Theresa May’s great gamble failed. She hasn’t resigned yet, but she will. Her credibility is shot. Her majority is gone. Though the Conservatives can probably form a government with support from the Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland, it will be weak and wobbly at best, not the ‘strong and stable government’ May promised. Even if she tries to stay in power, her party will probably get rid of her. Who comes next is unclear. Whatever the outcome, we can expect another election before the end of the year – and when that happens, all bets are off.
This was May’s election, and her defeat. She asked the electorate for a personal blank cheque – for Brexit, and whatever other challenges are to come. They refused. Jeremy Corbyn fought a far better campaign – a more interesting manifesto, with more carefully thought-out policies, smarter media work (!), and a more inspiring message. One of several reasons for the wide variation in pre-election opinion polls was that different pollsters used different approaches to estimate likely turnout. It looks like those (e.g. YouGov) who assumed respondents who promised to turn out and vote actually would got closer to the result than those who assumed past trends would continue this time around. In other words, it looks like more young people voted this time – though we’ll find out more in time.
So what does this all mean? What happens next? To begin with, Theresa May stays Prime Minister, at least until her party colleagues replace her. With DUP support she’ll be able to get her core policies through parliament, just. But something will have to change. To begin with, it is difficult to see how the government can credibly begin Brexit negotiations in 11 days’ time. May’s plan was to secure a personal mandate and a parliamentary cushion to allow her to cut whatever deal she saw fit. She failed. Given the choice, the electorate refused to endorse her proposal for ‘hard Brexit’. As I said in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum last year, there is no majority in the country for any possible version of Brexit. Nor is there a majority for simply accepting whatever Theresa thinks is best.
Jeremy Corbyn will also stay on as Labour leader. He’s proven that you don’t need to be slick to inspire voters (especially the young). He’s also demonstrated that there is appetite in the country for more left-wing policies. I expect many of the MPs who have rebelled against his leadership to rally, but I still doubt he’s an election-winner.
That final point worth noting is that the nature of this hung parliament makes a further election later this year highly likely. The government will struggle to get anything done. And when that happens, all bets are off. If it’s Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Corbyn, there’s no telling what will happen. After all, we’ve just had another demonstration of the challenge of conducting accurate UK opinion polls. Constituency results deviated even more wildly from the national swing. The Conservatives took seats in Scotland and lost them in England, reversing the recent trend. More people voted for either Labour or the Conservatives than have done so for several elections. All this makes knowing what will happen at the second 2017 election that much harder. I’ll make only one prediction. Mayhem will follow.