there’s even been talk of a second referendum on the format that Brexit should take.

Since hard Brexit would, almost certainly, have been bad news for most of this magazine’s readers, anything that encourages the political classes to think about it intelligently rather than parrot meaningless slogans is to be welcomed.

We’d also welcome a postponement on the date of delivery since, frankly, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that we’ll hit the current deadlines.

But a period of turmoil (chaos probably isn’t too strong a word) and a power vacuum in the voting chambers of Parliament can’t be seen as positives either.

For all our sakes, this situation needs sorting out – and quickly.

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