CommonSpace columnist Andrew Smith outlines his key takeaways from the 2017 General Election
LAST THURSDAY was one of the most dramatic nights in recent political history. It didn’t just provide a crashing return to earth for the hubris of Theresa May and her Tory colleagues, it also provided a major rebuke to the polling companies, the media and many of our political assumptions.
So what does it all mean? And what the hell will happen next? Nobody can be too sure, but here are my two cents.
1.) The young and the non-voters made the difference
I expected a Tory majority. Like most people I was very wrong. In my defence, on the doorstep it felt a lot tighter.
In all of the seats I campaigned in we were expecting really close races. But, in reality, the Labour gains and the increased vote came from young people and those who are not regularly polled/canvassed. No wonder there was no data on them, because they’d never been asked for it.
It would be massive for UK politics if they stay engaged. A lot of us, me included, were sceptical of strategy based on mobilising young people and non-voters, but it worked.
2.) We’ll be talking about the DUP instead of the IRA now
Despite the headlines and much of the speculation, the DUP’s support is unlikely to extend beyond confidence or Queen’s Speech votes.
That isn’t really a big change as there is is a lot of common ground between the parties, so it would be likely to have happened anyway – it’s not like they could vote to support Jeremy Corbyn. It’s almost impossible to imagine parliament switching its stances on LGBT rights or a woman’s right to choose, but the optics of working with a party in which half the MPs are Orange Order members won’t be good.
One obvious outcome is that it will be far harder to attack Corbyn for IRA stuff while government is dependent on support of a party with links to paramilitaries and has its fair share of extreme views.
With a greater focus on the DUP we can expect more scrutiny of their positions, history and UDA links in the mainstream press – a lot of what we have seen already has hardly been uncritical.
3.) The DUP deal is more complicated than it may first appear
Assuming the deal goes ahead, the DUP is just as likely to act as a block rather than a rubber stamp on the Tory domestic agenda. The party has a far more working class base and won’t want to alienate it, particularly not while Stormont isn’t sitting.
Its MPs opposed the bedroom tax and are unlikely to back welfare reforms or cuts that could be passed on to Northern Ireland. I certainly don’t like them, and am worried about what concessions may be offered to them, but there are a number of areas in which a Tory government with a working majority would be likely to make even worse policy decisions.
Sinn Fein has suggested that any deal will breach the Belfast Agreement, so what will be the impact on the peace process?
4.) Theresa May’s campaign was catastrophic
There is no question that Theresa May ran a terrible election campaign. We can only speculate at what possessed her to run on policies like the Dementia tax and ending the triple-lock.
These policies were never going to mobilise the key base of Tory voters – affluent pensioners and middle class home-owners. Her reluctance to attend debates or high profile interviews looked like cowardice from a prime minister who people may have had a broadly positive view of but knew fairly little about.
Corbyn did very well, but it’s also fair to say that May played her role in snatching defeat from jaws of victory.
5.) We need to talk about the polls
There are serious questions for the polling industry. Polls undoubtedly shape the narrative of campaigns and influence how we vote.
That is problematic to begin with, but is made even more-so when they are massively wrong. Restrictions should be considered going forward – for example, no public polling to be published in two weeks before vote etc.
We can also assume that the private polling that underpinned May’s decision and shaped her campaign was somewhat off, too.
6.) We’re back to two-party politics
Two-party politics is back with a vengeance in England. Despite some gains, the Liberal Democrat revival never really took-off. Ukip and the Greens were really squeezed, too.
You’d need to go back over 30 years to find a time when as high a percentage of the electorate last voted for the big two. Scotland may not have seen the same patterns, but most seats were two way battles, with a broadly rural/urban split to determine who was the challenger party.
A lot was made of the pro-union parties fielding ‘paper candidates’ and working together but in reality all parties field ‘paper candidates’ regularly as there aren’t that many seats in the UK which are three- or four-way battles.
7.) A decision needs to be made on indyref 2
It was undoubtedly a bad night for SNP, which lost votes to Labour in the cities and the Tories in rural areas.
Yes it won the most seats, but such a decline in its Westminster vote within two years must be a cause for alarm.
Looking at the data, there is only very limited evidence of unionist voter coordination – something that doesn’t bode well for it looking forward.
The pro-independence movement needs to have serious conversations about how it should respond and whether independence is to be kept on the table or kicked into the long-grass.
8.) The Labour party may finally get behind Corbyn in full
Jeremy Corbyn is safe. Now that it has been shown polls can’t be trusted, he has cemented his role as leader.
Withstanding major unknowns, he should be able to continue as long as he wants to. To its credit, the centre-right of the party is already showing signs of being more conciliatory, with some previous critics eating humble pie and offering to serve in the shadow cabinet.
There is no reason to dilute the message, but a united party can build on this result.
9.) Theresa may not go easily
There is no question that Theresa May is in a vulnerable position, made worse by the fact she had to keep all of the Cabinet ministers that most pundits assumed she was planning to drop.
The Sunday papers were all trailing a Boris coup, but it would also be very hard to get rid of her after Brexit negotiations have begun.
If she survives until they start then I’d expect her to also be there when they finish and to resign shortly after – with another election coming quickly.
10.) We could be waiting a while for another election
Finally, I don’t see an election coming any time soon (it would be far too big a risk for May to call one when Corbyn would probably win it – and is she really going to trust the polls?).
I suspect this government is likely to be a moribund one that introduces little of substance outside of Brexit negotiations. Passing major domestic legislation will be a nightmare. Brexit will be made harder, too – particularly with questions about the Irish border.
The instability and potential chaos of the next few months will undoubtedly present opportunities for the left both inside and outwith parliament. Progressive parties need to work together to win concessions from a weak government and take advantage of the divisions that will undoubtedly manifest themselves on the Tory benches.
The next few months could leave Theresa May as the lamest of lame ducks, but they could also be a chance for the left to seize the agenda and push for a softer and more positive Brexit.
The last thing the government wants is another election, we need to exploit that fact as much as we can.
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