The UK woke up to a hung parliament. On Friday morning the final results came in, suggesting that British politics is returning to its well-known left-right traditional polarization.
The Conservatives got 318 seats in a 650 seat parliament, coming five seats ahead of what was projected by the exit polls; Labour managed 362 seats, falling four short of what was predicted in the exit poll.
Theresa May will now form a government backed by the Irish Unionists (DUP).
The magic number, in theory, is 326 seats.
The Conservative look like the will be able to form a government. On the one hand, Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland did better than any previous election, looking to take seven seats, or not to take them. The Irish Republicans will not take an oath to the Queen and will leave their seats vacant, as they always do, which means the threshold for the governing majority falls by two seats to 323.
And it is in Northern Ireland that the Conservatives will seek their missing seats, looking to the had Leave campaigners DUP unionists. They are projected to gain 10 seats.
That will give a majority to a Conservative-led government of 5 seats, below what the Conservatives held in their own right 50 days ago. There is little doubt that Theresa May has lost. When Theresa May called the snap election on Tuesday, April 18, YouGov gave her a 23% lead. That is now little over a 2% lead, since the Conservatives won with merely 42,4% as opposed to Labour’s 40%.
Early in the morning, she spoke of the need for the Conservatives to “guarantee stability,” which is the kind of language one expects from someone ready to negotiate a coalition government. Gone is the talk of a strong mandate.
Jeremy Corbyn’s triumph
There is little doubt the big winner of the night was Jeremy Corbyn, the maverick that his own parliamentary group tried to overthrow in autumn 2016. The Labour Party is projected to win 262 seats.
Tony Blair‘s New Labour is defeated, with Jeremy Corbyn getting out the vote and bringing first-time voters to the polls. Labour’s Deputy Leader, Tim Watson, had to concede that his leader won the argument. The traditional Labour Party magazine, the New Statesman, was until Wednesday bemoaning how the Labour Party was walking towards its worst defeat since 1935. On Friday morning, this part of the Labour Party no longer has a voice.
The Labour Party’s voice is now moving to the left, repatriating about a third of the English Leave working class vote once claimed by UKIP. Across England, the Conservatives did much worse than anyone expected. It was in Scotland that the Scottish National Party suffered massive losses, saving the Conservatives and the Liberals.
The lost bet
On calling the snap election on Tuesday, April 18, the British Prime Minister Theresa May believed to be taking a safe bet, but a bet nonetheless. She lost that bet. Whoever now goes to Brussels to negotiate a Brexit will be much more dependent on the vote of hardliners. Getting “a deal,” let alone a good one, will be that much harder.
Whoever now goes to Brussels to negotiate a Brexit will be much more dependent on the vote of hard Brexiteers and leading a much more volatile government. The notion of beginning negotiations within the next ten days seems unrealistic. And the pound has already lost 2% in the Asian markets. Whatever the leadership of Theresa May has delivered, it is not stability.
There is another big loser this Friday morning, namely the Scottish National Party, losing more than two-fifths of its vote, or 21 of its 2015 55 seats, remaining with 34. Embarrassingly, the SNP saw its charismatic parliamentary leader, Angus Robertson, and the former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, lose their seats. This Friday morning, it will be harder for Nicola Sturgeon to argue the case for Scottish independence.
A political finale came for the former Liberal leader, Nick Clegg, who joined the Conservative government of David Cameron that brought the UK to the June 23, 2016, Brexit referendum. He too lost the seat he held for 12 years in Sheffield. Going from 9 to 12 seats, the Liberals are expected to do better than where Clegg left them, winning seats mostly in Scotland.
And because UK politics is not complete without Nigel Farage, seeing his party sinking to irrelevance and the negotiation of Brexit called into question, he promised, once again, to come back. It appears, for the British far-right, he is irreplaceable. Ironically, the only place UKIP is still relevant is Brussels.