After yesterday’s general election the June sun shines over a considerably more topsy-turvy political landscape. The Conservatives have the most MPs, though no majority, and will get by with a little help from their friends in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. Yet the prime minister has lost much of her authority. Labour has failed to form a government for the third election in a row but boasts of electoral triumph. An election infused with incantations about strong and stable government will be followed by only the third hung parliament in the UK since the second world war.
EU turn if you want to
With Brexit talks scheduled to start in less than a fortnight, perhaps the EU negotiators are the big winners today, even if the UK gets some leeway. Rather than beginning the most complex and important negotiation process in living memory with an enhanced majority, following a period of focused preparation, the government is set to enter the lion’s den with a minority and an embattled prime minister. This of course follows a tumultuous election campaign, in which divorce from the EU was only one of the multitude of issues to occupy the attention of the Conservatives’ top team.
Theresa May’s reassurances about a period of stability will count for little if a fractious and divided government limps toward another general election relatively soon. At this point that seems a distinct possibility. Although the prime minister spoke confidently today in Downing Street to the world’s media about governing for the next five years, she will now face the fight of her life to remain in post. If the Conservatives aren’t as effective at winning general elections as they once were, they surely remain the undisputed champions of dispatching party leaders deemed an electoral liability.
A weary and cynical electorate would not welcome what could potentially be a fourth nationwide vote in four years. The defeats of the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg and the SNP’s Angus Robertson, Conservative travails in seats such as Battersea, Canterbury, Warwick – and even Kensington – as well as the collapse of UKIP and mixed showings for the Liberal Democrats and SNP overall, demonstrate that put-upon voters can be, to borrow a phrase, bloody difficult. Housing minister Gavin Barwell will agree, after losing his seat in Croydon Central.
Lessons and lamentation
The Conservatives will draw painful and uncomfortable conclusions from what is widely regarded as having been a poor general election campaign. The strong and stable mantra may have resonated in pre-election focus group sessions but robotic repetition became a source of ridicule. With a social care u-turn, refusal to participate in televised debates, and the decision to call the election itself, contrary to repeated promises not to, Mrs May seems to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The Conservatives badly underestimated Labour, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular.
Certainty in uncertainty
The pound fell sharply overnight before an early recovery but ongoing political uncertainty will heighten concern about volatility in the markets and shake investor confidence. According to the prime minister, the country needs certainty more than ever. This general election has provided anything but. Redwood Consulting will continue to keep a close watch over the coming days and weeks.