When I was young, I could never quite work out why certain oldies were besotted with following the outcome of General Elections, which in my view were not such a big deal. Now I am old, I can’t quite work out why the younger generation doesn’t take more interest in such matters. So last night, once the polling booths had closed, I decided I would be set in for the night in front of the TV screen and BBC coverage, along with beer and bacon sarnies, joined by an interested 19yo, following the result outcome to the 2017 General Election. I should add though that tiredness won out as things were getting interesting, and interesting is what it was.
The shock at the outset, which was to overshadow all else that followed, was while the Conservatives were set to get more seats than any other party exit polls found it would not be enough to get an overall majority, and what was predicted turned out to be the case. While I was surprised Theresa May called this election, which was her prerogative to do, I decided on reflection it was the right thing to do and what I might do if I were in her position. The political landscape had changed so much from two years ago when the Conservatives won a comfortable majority at the last election and rightly in my view she sought a mandate to carry on difficult Brexit negotiations. It is easy to say she miscalculated, but at the time she called the election most pundits reckoned she would win with an even bigger majority than before. Her problem was strategy was non existent, style off putting and implementation awful. Her main rival, Jeremy Corbyn, surprisingly shone in all these areas.
My skills as a political pundit are poor and besides most of the profound thinking on what this outcome means has already been done by superior pundits than I. But like us all I can reflect from my personal perspective. A hung Parliament is far from an ideal setting for getting things done, not least carrying out negotiations with awkward EU partners in the mode of the late Margaret Thatcher and not soft pedaling as many of May’s detractors have been urging. Yet clouds and silver linings give me reason to hope, albeit not in the same mode of some of my liberal luvvie friends. While I can’t see anyone better suited than Mrs May as leader, she surely has to learn from what went wrong, starting from a complete lack of strategy, a vision that was at best hazy and a misreading of the mood of the country when it comes to the NHS, how to treat the elderly and people with dementia and a whole host of social justice issues. While it would be unfair to say she was complacent, not doing debates, for example, suggested she was. To his credit, Jeremy Corbyn, who hitherto was seen by many as liability, capitalized well on these weaknesses and while underwhelming when it comes to negotiating Brexit, did much to provide a vision for a just Britain.
As in every election, there are winners and losers. The obvious winner was Jeremy Corbyn, whose reputation has been enhanced, along with his Labour Party who while not having quite made it this time can now see their way back into power. One unlikely winner was the Scottish Conservatives that actually won a number of seats. Another unlikely winner was the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, who hold the keys in the power stakes when it comes to the Conservatives leading the government. They have been traditional allies and politics being the Machiavellian affair it often is means they can extract concessions in return for their loyalty. As for losers, the biggest loser was Theresa May, whose calculated gamble failed to pay off. Her own leadership is now threatened as is her credibility as an EU negotiator, and another election in the near future is now a distinct possibility. Another big loser is UKIP, but then that was to be expected, although with the terrorist threat and that of a weak Brexit deal, can’t be written off. Many thought that the Conservatives would benefit especially from this but Labour did too, at least as much. If Brexit doesn’t go the way UKIP (and other deplorables) want, they will be back. The Greens will feel disappointed that the inroads they have made in recent years to UK politics appear to have been halted and so will the LibDems, which had hit rock bottom at the last election and had hoped for rather more seats than they won this time round. Perhaps the biggest disappointment, besides Theresa May and the Conservative result, is the relative poor showing of the SNP. I suspect Nicola Sturgeon’s preoccupation with putting forward her ideas around Brexit after the EU Referendum and calling for another Independence referendum did much to turn a good many Scottish voters away from the SNP. And then there is the local situation. But when all is said and done, it is the Conservatives that are back in government.
It was no surprise that for both the Southend West and Rochford and Southend East constituencies, the sitting Conservative MPs won with comfortable, albeit reduced majorities, with the Labour candidates performing well. It is a shame that Southend is one of those places and we have a first past the post electoral system that it is nigh impossible to see any other outcome to that of a Conservative win. In my own East constituency, I had rather expected the popular Independent candidate to do a lot better than he did and was disappointed that the local Labour Candidate, Ashley Dalton, did not win, because I think she would have made an outstanding MP. But that is politics and I would want to encourage those who stood for good reasons and were not successful, to persist.
But the country has made its feelings known and this has to be respected. Meanwhile, we look ahead to further developments with interest. On a serious note, I anticipate there to be a reaction to a May led government. She is to be assisted by the DUP who, because of its anti-liberal views on a number of issues, some look upon with consternation (wrongly imo), but then that too is politics. Besides, the country needs to be rightly governed and like it or not, the Conservatives have won that right. Just maybe this chastening will serve as a corrective for the political class and a wake up call for the country generally, which is showing signs of division and facing challenges around Brexit and terrorism as well as the need to address social injustice. I fear civil unrest led by the disaffected and I pray for national healing. What we have witnessed these past less than a day was not what most of us would have expected or, regardless of political outlook would have hoped, but we are where we are. We live, as has often been said, in interesting times!