UK elections 2017This Thursday the British electorate will cast their ballots to choose their government for the second time in three years, following Prime Minister’s controversial decision to hold snap elections that came this April. However unexpected it was, the 2017 general election may signify the watershed moment in the British politics that would redefine it for a generation to come.

The reasoning Theresa May applied when calling for the “unwanted”, as it has been often emphasized, election, was rather obvious at the time: as the major public mostly acquiesced to the unavoidability of Brexit her position grew in popularity, while her principled position on the Scottish referendum gained her more supporters among the English electorate. At the same time, the Labour party, weakened by a muted but nonetheless ongoing internal strife and led by a “nonelectable” leader Jeremy Corbyn, seemed to be out of race, so the Tories’ lead in the polls was expressed in double figures, and, taking into account the peculiarities of the British majoritarian system, the “Nasty party”, as the Conservatives were famously branded by Ms. May at the 2005 party conference, looked set to get a landslide majority and form a stable government for years ahead.

However, the things went seriously wrong for Ms. May since then. It turned out that the short campaigning period and its very unexpected character triggered political activism on the part of those wanting change, and Mr. Corbyn, to his credit, turned out to be very apt to capitalizing on that. His energetic campaign managed to mobilize those unhappy about the constant spending cuts introduced by the Conservative governments since 2010 and the stagnation in wages and living standards, especially among the youth who are now much more prone to be engaged in politics after their passivity at the EU membership referendum allegedly came at the cost of the Brexit outcome hugely unpopular among them. At the same time, the Prime Minister made several mistakes, the most acute of which being her U-turn on the social care contributions policy whose unpopularity gained it the name “dementia tax”. After the law came under a severe fire of critique from different sources, she had to change its stance quickly, de-facto annulling the statement of her Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the way. Overall, Ms. May during the campaign has been struggling to answer in substance: her initial promise of a “fairer Britain” and the image of a paternalistic, caring Prime Minister seats increasingly uneasy with the further spending curbs she preaches. The stories about many schools have already had to diminish the number of classes offered or frailing NHS services have not added popularity to these measures neither. While previous Tory leader David Cameron was clearer about the beneficiaries of his party’s policies, May’s attempts to wrap them in a social democratic rhetoric look unconvincing. While she promises to cap energy prices and speed up housing construction, this kind of proposals may sound left, as the left-wing author Owen Jones mentioned in his book “The Establishment”, only in the neoliberalism-dominated ideological space. The number of   people who now perceive the Prime Minister worse than they did before the campaign, is almost twice higher than those who have grown more optimistic (38% vs 21%). The latest YouGov poll even predicts the minimal lead of the Conservatives and a hung parliament as its result, which might cause a governmental crisis and induce Ms. May, whose goal was definitely to secure a robust majority, to stand down.

On the other hand, the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despite his recent success, is not a figure to be able to lead Britain for a reasonably long period of time. His position on social justice and calls for better public services are valid, but he still has too many flaws that would not help to become an efficient Prime Minister: Mr. Corbyn is sectarian, as he has been confrontational with the Blairite, right wing of the party, his decisiveness to re-nationalize everything possible and introduce taxes on the level highest since the World War II would inevitably make him an enemy of the big business, and his political tastes have been too radical for a country as conservative as Britain: he is known to have openly endorsed Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and the Palestinian movement Hamas. Mr. Corbyn offers to introduce a living wage equal to 10 GBP per hour (a measure strongly opposed by the overwhelming majority of business) and abolish university tuition fees for the British citizens which would inevitably trigger further rises in the prices for foreigners and put a huge blow to Britain’s status as the global education exporter. Beyond that, his take on Brexit is inconsistent, as he, one hand, tries to seize an opportunity and preach a “soft” Brexit in contrast to Ms. May’s obstinacy (and to his credit, willingness to speak against the populist agenda on immigration has made him much more popular among the young), but on the other he failed to firmly consolidate the support of the whole Remainer camp as he has been sensitive not to alienate the EU-hostile working-class voters. The nature of the Westminster political system, with its merger of the executive and legislative branches of power, is not receptive to compromise and favours a strong, consolidated government- something that the current Labour party, with a significant fraction of the people who are opposed to Corbyn’s policies in many ways, can hardly offer. As voters in Britain vote for their local MPs rather than the party list, many of whom are from the “moderate” camp, the Labour government would almost certainly mean an incessant, though calm, strife. 

The remaining political parties have much less salience now than during the two previous elections which at the time even made many commentators suggest that the era of two-party politics in Britain was over. The Liberal Democrats, while they have tried to reinvigorate their image under their new leader Tim Farron, partly by positioning themselves as the only party promising to conduct the second referendum on Brexit (though all polls predict an even more confident victory for the Eurosceptics should that happen), still suffer from the disastrous consequences of their government alliance with the Tories in 2010-2015, and their support lingers below 10%. The UKIP, having fulfilled their mission of leading the country out of their EU, are fading into insignificance, as the current government has taken over big chunks of their political programme, including radical cuts to migration and a controversial Trumpesque combination of boosting welfare while failing to tax more. In Scotland, the SNP after their stunning 2015 victory when the party grabbed 56 out of the 59 seats in the Westminster Parliament reserved for the Scottish MPs, will probably lose several places to the Conservative Party that by the northern side of the Tweed is now led by the energetic Ruth Davidson, but still retain a comfortable majority. The Green Party may get a couple of seats more but they are still very far from being a significant political force. 

The Conservative Party with all its current problems and despite the dismal performance of Theresa May, are most likely to come out as the winners this time again and form a government too. On the other hand, if the most daring of forecasts are right, then the two parties will come close to each other and in this case some seemingly unrealistic scenarios, such as the Labour blocking with SNP and ousting the Tories from power, may be realized. However, we would dare to predict that a 2017 victory will turn Pyrrhean in any case. There is a growing realization that something seriously wrong is going on in the British politics: the two Prime Ministerial candidates badly lack any strategic vision for the nation’s future, a year after the Brexit vote there is no clear understanding of where the country will be heading afterwards, and the campaign sounds more like an echo of the 1960-70’s past. Any government that will be formed after the tomorrow’s election will face a challenge of having less than two years to conduct talks with Brussels and reshuffle the whole domestic legislation while also handling the economic slowdown that is unlikely to end soon in the current environment of uncertainty and disillusionment. For the first time in decades the Economist magazine, a staunch supporter of classic liberalism, withdrew its support of the Conservative Party and called its readership to vote for the Lib Dems- even though they are not going to win this time. While the possibility of a split within the Labour Party has been looming large ever since Corbyn made it to the top in 2015, the voices that admit severe internal contradictions within the Conservative ranks and the prospects of its centrist, pro-European faction merging with the centrist wing within the Labour are more and more loud. And there is a perfect example to emulate now- the newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron who in a matter of months shattered the outdated party landscape in the French politics and made up a centrist political movement basically around himself and his vision of how to reform the country. Leaving the EU when it is driven forward by the reenergized France and the German leader who seems to have overcome all of her recent problems and come out still stronger, is rather disheartening. Though Britain has a much more conservative and stable politics, the establishment here is traditionally very strong and given that its overwhelming majority object to what is happening now, the probability of some tectonic shifts in the British politics in the upcoming years is very high. We would like to predict thus that the government to be elected tomorrow would hardly last for the entire electoral cycle of 5 years and some major refurbishment should be expected. 

 

Share this post