Political carnage - what on earth is going on?

A very good question - I'm not sure even Theresa May knows the answer...

So...there's been another election: Theresa May has won but everyone is acting like she has lost and Corbyn has - by all conventional understanding - lost but is pretending he has won. You're not alone if you're a tad confused, so let's try to explain. 

Q: I understand there was an election, but how can that happen? I thought the coalition put a stop to this random election-calling nonsense? 

You're not wrong. The coalition did, in 2011, pass the 'Fixed Term Parliaments Act' which was designed to fix the length of each Parliament to five years. This was designed to prevent prime ministers calling elections strategically at a time they knew would be beneficial to them. However, Theresa May managed to bypass this act by getting a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons to agree to an election. (This was primarily because Corbyn told his MPs to vote with the government and agree to an election because to do anything else, and refuse to fight the election, would have cemented his position as weak and unelectable. And perhaps he genuinely thought he was in with a chance - and he wasn't wrong.) 

Q: But why did she do that? 

Whilst now, in the post-Thursday turmoil, everyone seems to be questioning Theresa's decision to call an election, she was supported and encouraged at the time by nearly everyone in her party to do so. This was because she was polling dramatically above Corbyn who, surprising as it may now seem, actually appeared a pretty weak and easy-to-beat opponent. 

Q: So what changed in between Theresa May calling the election and 8th June?

This is now a question the Conservative Party Headquarters are desperately trying to solve but there were some pretty decisive moments on the campaign trail which we can look at. 

Firstly, Theresa May refused to do any televised debates with the other party leaders. This not only reduced her exposure to the electorate, it also heightened her perception as a rather wooden character who is only really able to thrive in scripted speeches. Furthermore, when she did appear in front of live television audiences she was unable to reply naturally to people's questions and concerns and instead replied with somewhat vacuous sound-bites which did nothing to quell the electorate's fears for the future of the country. Rather than seeming 'strong and stable', she appeared stilted and fixated on a 'Brexit election' which Corbyn refused to engage with. This was made worse by her sense of patronising the voters: not giving them the possibility to make an informed choice, and instead dismissing the validity of people's needs under the much-hackneyed excuse for austerity of there being no 'magic money tree'. 

This somewhat-jilted and infantilising approach was made all the worse for the Conservatives by the sudden upturn in Corbyn's support and appearances. Not only did he make a shock appearance at one of the televised debates, he also engaged with younger voters and had a much more natural and organic approach in response to being asked off-the-cuff and unscripted questions. This was perhaps epitomised by Theresa's response to the question 'what is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?' being 'running through fields of wheat', whilst Jeremy replied with a playful wink and quipped 'that's far too naughty to tell'. 

Aside from these stark differences in personality and ability to truly engage with the voters, there were also some manifesto stumbles for the Conservatives. Their approach of attacking Labour's optimistic and hope-filled pledges for the future of the country on the grounds that they were not economically viable began to lose traction when it became clear that there were more glaring holes in the Conservative manifesto. Not only had they failed to accurately estimate the cost of breakfast for primary school children, they also made an ill-fated attack on their core voters: the oldies. They threatened them with taking away their wealth and houses and their ability to pass them onto their descendants, and instead declared these assets as a necessary sacrifice for social care expenses. In a move which someone in the Tory party really should have pointed out as completely idiotic, they had alienated their core voters in one jilted, confused, and misplaced move. This Tory pitfall was magnificently exploited by Labour's promise to scrap tuition fees which, aside from mobilising many students, also swayed older voters who feared for their children and grandchildren. 

As you can see, the run up to the election reads somewhat like a Tory catalogue of errors whilst the Labour party was mobilising its support and becoming truly unified for the first time in a long while. Whilst Theresa did still get more seats than Corbyn, it is perhaps still accurate to declare her as having 'lost' the election as she did lose her majority and many of her voters, despite it being assumed that she would have an easy win. 

Q: So what is going on now and what will happen? 

A very good question. Nobody really knows. The Conservatives didn't get a majority but are hoping to be able to form a minority government using something which is known as a 'confidence and supply deal' with the DUP (a unionist party from Northern Ireland). This deal would allow them to pass major bills with a slim majority of two, but everything else would be negotiated on a case by case basis. 

However, it is currently not even clear if this deal will be able to happen as there are very tangible concerns over its impact on the Good Friday Agreement (1998). In order to maintain peace in Northern Ireland, the Westminster Parliament is meant to remain neutral, but forming a deal with one party (and a very pro-unionist party at that) would obviously violate this. Furthermore, there are concerns being raised about the nature of the DUP, particularly their record on LGBT+ rights and women's reproductive rights. All that can be said currently is that it looks like Theresa May is dependent on a very controversial party. 

This situation is so fragile, in fact, that Corbyn has proposed laying down his own Queen's Speech (the government's legislative proposal at the start of a Parliament)! So, whilst Theresa May might be PM now, don't expect this to last and there's a very real chance of another election in the next year. 

Francesca Peacock VII