By calling a snap general election, Theresa May took a gamble and failed miserably. From having a small majority in the last parliament and a 20-point lead in the opinion polls, she has ended up with neither. On hearing the news, on Friday morning, I got out of bed with a spring in my step. Not because Theresa May had suffered a major setback, but because I felt partially reconciled with the UK electorate. I don’t think that I will ever “forgive” the UK for having voted to leave the EU. They should have found some other way to dismiss their elites. However, I’m now more than ever convinced that the electorate was “tricked” into voting for Brexit by demagogues and scaremongers, as well as showing sheer ignorance about what the EU really means and stands for. This being said, in refusing to give Theresa May absolute control over Brexit and domestic policies, the UK electorate has shown courage, wisdom and, above all, respect for our precious democracy. It is quite ironic that the voters who have got Theresa May in trouble are the very same people grossly responsible for the Brexit vote.
In coming out to vote in droves, young voters swayed the election in favour of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn. Just why a large proportion of these same voters didn’t bother voting in the EU referendum will never cease to surprise me. Whereas governments come and go, and domestic policies can be overturned or amended, membership of the EU is like the old furniture that you finally got rid of. Once gone, it is sorely missed and modern equivalents are nothing like the original. The Guardian reports this phenomenon as “the young flexing their political muscles”. This sudden interest in politics is more akin to your snotty-nosed teenager finally realizing that he must get out of bed, leave the PlayStation remote control on his bedside table, and go out of the house into the big wide world. The Guardian further reported that “an NME-led exit poll suggests turnout among under-35s rose by 12 points compared with 2015, to 56%. The survey said nearly two-thirds of younger voters backed Labour, with Brexit being their main concern.” Well, they should have thought about that in June last year, and save us all the bother and, for me, a lot of tears. For the EU referendum, 64% of registered voters under the age of 24 took part in the vote, and voted massively for Remain, compared to 90% of the over-65’s, who voted massively for Leave.
The result of the UK election concurs with the results of elections in the Netherlands and France, and reflects the democratic will of these countries to resist populism and extremism. In the UK, it is quite clear that the Conservative party’s policies are much more right-winged than they used to be, and not endorsed by the electorate. In the Netherlands, the electorate showed that a call for dialogue and compromise can be made, without irreversibly breaking up the political landscape. In France, where political and social change is more than necessary, the electorate seized the chance of giving Emmanuel Macron, who does not belong to the classical political elite, the opportunity to change the way that France is run.
Concerning Brexit, in her “match” against the EU, Theresa May is already trailing and there’s no coming back. For the time being, at least, she seems not to be flustered by the situation and emphasizes that she remains firmly in control. I’m not so sure. In wanting to pass an agreement with the 10 parliamentary members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Theresa May will probably have to give as much as she takes. Furthermore, she now requires that all members of her party keep in line and do not dissent. It will be a real challenge to get her preference for a hard Brexit approved by both her Irish allies and all the members of her own party. Northern Ireland voted 56%-44% in favour for remaining in the EU. A hard Brexit, affecting both the local economy and putting the border with the South under scrutiny, could provide fuel for those seeking Irish reunification, synonymous of EU membership.
Theresa May needs to catch up on her beauty sleep and when she wakes up, she may just realise that she has morally lost the election that she had no need to call. With young and older voters, she has lost on her hard Brexit approach and her battering of social care, respectively. Theresa May is right in saying that the country needs stability, but the electorate has realised that, with her numerous U-turns and allergies for dialogue and debate, she is not very trustworthy in bringing that stability. She has even less legitimacy now, in calling for a hard Brexit, than she had when she became prime-minister. It is obvious to everyone that the election was called in order for Theresa May to obtain a clear mandate for her Brexit negotiations, and no-one else’s.
They underestimate our determination to get the job done…Let us put forwards our plans for Brexit and our alternative programmes for government, and then let the people decide. The decision facing the country will be all about leadership, it will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your prime-minister, or weak and unstable coalition government led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats…and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP…Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain… Theresa May, April 18th 2017
The UK electorate has responded in the true spirit of democracy. Whereas it is clear for everyone – except the die-hard remainers- that the referendum result must be respected and applied, Theresa May cannot continue in her ways and remain unaccounted for. Her actions will be scrutinised, not only by members of her own party but, more intriguingly and humiliating for her, by her Irish allies. The DUP – who doesn’t believe in LGBT and women’s rights, and climate change – seems to have its own political agenda in the making. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader will not help Theresa May without receiving something in return. It is quite worrying that, in the same way that we don’t know anything about her Brexit plans, we know even less about her quick-fix alliance with the DUP. Not only is she now playing with the future of the UK and, to a lesser extent, the EU, but she is also threatening the political stability of Northern Ireland.
What the country needs more than ever is certainty and having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons. – Theresa May, June 9th 2017
It would be an agreement, the nature and unpredictability of which sounds worse than a coalition, the very thing she was denigrating, a few weeks ago. Well, 8 weeks is a long time in politics. Even if this agreement goes through, it is hard to see Theresa May pushing through any kind of policy without constantly looking towards the DUP members, to check if they approve or not.
Meanwhile in Brussels, the EU negotiators, who have their Brexit exercise books done and dusted a long time ago, cannot wait to get started and “play ball” with Theresa May. At least they have had the decency not to laugh at her – in public, at any rate. The EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker, is more eager than most, saying that the EU is “ready to begin negotiations at 8.30 tomorrow morning”. He obviously wants to start early, so that he can finish early. The EU has other more pressing items on its agenda, than worrying about the UK’s schizophrenia concerning Europe. In any case, it seems that Theresa May will never be ready and that, having just lost her homework and many of her school friends, she’s not at all looking forward to her first day at school.
The lesson learned from the UK election is a simple one that Theresa May has at best, not understood and, at worst, consciously ignored. It is a lesson already given to us by the Dutch and the French. Whereas Theresa May seems keen to form an alliance with a more than dubious party, the day after losing her parliamentary majority, the Dutch political parties are still in deep discussion over a possible wide-based coalition, more that 70 days after the parliamentary elections were held. In France, newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, has openly managed to set up a “broad spectrum” political party, and is hoping to gain approval by the French electorate at the forthcoming parliamentary elections. This is in stark contrast to Theresa May’s dark kept secret concerning her Brexit plan, and even darker last-minute allegiance with a party whose leader doesn’t even sit at Westminster. The lesson is entitled, “Democracy – how all voices must be heard and taken into account.” It is such a pity that Theresa May hasn’t done her homework and just wants the job done – even a botch-up job. As for her leadership, it would be best described as “weak and wobbly”, rather than “strong and stable”.