Going forward from the U.K. General Election & Hung Parliament

So here we are, Friday morning, the Sun already having risen over the United Kingdom, the Moon at its most brilliant over my home here in the American Midwest, and the results are in for the 2017 U.K. General Election. This election, called by Prime Minister Theresa May in an attempt to secure her majority in the Commons, was a victory for a number of parties: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and of course for joint BBC/ITV/Sky poll, which unlike its predecessors in the last U.S. election in November, the Brexit Referendum before that, and of course the U.K.’s 2015 General Election was actually fairly accurate.

Yet missing from this list of winners are some of the key players in British politics in recent years: some of the top brass at the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.), the U.K. Independence Party (U.K.I.P.), and of course Theresa May and the Conservatives. What was supposed to be a rousing victory for the Tories ended up being one of the biggest political mishaps of recent British electoral history, which is saying a lot considering in the last ten years we have seen the fall of New Labour, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, the Milliband brothers, David Cameron, and the omnipresent Scottish Independence and Brexit referenda.

As of publication, 649 of the 650 constituencies have been declared, with the Conservatives leading at 318 seats, Labour in second at 261 seats, the S.N.P. In third with 35 seats, the Liberal Democrats in fourth with 12 seats, Northern Ireland’s two main parties the Democratic Unionists (D.U.P.) and Sinn Féin in fifth and sixth with 10 and 7 seats respectively, and finally the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru in seventh with 4 seats and the Greens in eighth with 1 seat. This leaves the Conservatives in a bit of a pickle, sitting 11 seats shy of the 326 that they need to hold a majority in the House of Commons. Thus, with no dominant party, the United Kingdom officially, for the time being, has a Hung Parliament.

A Hung Parliament is that often most dreaded of moments in any parliamentary election when the results come back with no clear winner. Ideally it will result in the largest of the elected parties forming a coalition with smaller parties of a similar ideology to form a government. This happened in 2010 when that year’s U.K. General Election resulted in the leading Conservatives entering into a coalition with their historical rivals the Liberal Democrats to form the first coalition government since the Second World War.

Should the largest party be unable to form a coalition, let alone choose its leader, as may well be an issue this time around, the next largest party will have an opportunity to form a coalition government with its ideological neighbours. While a very rare occurrence, this would nevertheless prevent the potentially most unwanted eventuality from happening: a second round of the General Election.

So, with this in mind what should the two largest parties, the Conservatives (aka Tories) and their opponents Labour do to ensure that they can craft a government in their image?

The Conservative Prospect

Photo: The Sun

Reports from the BBC Election Night coverage have stated that Conservative Party leadership is in a state of disarray. They did not expect to perform so poorly in this election, and in hindsight it’s early calling (this election was due to be held in 2020) shines horribly on Tory leader and Prime Minister Theresa May. The first question for the Tories is whether or not they want Ms May to remain as leader of their party going forward from this election. Should the Conservatives cast a vote of no confidence in Ms May’s leadership, or should she resign, then the Conservatives will first have to sort out their own leadership before turning to the necessity of forming a coalition.

As to their coalition prospects, they have a fairly simple choice. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is a clear ally to the Conservatives. Not only that but the D.U.P. came out of Thursday’s election with 10 seats, their greatest ever victory in Westminster. Should they join the Conservatives in either a coalition government, or as a reliable junior partner it will increase the Conservative majority to 328 seats. The Tories will then need at least one more M.P., most likely an Independent, to join them in their coalition to have a full majority of 326 M.P.s.

All this said, a 1 seat majority is far less safe than what the Conservatives were hoping for when they had their breakfast on Thursday morning. They will have a hard three years ahead of them before the 2020 election when potentially they could lose even that slim majority to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour Prospect

Photo: The Islington Gazette

Labour is in a slightly more percarious position, yet after seven years of Conservative government under David Cameron and Theresa May they can see the potential, no matter how slim, to take this Hung Parliament to their advantage and form a slightly more diverse coalition government. With 261 seats, Labour is 65 seats short of the 326 needed for a majority. But whereas the Tories are limited in their allies, Labour has a wide range of centrist and centre-left parties to choose from.

In an ideal situation, Labour could seek to form a coalition with the S.N.P. (35), the Liberal Democrats (10), Plaid Cymru (4), the Greens (1), and the one Independent M.P. This would give Labour a coalition of 312 M.P.s, still 14 seats shy of the total needed for a majority. However with the current total from all but 1 constituency (Kensington), which voted Tory in 2015, it seems unlikely that that seat will go for Labour or one of its potential allies.

Labour may be able to form a minority government, but only if the Tories cannot form a majority government with the D.U.P. Yet like the potential Conservative coalition government with a 1 seat majority, a Labour minority government would have their work cut out for them for the next three years in the lead up to the 2020 General Election. Nevertheless, such minority governments have been successful in the past.

Conclusions

In the end, the 2017 General Election might well be called Theresa May’s folly; holding the snap election was her decision to make, and in the end she made it in April when the Conservatives had far higher polling numbers. What Theresa May did not take into account was a.) the reaction to Brexit, b.) the terror attacks in London and Manchester, and c.) the way in which Jeremy Corbyn and Labour would react to her campaign strategy, message, and tone, countering it with an equally potent and frankly more positive message for Britain.

At this point, I do not know what will happen in the next fortnight in Westminster, let alone who will occupy 10 Downing Street when the dust has settled from Thursday’s democratic festivities. All that I can say is that perhaps more than any other time in the last ten years has the U.K.’s General Election reflected events going on beyond its shores. Its unsure results is by far a sign of these most uncertain of times.

 

Edits: 9 June 2017 at 15:12 BST, 09:12 CDT: article updated to reflect current seat totals with 649 of 650 constituencies reporting.

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