Well well well, what a few months it’s been in UK politics!
The first snap general election since 1974 came to a somewhat inconclusive conclusion on the 9th June, with many glued to media outlets broadcasting the whole ordeal from 10 pm to 10 am. As the exit polls were published right on the striking of Big Ben, we were faced with the prospect of a hung parliament – a situation where no party gained enough seats (326 seats to be exact) to form a majority in the Commons. But to tell the story accurately, we need to rewind the clock to where this shambles started.
On the 18 April 2017, after many emphatic statements to the tune of “I will not be calling a snap general election,” Theresa May called a snap general election (in what would turn out to be one of many U-turns). Many heralded the decision as a tactical genius, an opportunistic power move that would all but stamp out Labour’s influence in politics, whilst ensuring Conservative dominance for the foreseeable future.
Indeed May and co. had much to gain. Labour’s in-house fighting had turned them into a laughing stock as far as being an effective opposition was concerned, whilst a strong majority in the Commons would give May a firm mandate to go into Brexit negotiations “with her chest”. She couldn’t go wrong, then…
On Monday 24th April, members of parliament both current and prospective took to the streets in earnest, seeking both to drum up support for their party and also get elected in their constituency seat. In very much the same way you probably would’ve seen when your university SU elections came around, banners, marches, slogans, spats and gaffs (many many gaffs) ensued.
From the beginning, it was fascinating to see the different tactics employed by the parties. The Tories – who were sure that this would be an election on Brexit – began a rhetoric of “strong and stable leadership” (referring to what you would get with a Conservative government) alongside the catchy “coalition of chaos” (what you would get if you voted Labour). The Labour party immediately targeted the 18-24 vote, enlisting grime MCs for endorsement whilst championing attractive education policies such as scrapping tuition fees. The Lib Dems, looking to claw back some seats after their disastrous performance in the 2015 election, focused on the ‘remainers’ by promising a repeat on the EU referendum if they were elected.
It quickly became apparent that the election was not going to be the landslide victory the Conservatives thought it was going to be. “Strong and stable” was spun into “weak and wobbly” after (another) outrageous U-turn from May, this time on what was dubbed the ‘dementia tax’. This went down like a lead balloon and turned many of the over 65s, a demographic the Tories can usually rely on, against them. The PM also got a surprise when during an interview streamed live on Facebook, Jeremy Corbyn popped up asking why she wouldn’t debate him on TV. In fact, May would go on to debate no one at all on TV, skirting every live leaders’ debate going. Instead, she sent out Home Secretary (whose father had died only 48 hours prior) Amber Rudd, who was forced to dodge shots fired quicker than Mr Smith from the Matrix.
The campaign wasn’t all plain sailing for Labour either, however. In what almost resembled a GCSE non-calculator maths exam, Nick Ferrari of LBC radio asked Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott how much 10,000 extra police officers would cost. Scrambling, Abbott replied that 10,000 extra officers would cost £300,000. Now, just looking at that, you can clearly see that something didn’t quite add up. “Haha, no. I mean… sorry. They will cost… they will, it will cost, erm, about… about £80million.” The interview is truly painful to watch.
The mathematical bug must’ve spread about in the Labour camp as, in an interview with Radio 4, leader Corbyn suffered a similar fate. When asked how much his free childcare policy would cost, Corbyn had to resort to pulling out his iPad because he just couldn’t remember. However, as polling day neared, the mood around the country began to swing in favour of Labour. A far cry from the feeling on the doorsteps a few months previously.
Zooming back in on the present, election night got off to a sensational start. Sunderland, a city known for its rapid counting of ballot papers faced a new challenger for the throne in neighbours Newcastle. As hundreds of students dashed across the PE hall, Newcastle pipped Sunderland to the post, a surprise which set a precedent for the rest of the night.
As mentioned the exit polls displayed at 10pm indicated that the Conservatives were still the largest party, but hadn’t got enough seats to reach that magical majority number. The Tories had in fact lost 12 seats across the country, losing the majority they had prior to the election being called. Not only did they lose seats, but 8 of these seats belonged to ministers, including one cabinet minister who was ironically in charge of writing the party manifesto.
Labour capitalised on Tory’s floundering and gained an impressive 30 seats. This was made even more impressive when considering the number of marginal seats that flipped in Labour’s direction, and the generationally “safe” Conservative seats that swung Labour’s way also. Nowhere was this more profoundly demonstrated than in Canterbury, a Tory stronghold since the 1910’s. Single mother of two Rosie Duffield ousted former SAS reservist Sir Julian Brazier in a vote decided by only 187 crosses. Strong Labour figureheads all dominated their seats also, with Corbyn, Abbott, David Lammy, Harriet Harman and more all joining the “40,000 club” by recording outstanding majorities.
The Liberal Democrats enjoyed a more successful night too compared to 2015, although some would argue that it couldn’t possibly be any worse. They gained four seats including an extra 2 in London; Sir Vince Cable snatched his Twickenham seat back from the Conservatives in what was an astonishing 14.7% swing in his favour. In what was almost poetic justice, the Lib Dems – when asked if they would consider going into another coalition with the Conservatives – answered resoundingly that they would be doing “no deals”. Simultaneously, former Lib Dem leader and coalition sideman, Nick “the python” Clegg (no we have not forgiven you), lost his seat in Sheffield. The best part of it all was actually the hero he lost his seat too. Introducing Staffordshire University Grad Jared O’Mara. The 25-year-old, who has Cerebral Palsy, is a chairman of a Sheffield based disability service and has been a trustee at Pace, a disability charity, since 2005. But the shock result came to such a surprise for the new Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, that he had to run to the nearest Tesco in injury time to grab an emergency suit in order to smarten up for his victory speech.
Other notable mentions go to Tory’s Zac Goldsmith, re-entering politics after quitting because he didn’t agree with his own party’s plans for Heathrow expansion, who won Richmond Park by a narrow 45 votes. Paul Nuttall, the leader of UKIP, quit after coming third in his constituency standings and leading his party to a grand total of 0 seats. Nuttall became the 5th UKIP leader to quit in 9 months. SNP heavyweights Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, the former SNP leader and Westminster leader respectively, both lost their seats to the Conservatives in Scotland. Home Secretary Amber Rudd endured a painful night as she clung on to her constituency by the skin of her teeth. The 18-24 vote rose from the mid-40s to over 70% in what was one of the most incredible turnouts in recent times. Labour overturned a huge Tory majority in Battersea to claim the London seat in a 10% swing to the reds providing the second of two new Labour MP’s with disabilities into the House of Commons, alongside Jared O’Mara. Marsha de Cordova, who is registered blind, used her remarkable victory to champion disabled rights. The final moral blow dealt with the conservative charge came in the constituency of Kensington – The UK’s richest and the last to declare after numerous recounts. So many recounts in the fact that the tellers had to take a hiatus due to fatigue. Nonetheless finally, by the tiniest of margins (20 single votes to be exact), Kensington was Labour red… for the first time ever.
Theresa May was then forced to pick up the tatters in what was a horrendous night, hold the pieces up to the light, and try to shape them into something that would at least let her retain power. The only option left at her disposal was to recruit Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (“who?” I hear you ask). The DUP though were the only party who could help May out. Having won 10 seats, the DUP had enough to be of aid to the Conservatives, who at 318 needed 8 more to reach a majority.
News of Theresa’s plans caused a surge in “what is a DUP?” and “is the DUP in the UK?” searches in Google. Media outlets capitalised on this increase in demand by publishing key elements from the DUP’s manifesto, such as “Rebuilding Northern Ireland,” “Taking pride in Northern Ireland” and (my personal favourite) “Rewarding hard work”.
Unfortunately for Theresa, the media also picked up on the DUP’s shocking stance on other matters, such as their strong anti-abortion position, denial of climate change and absolute non-recognition of rights for those in the LGBT community.
However, eager to get over the line, at around 12:30pm on 9th June Theresa announced that she would be getting into bed with the DUP, forming a government “that will provide certainty”. Although in the days since the announcement, certainly is anything but what we’ve got.
There is a saying, that the ones with the most power in a negotiation is the one with the most time. As the DUP know that the Tories need to get a deal done quickly so that they can proceed with Brexit negotiations, rumours that they have been drawing up a “shopping list of demands” have surfaced, allegedly including relatively trivial things like lowering ferry prices.
It has been an eventful few months in politics, and one can only assume that with this new coalition of chaos only more drama will follow.
Back to you in the studio…