Not unlike David Cameron before her, Theresa May has gambled and lost. Despite winning the highest proportion of the vote for the Conservatives since 1983, the largely unexpected result (with the honourable exception of YouGov) leaves the Conservatives the largest party but losing their overall majority. This is, in part, thanks to the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn increasing its vote by almost ten per cent on 2015, the biggest increase in share since Clement Attlee’s time.
Within their respective parties, Corbyn is clearly vindicated and strenghtened his authority whilst May’s has been spectacularly undermined by her own actions and her own poor campaign. It remains, however, that no one has won and we are potentially entering a period of ongoing weakness and instability in government at a crucial time. Precisely the opposite of what May intended to convey in her now slightly risible looking campaign slogan.
It is too early to say what might happen, but there is some suggestion that Theresa May is planning to stay for the time being and she may be able to put together some kind of agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (who have ten seats) and continue in government. However, it is difficult to see that she can last long. Many Conservative MPs will almost certainly want to see her go after having put them through this ordeal.
Although Labour has been arguing the case for forming a minority government, putting forward its own programme based on its manifesto and challenging other parties to vote against it, this seems very unlikely to fly, at least for time being. May will get the first chance as leader of the largest party to form a government and much will depend on her capacity to carry that through in the face of a huge personal defeat. It seems certain she will stand down before long, however, perhaps sooner rather than later.
The most serious part of this for the country as a whole is that it is bound to cause problems for Brexit negotiations, unless some kind of cross-party approach can be taken. However what it certainly does mean is that there is less likely to be a so-called ‘Hard’ Brexit (that is a complete break from the single market and the customs union as well as the political and legal institutions of the EU) since there is no majority for it in the House of Commons.
It would also appear that this signals an end to austerity, since a substantial proportion of the population have clearly voted against it.
Perhaps the only real certainty at the moment is uncertainty. It’s going to be an interesting few days!