LONDON - With over 95 percent of the constituencies in the United Kingdom having announced their results in Britain’s general election, it almost certain that the Conservative Party has lost the slim majority it had in the previous parliament and will win 318 seats. The Labour Party, which performed much better than expected, with 262 wins, lacks the seats to replace the Tories in power. The Conservatives will need the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland to continue ruling Britain. This has been a colossal blow for Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the early election seven weeks ago.
For May, the gamble of holding a snap election three years early to bolster both her majority and her mandate to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union has totally failed. This was not why she called the election and it will have debilitating effect on her leadership. With a “hung parliament” and the Conservatives holding on to power barely by a thread, May is unlikely to remain leader and prime minister for long. Her credibility has been critically wounded and she will be expected to stand down in the next few months. A new party leader and prime minister will likely be sitting in Downing Street by the end of 2017.
For Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, it has been an astonishingly successful election. He is still only the leader of the second-largest party in parliament and won’t be able to build a “progressive alliance” to replace the Conservatives in power. But that won’t change the fact that his party wildly exceeded expectations by adding both to its share of the national votes and adding seats in parliament. At the start of the election campaign, the Conservatives lead Labour in the polls by over 20 percent. That margin was closed within seven weeks to only four percent, with the Conservatives winning the national vote by 44-40 percent. Both parties gained ground in the election at the expense of smaller parties. But Labour gained more and the Conservatives lost their overall majority.
This means that any plans that the centrist Labour MPs had to replace Corbyn after losing this election will have to be put on indefinite hold. They will mutter that with a less radical leader they may have won against the hapless Conservative campaign, but it won’t change the fact that Corbyn ran an efficient and credible campaign of his own and seems to have motivated a higher than usual turnout of young voters. This is to his credit and will be used by his far-left supporters to reinforce their claim on the party leadership.
The other major implication is on the Brexit negotiations, set to begin in eleven days. Without a clear mandate, May will find it very difficult to lead the talks and fulfil her promise of driving a hard bargain with Brussels. Nearly a year since 52 percent of British voters chose to leave the European Union, it is still very unclear what shape that exit will take and there is little prospect of clarity any time soon. The results also indicate that the Conservatives have done particularly badly in areas that voted to remain in the EU.
Another implication of the exit poll is the failure of the right-wing press to call this election. The two bestselling newspapers, The Sun and The Daily Mail, both heavily endorsed the Conservatives and predicted their victory. This is a massive kick up the backside for the mainstream media and could herald the end of the old press’ power.
Another important result is the drop in the vote for the Scottish National Party which in 2015 won all but three of all the seats in Scotland. They have lost about forty percent of their seats, which leaves them still the largest party north of the border but puts on ice any talk of holding another referendum on Scotland’s independence in the near future. Another event which may not be taking place soon is the planned state visit of U.S. President Donald Trump to Britain this year. May tried in recent months to build a friendly relationship with the new president. Many British voters were not happy with May’s attempts to cosy up to Trump and the anger toward Trump has greatly increased in the last few days since his Twitter trolling of London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack. With May diminished, and quite likely soon out of the picture, not only will the state visit probably be on hold, but the entire future of U.S.-U.K. relations is now up on in the air.
As a short and chaotic election campaign ends, the Conservatives seem to have clung on to power. Labour has been strengthened, but Corbyn is not about to enter No. 10 Downing Street any time soon. The result is that Britain is more divided than ever. Between the big cities where Labour still holds sway, the Tory-voting shires and small towns. Between the young voters who overwhelmingly supported Corbyn and the older Conservative-voters.
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