Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election to strengthen her hand ahead of the Brexit negotiations almost totally backfired. Instead of winning by a predicted landslide, there was a hung Parliament with the Tories as the largest party. May’s Conservatives managed to win just 318 seats – eight short of the 326 required for a majority – against Labour’s 261. Amidst the uncertainty, the sterling fell as much as 1.7% against the dollar but has since regained some ground.
In any case, despite opposition party leaders calling for her resignation, Theresa May has received permission from the Queen to form a minority Conservative government.
What Went Wrong?
Just weeks ago, pollsters predicted the Conservatives would demolish Labour in the election. It is worth noting, however, that May did implore her supporters not to assume that the election was a foregone conclusion. At the time, this was merely seen as scaremongering designed to extend her expected majority.
The Tories’ real troubles began when they unveiled their manifesto. It was an odd mix of policies that appeared to directly break from what are widely seen as the party’s values: a small state, low welfare, free markets. Yet, as Tory MEP Daniel Hannan recently put it, Conservatism is more of an instinct than ideology, and within the Tory Party, there are a plethora of different views on countless individual issues.
However, Hannan’s argument does not quite suffice. It may explain why the Tory manifesto expressly stated “we reject untrammelled free markets” and contained punitive measures for firms that hired skilled foreign workers, but it utterly fails to address the controversial “dementia tax” and anachronistic ideas regarding fox-hunting and ivory sales.
Overall, it seems as though May might have attempted to appeal to too wide an audience. For instance, by attempting to win over traditionalists with a new vote on legalising fox-hunting, she drew the ire of progressive voters. Her attempt to make the elderly fund their social care by posthumously selling their homes was indisputably designed to attract Labour supporters, many of whom supported higher inheritance taxes in the 2015 election. However, as with the Chancellor’s ill-fated attempt to raise the national insurance contribution for self-employed workers, it was May’s own supporters who forced her to carry out a U-turn on the social care policy.
In the end, it seems she attempted to cast a wide net but ended up catching far less than she had anticipated. The opposition to her manifesto from within her own ranks and core supporters suggests – as Vince Cable pointed out – that May centralises too much power within herself and her two advisors.
A Strong Labour Campaign
While the Tory campaign was on the whole rather weak, Jeremy Corbyn ran a tremendously successful campaign. There was one inescapable advantage that he had over his Tory counterpart: the ability to draw crowds. Many will say that Corbyn attracts an audience because his policies hold mass appeal. To an extent, this is of course true. However, Corbyn has also been a backbencher for well over thirty years and has campaigned for a whole host of issues, which has developed his capacity to enrapture an audience.
By contrast, Theresa May has never been known as a public speaker, nor has she developed a reputation for being one in the months that she has been Prime Minister. That said, she did deliver memorable speeches on the steps of 10 Downing Street following the two terror attacks that marred the run-up to the election.
There were setbacks in Corbyn’s campaign too. The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, took part in a series of bumbling interviews that showed her and her party to be extremely unaware of their own policies and indeed how to run a country. The final episode in the Abbott saga culminated in her stepping down temporarily on grounds of ill health.
Nevertheless, Corbyn performed exceptionally when it came to getting young people to vote. He managed to convince a string of high-profile celebrities that his vision for the country was the only way that the entire nation could prosper. Rightly or wrongly, young people, for the most part, welcomed his ideas and opted to ignore the countless examples throughout world history of policies such as his bringing nothing but economic ruin upon a nation.
Overall, in the UK, campaigns do not often alter electoral outcomes. Although the absolute outcome – a Tory win – was not changed by Corbyn’s campaign, his efforts undoubtedly helped him circumvent the near-universal expectation that he would be crucified at the ballot.
Beyond the General Election Result
It is important to put the result into perspective: despite the vain pleas of opposition parties, Theresa May did not lose this election outright, she merely failed to gain a majority. The SNP suffered a tremendous erosion of their power base. The Liberal Democrats, despite enjoying some time in the limelight since last year’s Brexit vote, still only have a handful of seats. UKIP, as expected, were decimated. While the population did not reject Corbyn’s rampant socialism to the extent that many expected, the people have indeed rejected it.
For the moment, it seems that the Conservatives will form a new minority government. When May announced that she would indeed form the next government, she thanked Northern Ireland’s DUP – which won ten seats – but fell short of pronouncing that the parties would form a coalition together.
With just ten days until the Brexit negotiations begin, it is Theresa May who will be steering the British ship of state as it navigates yet uncharted waters.