May limps to power

Connor Dobbs, BA Politics graduate and prospective MSc student at Canterbury Christ Church University, recounts the vote count in Canterbury and examines the consequences of the electoral result for Theresa May and the Conservative party.

Looking back at an astounding electoral night, it is still hard to believe the events which unfolded. The Conservatives, after what can only be describe as a disastrous election campaign, struggled to just 318 seats, with 42% of the vote share. On the 18th April, the snap election was called with the Conservatives sitting on huge poll leads, some predicting majorities north of 100 seats for May. As we all know however, since 2015 (or maybe even before?), polls cannot always be trusted. This was proven at 10pm on 8th June when the exit poll predicted a hung parliament.

Being present at the local count in Westgate Hall, it was clear to see the shock at the exit poll. With so much expectation being on a huge Conservative majority, gasps were heard from Conservatives around the hall, with cheers from opposing party supporters. The feeling really set in that the campaign was bust, and we were about to see some big name MP’s lose their seats.

As results were being called throughout the night, huge names throughout British politics were falling. Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond both fell with Conservatives gaining ground in Scotland. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lost his seat in Sheffield Hallam and Sir Julian Brazier, a long time Conservative MP, lost his seat of Canterbury to Labour, with Amber Rudd and Tim Farron both going to a recount, however just making it.

Labour will understandably be buoyed by the results overnight. Although having a smaller share of the vote, the Labour party picked up 29 seats in comparison to 2015, with the Conservatives losing 12 overall. This increase in popularity for a Corbyn government saw the Labour party eat into conservative heartlands up and down the country, as well as fighting back in Scotland, when it was originally predicted that they would be wiped out completely.

With the election now some days behind us, the reaction from the Conservative camp has been made clear. May, still attempting to stand strong, ceremoniously axed her two Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hall. At the end of the day someone was going to have to take the blame, and it was never going to be May herself.

It is however understandable why she would be unwilling to concede that fault lay with herself. The Crosby-run campaign and image that was being portrayed of Theresa May left the public with some sort of Ice Queen appearance, one which she seemed increasingly uncomfortable with as the campaign ran on.

What happens next?

It’s now down to the nitty gritty side of politics how the Conservatives will  form a government. Their preferred (and seemingly only) line to go down is to rely, in some capacity, on the DUP.

The potential link with the DUP, a party from Northern Ireland with an incredibly sketchy record on same sex marriage and abortion, has left a number of Tory MP’s expressing their disdain for the deal. Leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, Ruth Davidson has spoken to Mrs May regarding assurances on LGBT rights, which May subsequently provided.

As we move further away from the election, a confidence and supply arrangement between the parties seems the more likely; however, it still leaves a number of people worrying whether this is still giving the DUP too much access to key government policy. Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has been quick to defend the deal, while stating that it must not influence social policy. Wollaston has been quoted saying “I will always support the right for women to choose & access safe termination of pregnancy and will oppose any change to the legislation. I will never agree to any dilution of LGBT rights. If any of that is a condition of the confidence and supply it simply won’t work”. Outspoken MPs such as Sarah Wollaston are likely to make the PM wary in regards to the conditions. Considering her slim lead over Labour, the last thing May needs is a backbench revolt.

Although a Conservative minority government is seeming more likely now, the Labour party are still yet to concede. The Queen’s speech, which is due to take place next week, is key – more key than ever. We should expect to see an attempt by Labour, SNP and the Lib Dems as well as other parties to block the Queen’s speech in parliament, which would open up a route for Corbyn to become PM. If this was to become a reality, and it must be made clear that there is a reasonable chance it will, it would surely see the removal of Mrs May as Tory leader and a complete redesign of the party as a whole.

All that is clear for now, however, is that Theresa May is pushing on as normal, with the next week in Westminster looking like an interesting one, and one that is key to the future of Mrs May and the Conservative party.

May’s failure: Blackadder & the UK General Election 2017

Dr Demetris Tillyris is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. He specialises in Contemporary Political Philosophy and the History of Political Thought. He also serves as the Director of Making Politics Matter.

To say that the 2017 General Election results are surprising would be an understatement.  When Theresa May called the election, most opinion polls suggested that we should, at the very least, expect a healthy Conservative majority, if not a landslide. This much was also reflected in the betting odds set by various bookmakers. Yet, opinion polls and bookmakers proved almost as bad at gauging public opinion as Theresa May.

What the election result makes clear is that May’s gamble has not paid off. In fact, her failure can hardly be exaggerated. May hoped that, in holding a snap general election, she could capitalise on the weakness of, and bitter ideological squabbles within, the Labour Party, secure a landslide Conservative majority, and get a mandate that would purportedly strengthen her bargaining power in the Brexit negotiations. She has achieved the exact opposite: she has managed to throw away the narrow majority the Conservatives had in the last parliament, and to lose ‘safe Conservative seats’ to Labour – seats like Canterbury, which has been a Conservative stronghold since 1918, and which previously had a 10,000 majority.

The result of the General Election, however, is not just striking because of May’s unanticipated and epic political failure, but also, and more importantly perhaps, because it crystallises what became quite apparent during her disastrous, hubris-ridden political campaign: her failure of sound political judgement. Blinded, or perhaps misled, by the polls which suggested that the Tories were 20 per cent ahead of Labour, she took the electorate for granted. In stark contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, May appeared to be completely detached from political reality – the concrete injustices which plague our politics and society, and the plethora of insecurities and fears which now constitute a constant ingredient of our lives (see her ‘there’s no magic money tree’ response to the underpaid and struggling nurse during BBC Question Time election special). Her detachment from reality and profound failure of political judgement are, perhaps, epitomised in the way in which she (and Lynton Crosby) conducted her political campaign.

Theresa May’s campaign brings to mind a rather amusing scene from Blackadder III (which is worth watching or re-watching), where Edmund Blackadder, Prince George’s cunning, devious, and conniving butler – in an attempt to enhance the Prince’s political power and influence – instructs Baldrick – the hopelessly naïve, and innocent servant – to stand as an MP for Dunny-on-the-Wold: a ‘rotten borough’ which consists of ‘half an acre of sodden marshland in the Suffolk Fens, with an empty town hall on it … three rather mangy cows, a dachshund named `Colin’, and a small hen in its late forties’. In an interview before the election, Blackadder captures an important insight which May and Crosby have, at their peril, failed to entertain:

Blackadder: We in the Adder Party are going to fight this campaign on issues, not personalities.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Blackadder: Because our candidate doesn’t have a personality.

Blackadder’s point is clear and straightforward: if your candidate does not have a personality, do not turn your campaign into a personality contest. May’s and Crosby’s strategy was heavily, and erroneously focused on her being a robust and tough, one-trick pony, who could  be relied on to deliver Brexit. But May’s lack of personality and charisma deemed her promise of ‘strong and stable leadership’ implausible. Indeed, the narrative of ‘strength and stability’ was even further undermined by her unwillingness to take part in head-to-head debates, her social care U-turn – four days after the launch of the Tory manifesto, and amid much fanfare about a fair Britain –, and the fact that the Tory Manifesto and campaign were, at best, rich in soundbites but profoundly thin on substance.

In her victory-defeat speech in Maidenhead, May has declared, in a crackling voice, her intention to marshal on. Her more recent statement confirms this much: the Tories will form a regressive alliance/minority government with the DUP. But whilst May is still emphasising the importance of stability and certainty, her position has been immensely weakened, and not only with her own party. As a number of EU officials have emphasised, her authority to conduct the Brexit negotiations has been severely undermined. And, without the 12 unanticipated Tory gains from the SNP in Scotland – gains which owe little to May -, her position would be even worse.

 

British Politics: The magic tree that keeps on giving

 

Dr Andre Barrinha, Senior Lecturer in Politics & IR at Canterbury Christ Church University, comments on the outcome the UK General Election.

Another election, another remarkable night of political drama. Whilst much is still to be decided, there are three important lessons that we can take from yesterday’s election:

Never kick an underdog. It’s a fact of life: the British electorate does not like to be told what to do. Nobody does, but in the UK that can be very costly when it comes to Election Day. They did not like to be told to vote to stay in the EU and they certainly did not appreciate Theresa May’s call for what she was expecting to be a lap of honour. Up in Scotland, Nicholas Sturgeon might have just learned that hubristic behaviours should not be repeated.

The first past the post system is broken. If it is confirmed that Conservatives and Labour are split by around two points, then the difference of over 50 seats between them is a clear sign of a system that does not adequately represent people’s views. A similar case could be made for the UKIP results in 2015. The poisonous chalice that was the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum did not allow for a serious conversation on the benefits of other voting systems. Given that there are five different voting systems in use in the UK, tradition or cultural specificity can no longer be seen as an argument.

There are now more Conservative MPs from Scotland than panda bears in Edinburgh Zoo.

Ruth Davidson stole the show. Regardless of one’s political views, the leader of the Conservative party in Scotland managed what most people would find impossible two years ago: to have more MPs in Scotland than panda bears in the Edinburgh zoo. From today, there will be 13 Conservative MPs (whereas the number of panda bears did not increase last night, and will therefore, remain at two). By accomplishing such a feat, Ruth Davidson seriously damaged Nicholas Sturgeon call for a second referendum and, most importantly, made it possible for Theresa May to form a government.

 

#GE2017 and Brexit – Traincrash vs lucky escape

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or, god forbid, without adequate WIFI for the last day, you will be aware that we are having a snap election in just over 7 weeks’ time on the 8th of June. While seemingly the entirety of the UK population is preoccupying itself by venting their joy and frustration into the bottomless void of Twitter, I would like to take a moment to talk about Brexit and what this means for the upcoming negotiations.

In the short term, it means kicking the can down the road, but fortunately snap elections are… well, snappy. It seems highly unlikely we are going to hear anything major out of the Government over the next 7 weeks, not least because Parliament will be dissolving in 2 weeks time, the pre-election ‘Purdah’ will be kicking in any moment and the Prime Minister is going to be spending most of her time staging awkward photo-ops with nursery children.

My one word of warning, however, is that this ‘Article 50 Road’ is not very long and we are already going to spend the best part of 6 months of it with the French and German elections. Using these potentially crucial, if short, 7 weeks before the German elections start in earnest messing around with our own election might come back to bite us when we are scrambling to get a deal, transitional or not, in 2019.

But on the other side of the channel, the EU27 have an interesting opportunity to throw a spanner in the works if they so wish, as there is a European Council meeting on the 29th of April. Whether or not they will is a speculation too far for this graduate coordinator, but if they believed they might get a better deal out of Jeremy Corbyn than Theresa May, or fancied a 28th member in the form of an independent Scotland, or if they just wanted to make life difficult for Theresa May by pulling a lever or two and forcing her into some manifesto pledges, now is the time for Donald Tusk to start honing his spanner-throwing skills.

With a longer term view, I muse two possible alternatives;

The first and, YouGov willing, much more likely outcome of this election is that May doesn’t have any moving vans arriving outside of No.10. If she wins, it seems fairly likely that the UK negotiating position will stay more or less the same: No European Court of Justice, No Single Market, No Customs union, but with a Free Trade Area and some form of customs agreement that allows for minimal non-tariff barriers, and a hard border in Dover but a soft one in Northern Ireland. Indeed, if as seems most likely she increases the Conservative majority in House of Commons she will treat this as a cast-iron validation of her Brexit strategy. Alongside this the EU27 position is unlikely to change much either unless there is the arrival of the aforementioned spanners.

I suppose there is a chance she has some electoral difficulties: perhaps she becomes concerned about her ‘Brexity’ base being tempted to UKIP or her ‘Remoany’ base being tempted by the Lib-Dems, and is forced into changing the Brexit strategy to appease an aspect of her coalition, but given her batting average of 46% vote share in the most recent Comres poll, this doesn’t seem that likely.

The second and, Ipsos willing, much less likely outcome is that Theresa May cannot achieve a majority. This alternative would be very chaotic and a massive upset to the Article 50 process will ensue. The polls seem to suggest Corbyn has a snowman’s chance in hell of actually getting a majority. So this alternative looks something like a Lib/Lab/SNP coalition or Con/Lib coalition…. here are two Buster Keaton GIFs as to what that might resemble:

 

To sum up, if everything goes according to Theresa May’s plan and the polling is correct, the snap elections shouldn’t affect the Brexit negotiations too much – yet, Trump is in the White House, Marine Le Pen has a shot at the French presidency, Leicester City boasts a Premier league victory and Britain voted to leave the European Union…

Jack Brooks is a 2016 Politics and International Relations Honours Graduate of Canterbury Christ Church University and graduate coordinator at the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) at CCCU.

The Snap election and the risk of ‘No Scottish mandate’

On 8 June 2017 voters will be at the polls again. The Prime Minister has called a snap election in order to bolster her plan for Brexit and unite the country.

But will another election really unite the country? Highly unlikely. Polls suggest that the SNP will not lose any of the 56 seats it won in 2015. In fact, it is not entirely implausible to argue that the Conservatives, may lose their only Scottish seat. The incumbent Secretary of State for Scotland held onto his seat in 2015, but with a feeble majority of only 798 votes. This will indeed be a key target seat for the SNP, but the Tories are equally enthusiastic about usurping the Nationalists.

What happens, however, if the Conservatives win a majority of seats in England but have no seats in Scotland? This predicament, oft-described as the’ Doomsday Scenario’, is not new and was increasingly discussed during the premierships of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. If the Conservatives lose their only Scottish seat, the phrase ‘no Scottish mandate’ will once again be bandied around. It worked in the 1980s and 90s to fuel support for a Scottish parliament, might it also work to boost support for independence?

Since 2014, the SNP’s electoral juggernaut has shown very few signs of slowing down. The upcoming general election is not a referendum, but will no doubt be framed in Scotland as a dichotomous choice: Union versus Independence. The vote on June 8 has already been dubbed the ‘Brexit election’, but in Scotland the dominant issue – once again – will be independence and Indyref2.

Paul Anderson is a PhD researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University. His main research focuses on territorial autonomy and secessionist movements in western plurinational democracies.