Making sense of the 2017 UK election
The 2017 UK election is one of the strangest, yet most exciting I have ever witnessed. I found myself with the same enthusiasm as I did 20 years ago when Tony Blair led a phenomenal Labour victory, with the Conservatives losing seats left right and centre …. and yet, now (almost) all the results are in, I feel rather crestfallen.
Let’s take a look at the two main parties. The Conservatives have got in by the skin of their teeth. They had a very strong showing in the polls for two reasons : a) UKIP has collapsed and their voters have defected to the Tories en masse, and b) Scottish voters have used the Conservative party as an effective protest vote against the incumbent SNP. Their standing has dropped a little, but broadly speaking, the percentage of the vote has held up. The challenge by Labour has dented their majority and they can only govern by a supply / confidence agreement with the DUP on an effective majority of about 7.
This is anything but “strong and stable”. It would only take a few by-elections to whittle away that majority, and anything the DUP don’t want to do will be vetoed. Theresa May is going to feel like she can’t do anything.
Labour have pulled off an almighty impressive coup. I think it’s important to emphasise that Jeremy Corbyn has lost the election; that’s a straightforward statement of fact. However, he has gone from being about 20% behind in the polls to only a few percent behind in a matter of weeks, and got more seats than Gordon Brown did in 2010. Labour have made some serious headway in London and some impressive gains such as Canterbury of all places. All that said, Labour need to gain another 65 seats to win an election, and that’s going to involve overturning some fairly safe Tory areas, such as the Grampians, Cornwall and Kent.
So what do Labour need to do to win next time? Well, the Tory / DUP agreement buys them some time. There was a lot of criticism about the “magic money tree” and cynicism that everything in their manifesto was affordable, but they don’t have a mandate to deliver it, so that’s one immediate worry out of the way. Meanwhile, being strangled by a minority government, May’s mandate is probably going to get weaker and weaker, yet I don’t think the Conservatives want to change leaders when we’re about to handle the Brexit negotiations. So as her popularity wanes, it means more seats lost from the Tories to elsewhere, which net benefits Labour.
Labour need to reunite the party. There has been too much fragmentation over the last two years over the further left-leaning policies of Corbyn and Diane Abbott, compared to the centre leanings of Hilary Benn. The positive result in the election in such a short space of time has impressed the Blairite faction of Labour and seems to have made Corbyn’s strongest critics apologise and decide to get behind him. This is good, because it allows Labour to appeal to the centre ground, which is essential if they want to gain enough seats to form a government. The students have come on board, as have the non-voters, great, now they need to crack Middle England.
For all the talk about Corbyn being “unelectable”, if I had to point to somebody being unelectable today, it’s Theresa May. She hasn’t won a majority, and I think there are sufficient Tories angry enough at throwing away what should have been a landslide victory, that they won’t let her do another one. The real question is will she go sooner, or later?
We live in interesting times…..