Britain went to the polls on Thursday, June 8, 2017, and received a hung Parliament in return. Prime Minister Theresa May had called the snap election back in April, in order to shore up what she saw as her lack of legitimacy due to her having slipped into the role of Prime Minister almost de facto following the six-way shootout after the Brexit decision in 2016, which led to then PM David Cameron resigning.
Initially, the polls showed that the Tories had an astonishing 20-24 point lead over the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories were seen as the party that would deliver Brexit in a ‘strong and stable’ manner, and May seemed like a safe pair of hands with which she would lead the country through the undoubtedly turbulent years ahead. Meanwhile, the Labour Party was led by a man who’d never held a senior ministerial position before and had had a nasty habit of being overly friendly with terrorists, theocratic regimes and Marxist revolutionary governments, all of which ought to have sunk his electoral hopes without much of a trace.
Indeed, this was what looked like the most likely outcome. And then came the disaster of the Tory manifesto release, with its messy roll-out, uncosted nature, vague promises and various pledges to remove provisions for elderly people through what became known as the ‘Dementia tax’. The so-called Dementia tax was an effort to address the spiralling costs of social care in modern Britain and mandated that older people with assets of £100,000 or over, for example in property, could use those to pay for their care. The downside was that many people would then be unable to leave anything in an inheritance to their descendants.
To say this did not go down well was an understatement.
It was one of the major causes of the catastrophe that was last night’s election for the Conservatives. It riled up the Tory base of older voters, and the following U-turn that wasn’t a U-turn but so obviously wasm wherein May robotically intoned ‘nothing has changed’ when it obviously had made her look weak and indecisive, not something one wants when the party’s main selling point is the strength and stability of the candidate who had chosen to run the campaign like a presidential race.
There were other reasons for the fact that the Tories snatched defeat from the jaws of what seemed like an overwhelming victory. One is that many people are simply sick and tired of the austerity they still experience following the 2010 election. Life for many is still at the same level as it was then, for some it has improved a tiny amount, and for others, it has worsened. Of course, a party that came along with a grab-bag of policies that was equivalent to a candy store was going to score well; it was just a matter of offering something different.
The fact that all of Labour’s policy proposals were unaffordable and would have meant billions in borrowing and hundreds of billions in debt simply flew over most people’s heads. People have come to expect that the government can do much more than it actually can, when in fact the safest and most sensible way to ensure that people have sufficient access to the social safety net is by growing the economy on a sustainable basis. The economy has been growing, but not in the right sectors and it is about to go through a period of turmoil as Brexit negotiations begin.
Another reason that the Tories lost the votes they did was due to somewhat of a Brexit backlash, with many people who voted Leave but who nevertheless respected the referendum result put off the Conservatives by May’s support for a ‘hard Brexit’. Many who had voted Liberal Democrat and might have voted for them this time voted instead for Labour in order to stick it to the Tories.
Perhaps the most damaging factor for the Tories is that May’s campaign showed her up to be not who she said she was. She undertook the aforementioned U-turn over the ‘dementia tax’ which destroyed the image of her as a safe pair of hands. Voters liked her because she seemed like she would turn out to be a different sort of Conservative, a good alternative to Corbyn, who cared about the ‘just about managing’, those who were in work but were still struggling, while those higher up the economic ladder liked her because she seemed to represent someone who valued hard work, patriotism and law and order.
She has now been revealed to be as intransigent as all the other politicians who’ve come along. Her character is non-existent and she has no warmth or spark of personality to speak of. Her performance (and it always is a performance) on stage answering questions was wooden and uninspiring, refusing to answer questions directly that she found uncomfortable and relying on slogans that she appeared to have learnt by rote to cover up her lack of original ideas or her grounding in traditional conservative ideals. She seemed to be inflexible, despite the U-turn and seemed to be rattled rather too easily. Even now, it’s hard to know what she stands for beyond a few hollow catchphrases.
As a result, we in the UK now have a hung parliament, with no single party having obtained a majority with which to rule. Ironically, both Labour and the Conservatives increased their vote share, with Labour reaching 40% of the vote, but the recent Tory campaign must go down as one of the most mismanaged, least inspiring and most cack-handed attempts to gain increased political power and legitimacy possibly in modern British history. Everything that the party could have messed up, they messed up. There was nothing of note about the campaign that was not negative. And they have been punished for their complacency at the ballot box, as is meant to happen in a healthy democracy.
Theresa May has refused to resign, and is instead intending to carry on as Prime Minister as the head of a – maybe mortally – wounded Conservative government, probably because to launch another Tory party leadership election would just finish the party off. The Tories have fallen around 4-5 seats short of the 326 needed to form a government, and now have to go begging to the DUP of Northern Ireland to make up the numbers, a party with its own past involved with terrorism, on the other side of the sectarian divide of Northern Ireland’s Troubles to the IRA. These are not the kind of people that will endear potential voters to the Tories, and may well prove to be a poisoned chalice.
The one bright spot for the Conservatives was the party’s performance in Scotland, where they won seats under Ruth Davidson. However, even here the celebrations should not be overly joyful, given how poorly the SNP (Scottish National Party) has performed in their time with a monopoly on power at Holyrood, thus opening themselves up to being somewhat reduced in stature. The one significant piece of good news from this is that another Scottish independence referendum now looks increasingly unlikely, but given all else that has happened, who knows?
In short, the election campaign was a thoroughly mismanaged affair on the Conservatives’ part. May didn’t need to call this election. She should have left well alone until 2020, so she could get the Brexit negotiations underway without the chaos from an undecided election before she even began.
The opposite of what people thought would happen has happened: Theresa May is not ‘strong and stable’, and neither is the country as we head into some hellishly difficult negotiations over the next few years. The ‘coalition of chaos’ was actually brought about by May, who is now responsible for destabilising the country at the worst possible moment as a result of the campaign and now, it seems, general ineptitude stemming from an overbearing control freakery.
The Labour Party lost the election but won, and the Tories won the election but lost. This state of confusion was avoidable. This act of political hara-kiri by the Conservatives will be with us for years to come.