Speculating let alone predicting the outcome of an election or indeed any popular vote, is fraught with risk; it always has been to an extent, but even more so now. Yes, even the Trumpesque climate change deniers must now admit that politics is experiencing the equivalent of climate change: politics has got hotter and more unpredictable. So what follows is not so much a prediction or forecast, but rather a reflection on how the UK 2017 General Election is not what we might have expected. So, in Buzzfeed style, 4 unexpected outcomes of the election we might not have expected…
1. This was supposed to be a political picnic for the Conservatives. Conventional wisdom says PMs only call elections early when… they are forced to by lack of an effective working majority (e.g Wilson in October 1974) or they assume they will do better and increase their majority than if they waited till the normal due date. It all looked so good for TM; a remarkable by-election victory at Copeland (governments are not supposed to gain seats in by-elections) and wins in local elections in May, a strong lead in the polls, Labour in disarray etc. Things currently look rather different; talk of a three figure majority look wide of the mark, Labour have bounced back, the election that was never going to be close or exciting has become a veritable bun-fight and far from a picnic.
2. It was supposed to be about Brexit. It is probably a fair bet that Mrs May was genuinely looking for a stronger hand domestically in her dealings with the wily EU bureaucrats (Juncker and his ilk who still can’t quite believe the Brits had the audacity to threaten their pet project of European integration and an ever-closer union). She would unite, demand and wave a handbag at our friends (or exes) in Brussels and elsewhere. Like Mrs T before her, a tough stance against the EU would secure her a hallowed place in British (or should that be English?) history, and while Thatcher demanded a lower bill (aka as the rebate), May would secure a generous alimony in the divorce settlement, or more accurately, pay as little maintenance as possible to the European children that remained in the care of the EU and the federalists. Instead, Brexit has taken a back seat. Tragic events in Manchester and now London, have pushed national security to the fore. Instead of uniting Britain behind a ‘good Brexit’, the PM faced the challenge of uniting the UK against Islamist extremism and the ‘enemies within’ not ‘without’. This election reminds us how politicians and their spin doctors often lack control even over setting the agenda.
3. It was supposed to be about ‘strong and stable leadership’. Again, were the original script to be followed, this was meant to be about one strong leader facing down the ‘Second XI’ of the other parties. Fate (or faith) seemed to have delivered an open goal to the Prime Minister: JC was no messiah for Labour, heartily rejected by his closest disciples (namely his fellow Labour MPs who passed a vote of no confidence in him). Yet Corbyn (somehow) has survived and his poll ratings have improved. Not because his policies have been fully and confidently costed, nor because we know for certain whether or not he would press the red button to fire Trident (after checking first with the White House of course – will they take the call?). No, Corbyn has become the hero of the anti-politicians on the progressive forces in British politics. A mirror image of Trump without the bombasticity, narcissism and tweets that don’t make. Sanders has crossed the pond and donned a red tie and sung the Red Flag (only with conviction). He won’t win of course, but it might be fun, but what happens if, just if…..? Maybe it doesn’t look quite so funny from that angle unless you are a true Corbynista.
The script has brought Mrs May crashing down to earth and perhaps found wanting. She is no longer head and padded shoulders (sorry, wrong female Tory leader) above the rest of a fairly undistinguished bunch. That ex-professional footballer (or maybe not) Paul Nuttall no longer looks quite such an outlier, more of a midfielder on the right wing. Yes, their work on Earth is done, mission accomplished, but UKIP are still there; no one has quite worked out why which is why I guess they need all the campaigning time they can get. Who will provide any leadership looks less clear than it did a month or so ago, yet the nation needs it more than ever.
4. The Lib Dems were meant to come back. Here again the script has been rewritten. Logic and experience said that like Yazz, the only way was, well you know the song…… All those whinging Remoaners would all turn to the only* credible pro-EU party (* other options are available to Scottish or Welsh voters, T and C apply) and reward Tim’s crew with a flotilla of lifeboats from the shipwreck of 2015. Richmond Park seemed to signpost the Promised Land. From 8 to 50 in 7 seconds or one day of polling. Well, it hasn’t quite panned out like that either. Double digit support in the polls still looks as aspirational as some students’ predictions for UCAS. Will they get 10 MPs – probably, will they make 20 – uncertain. The ground war is their biggest chance, but the air war is taking its toll. Don’t hold your breath for a breakthrough by the orange order (of the non Ulster variety), their time has not yet come. Perhaps given the consequences of what happened after it did, perhaps that is just as well for them. This is a battle between the two big parties outside of NI and Scotland; the pincer movement bodes badly for them. Their only tactic is well, the tactical anti-Tory vote. Just as a major weapon in the Tory arsenal, is the anti-Remain tactical vote. Yes, we’ll probably end up with a government most of us didn’t particularly want in the first place.
So, my meanderings could like the campaign itself go on interminably. So I’ll leave it there with just two final thoughts:
1. If you can, do go out and vote. It matters even if you don’t think it does. And if you don’t, don’t moan about the result, in fact shut up about it. SERIOUS!
2. Finally what will Parliament look like on Friday June 9th? Well I don’t normally do predictions, but without fear, enthusiasm or bias aforethought, I’ll plump for a Tory majority of 30-40 so say 340-5 Conservatives, 210-5 Labour, 15-20 Lib Dems, 45-50 SNP, and something different for Ulster. James Callaghan (the only Portsmouth born Prime Minister) once famously said “I certainly think that the doctrine should apply, except in cases where I announce that it does not”. In the same spirit, I proudly stand by my predictions!