In predicting the UK election result I was way off, but in good company, including the W&Ys own Tim Marshall and many others.
Evidently political predictions are not my strong suit; and I should be more reticent in the future.
With that in mind, we are still led compulsively to try and analyse the fate of this new Parliament; the 57th of the United Kingdom.
In the first place, it seems the only conceivable government is a Conservative minority. The Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Nationalists combined only manage to equal the Conservative Party. There seems to be little appetite between those parties even for an informal arrangement; and a vote of no confidence in a Labour minority would trigger a further election. A confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on behalf of the Conservatives is about the only workable arrangement which this Parliament can provide. The Parliamentary arithmetic allows for no other.
The DUP supported Brexit, but are unwilling to support any outcome which results in a hard border being established between Ulster and the Irish Republic. The negotiating strategy of Mrs May, proceeding on the assertion that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ will consequently find no endorsement by the DUP.
Theresa May called the election on the allegation that she was negotiating with one arm tied behind her back; she is now in the uncomfortable position of finding both back there.
For this she has only herself to blame. She took a poll lead of 20 points, and in 7 weeks reduced it almost to zero. She framed the election in terms of a personality contest between herself and Mr Corbyn, and then failed to debate him. She ran a hermetically sealed pantomime, meeting practically no-one; and reducing what ought to be a great national contest to the repetition of a series of tired political soundbites. The manifesto was a disaster; at one point veteran journalist and broadcaster Andrew Neil suggested on the BBC that the manifesto ought to have included an apology to Ed Milliband for having stolen so many of his ideas, such as energy price-fixing. Not only was this hypocritical, as Mr Milliband had been caricatured as a Marxist by the very people who adopted his policies. It was equally incompetent; for it neglected the fact that Mr Milliband lost.
It seems vanishingly unlikely that the Tory Party will ever permit Mrs May to lead them into another General Election. They wish to replace her, but the situation is painfully unpropitious.
Brexit negotiations begin in days; and the clock is already ticking before the 24 months mandated by Article 50 run out. A proper leadership election at this time would be a distraction. It is more likely that they will proceed with her as a lame-duck leader until the negotiations are concluded, then dump her for someone new. But my recent predictions have all been wrong; so, I wouldn’t put too much stock in my prognosis. The 1922 committee are meeting tomorrow, and they might be sharpening their knives in preparation.
Mrs May only triumphed in the previous leadership election because the key Brexiteer candidates managed to successively stab one another in the back, before the last remaining (Andrea Leadsom) stabbed herself in the front. Mr May was the only palatable alternative because, although she had declared herself for Remain, she took no part in the actual referendum campaign, and therefore offended almost no-one.
Mrs May is dependent on her backbenchers, her frontbenchers, the Brexiteers, the Remainers, and the DUP in order to survive. Yet the Parliamentary arithmetic does not make any other combination any likelier. For this Parliament to survive the full 5 years appears almost inconceivable. But then for Mrs May to survive the next 5 months; or even 5 days, seems unlikely.
Mrs May took a Conservative majority, with 3 years of a Parliament, and a recent endorsement by the public of Brexit, and threw it away. Her party won’t forgive her; nor will many of us who supported Brexit in the first place. That this should have been placed in jeopardy by a Remainer is doubly-bitter.
But we can only proceed from where we are. The Labour Party stood in this election committed to withdrawal from the single market, and to ending free movement of people. A DUP-backed Conservative minority might still make a success of Brexit, if it is willing to make concessions to those who never supported it. The chance to secure a majority for a ‘hard-Brexit’ was offered to the people; but they didn’t choose it. Those of us supporting hard-Brexit have to acknowledge that the mandate we hoped for hasn’t materialised. Greater compromise than we envisaged will now have to be made.
But after all, it is only politics. Whatever happens, there is still Bach, beer, and bacon. And in such a world, no one can be miserable for long.