In 2014, the world’s eyes were on Scotland. In 2016, the world’s eyes were on the UK and EU. Now in 2017, the future of the UK is still unknown.
Elections come, and elections go. Citizens organize their ballot papers, have campaign leaflets dropped through their doors, receive party political broadcasts on their television screens. News is also full of promised policies, campaign speeches; and inevitably many people dodge activists and campaigners while out and about, as they try and get on with their daily lives. Yet ultimately, the vast majority of people, are mindful that politics is important. Decisions need to be made, a country needs to be run, and function well, to the benefit of society at large. The economy also needs to be in a healthy state, as do medical services, schools, infrastructure, and people need to feel safe in their communities. The reality is, the outcome matters. There is no escaping it. When an outcome produces no clear winner, that is tense.
The 2017 UK General Election has been a catastrophic disaster for the Conservative Party. Despite obtaining circa 48% of the vote, the Conservatives only managed to obtain 318 seats, out of a total of 650 up for grabs in the House of Commons. Thus, although they are the largest party to emerge from the election, they hold no parliamentary majority. The Labour Party came a close second, winning circa 40% of the total vote share, and achieving 262 seats.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Brexit election” has resulted in a “hung parliament“. May hoped to bolster the parliamentary majority she inherited from David Cameron in 2015, and has fallen short of reaching that magic number. There are many who are stunned and angry that May has pledged to form a partnership with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who represent some constituencies in Northern Ireland. So many have taken to social media to express their outrage, and have accused the DUP of a whole manner-of-sins, as the saying goes. The DUP has been at loggerheads with many contemporary politicians, especially with regard to their anti-equal-marriage stance, views on climate change, not to mention constitutional tensions with Sinn Fein, a nationalist party that seeks a united Ireland. Thus, Sinn Fein would like Northern Ireland to separate from the UK. British and Irish politics are very complicated, and many are anxious. In some respects, this is a “jolly shambles”, and causing headaches from many across the political spectrum, in all constituent parts of Queen Elizabeth II’s “land”.
What ultimately stands out about the UK 2017 General Election is that it was a “snap”, or emergency, election. May was playing a dangerous game of chess, hoping that she would make the right move, and return a majority Conservative Government, something that would legitimize her as a strong leader, leaving her and her negotiation team to engage in Brexit, and also to have several years to put forth her preferred policies to shape the UK in the image that she, and others, feel is best. Given the serious polarization in British society, anger toward the outcome of the EU Referendum, hypocrisy from many political figures, and a degree of incompetence in handling the seriousness of Brexit, combined with competing rivalries in parts of the UK, May has a job on her hands if she seriously wants to represent a “One Nation” UK. May might not even last as Prime Minister for the entire parliamentary term.
She moved her chess piece(s), and it has backfired. The Labour party, under the controversial Jeremy Corbyn, have restrengthened, and gave their biggest British rivals — the party of the late Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill — a run for their money. The share of the vote for third parties was at a record low, largely due to so many Brits opting to vote for one of the two “major” political parties. The House of Commons is often called a “Punch and Judy” institution, and it looks like it will live up to its reputation — albeit, with elected lawmakers “toeing the line”, and not behaving like the seaside show puppets, an iconic British tradition.
Many Brits have voted for the “old guard” (Red or Blue), and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was underestimated as a significant political and campaign tour de force. While his politics, his world views, and his questionable experience in potentially running a country have been (quite rightly) challenged, he is much more popular than many have given him credit for. Millennials turned out in their droves to vote for someone they see as a hero of the left, and the anti- Tory figure. Many young adults and youths put their confidence in Corbyn, and this was to the detriment of May. In some respects, it also mirrors the backlash against Margaret Thatcher during the era of the miners’ strikes, and those that challenged homophobia during the 1980s. Films such as Pride (2014) reflected this era, exposing societal reactions to those struggling, the hardship of lacking a pay check, the community spirit, the love and also the fear of those who are gay, and what happens when diseases such as AIDS receive little awareness. The film Billy Elliott (2000) also touched on similar themes, and is a film that means a lot to so many in the UK, especially in areas hit the hardest by the decline in some heavy industries and manufacturing. Many of these British communities have never fully recovered from social deprivation, and political mismanagement is partly to blame, including underinvestment in some areas of infrastructure, education services, and the underdevelopment of mental and emotional health services.
It is fundamentally notable that under Corbyn, the Labour party share of the vote has surpassed what any of his predecessors managed to achieve, since 1945. Not even Tony Blair, who is still considered “the rockstar PM” by some, managed that. Not even when he engaged in his Cool Britannia PR strategy in the late 90s, to help make politics appear more “hip”, rather than the stuffy reputation it had under the Thatcher and Major years (1979-1997). He invited celebrities to Downing Street, appeared on Comic Relief with the actress Catherine Tate, stories of his boistorous behavior at Fettes College in Edinburgh were printed in media sources, and many considered him the “cool” Dad and husband.
While many went to the polls to cast their vote for candidates and parties they feel would be the best to represent constituencies and ultimately help run the country, this was a Brexit election — period. Many went to the polls angry, bitter, frustrated, but also full of hope, aspiration, and confident that the UK will recover from divisionism. A lot of “Remainers” are frustrated, as they feel that May has made little effort to calm their anxieties over the potential of Brexit being economically harmful, and isolationist. Many who voted Leave are frustrated that panic has set in, and there has been much written about (and spoken about) with regard to the consequences of the UK leaving the EU Single Market. Many who voted Leave are frustrated that they have been accused of all and sundry, when many seriously considered their position, felt the EU was (and is) undemocratic, and felt that unelected officials in parts of mainland Europe were dictating to member states with regard to immigration laws. Many in the UK feel that the EU Referendum was simply called to end a Tory Party “civil war”, especially when there was the fear of Conservative politicians and supporters deflecting to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), who squarely back swift removal from the EU bloc, and makes statements such as “taking our country back”, and posturing themselves as the party of the “ordinary” person, not the elite.
One of the many words and phrases used in the run up to the election, and its aftermath is the need for “stability”. While being questioned on May’s shaky tenure as PM, not long after it was clear a minority Tory government would be yielded, the Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith expressed that the political party needs “stability“. That is an understatement. The former PM, David Cameron, led the Conservatives to a surprising electoral success in 2015, only for it to tumble downhill from there. A lot has happened in a short space on time: a controversial UK-wide EU Referendum, more flag waving for Scottish Independence, tense relationships with so many political allies (and adversaries) in the EU, a squabble over whether or not President Trump should be allowed in the Palace of Westminster, and a jingoistic and socially irresponsible commentary, hinting at a ‘war’ with Spain over Gibraltar from Michael Howard, another former leader of the Tories. British politics, and the politics in many other nations, are starting to resemble more the BBC’s satirical The Thick of It (2005-2012), rather than the popular Danish political drama, Borgen (2010-2013).
However, the aforementioned TV shows are, of course, dramatized versions of what can happen in “real life”. The UK General Election will have far-reaching consequences, and once again, there has been a major shift in the British political landscape. Although Brexit has dominated British and Irish politics for some time, the recent election has also indicated that support for British unionism is relatively strong. The DUP in Northern Ireland made electoral gains, and the Conservatives have made a serious comeback in Scotland. The DUP and Conservative party are unionist parties, that challenge separatist movements. Sinn Fein also made some gains in Northern Ireland, so the political situation is likely to be a challenge for the island that is Ireland. High profile Scottish National Party (SNP) politicians such as Alex Salmond (former First Minister of Scotland, who was more or less was the front for Scottish Independence for years), lost his constituency seat to the Conservative candidate. Similarly, Angus Robertson, Deputy Leader of the SNP and Leader of the SNP Group in the House of Commons, is out. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has more or less hinted that continuing to push for Scottish Independence has been a flawed strategy.
Ruth Davidson, the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, is a relatively popular figure in Scotland and beyond, even by many who do not ordinarily vote for her center-right party. She is LGBTQ+, is approachable, has a sense of humor, has been involved in the Territorial Army, and has relentlessly spoken positively about her role saving the Union from collapse in 2014. Davidson is also well known for being honest, upfront, and admits to letting off stress by engaging in kickboxing, and enjoying football (soccer). She has also stood up for those who oppose another Scottish referendum so soon after the last one, and she appears committed to tackling bread-and-butter issues. Often dubbed the person to revive conservatism in Scotland, some have nicknamed her “The Iron Lassie”, and compared her to Margaret Thatcher, in terms of her strength of character.
An hour, a day, a week, a month, and a year… a lot can change in politics, and the work is never done. More developments will be made.
Watch this space.