By Amar Diwakar
The U.K. general election verdict is official: a hung parliament it is. Devoid of an overall majority, the Conservatives bring nothing quite resembling a “strong and stable” government to the negotiations of the upcoming Brexit talks with the EU.
The Tories’ botched electoral campaign behind a moribund Theresa May saw their dreams of a thumping majority relegated to the dustbin of history. In what seems to be a firm repudiation of hard-Brexit and austerity policies, the outcome confirms a political own-goal unlike any in recent memory, leaving the Prime Minister in a precariously weaker position than she was six weeks ago.
Much of the result can be attributed to a what was the highest electoral turnout in 25 years since Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, with almost 70% of Britons going to the polls this time around. 192 women have been elected to parliament, which is a record. The biggest loser was UKIP which collapsed, with Labour cannibalising much more of their votes than expected. Indeed, what could be worrying is that a good amount of Labour’s success seems to have overlapped with a general mood of xenophobia and insularity, which it appears to have successfully tapped into with its posture towards ‘soft brexit’.
What Labour did manage against the odds is pulling off a dramatic retrenchment of its political capital, firmly securing Jeremy Corbyn’s place as leader and strengthening the party’s hand moving forward with a much more teeth as opposition. The bewilderment upon witnessing Labour’s gains has even seen Blarites publicly singing the once-unelectable Corbyn’s praises.
The sharp increase in the youth vote was always going to heavily swing Labour’s result, and it did, as they came out in droves: the exact number is yet to be determined, but estimates put the 18-24 vote at an impressive 72% in contrast to the 43% turnout in 2015. And this on the back of two horrific terrorist attacks that struck at the heart of youth nightlife. In a short period of time, Corbyn’s grassroots mobilisation had effectively harnessed a sizeable chunk of once-disillusioned, slumbering energies and translated them into crosses on the ballot sheet: Labour gained 10% of the vote since 2015, reaching 40% overall. Not only that, but Corbyn secured the party’s greatest increase in its vote share since Clement Atlee in 1945.
These are astonishing results under the stewardship of a man who has had to fight off Blairite coups and a hostile right-wing media assault throughout his tenure since winning the Labour leadership in 2015. Imagine what the result would have been if there was party unity from the outset. Nonetheless, a generous wind in the sails of progressive politics has been assured, as the public’s appetite for Tory’s recipe of cuts, cuts, and more cuts has decidedly reached a breaking point.
Corbyn’s systemic role has been to address the crisis of social democracy. His mission was to halt the erosion of Labour’s heartlands and to reconnect the younger demographic with a distinct, though in practice moderate, shift to the Left. So far this strategy seems to have borne fruit; unclear however is how sustainable this will be, and whether this points to a temporary (and untenable) bucking of a historical trend. But something new and transformative might be in the horizon, with a strong basis of a social movement to now work with.
Meanwhile, May will be reeling. Forced into a coalition with Northern Ireland’s unionist party – the theocratic DUP – she will have to manoeuvre the tumultuous Brexit negotiations without the mandate she craved. Her gambit to obliterate the opposition spectacularly backfired, and murmurs questioning her legitimacy within her own party will now begin to build after a thoroughly shambolic campaign. After all, as William Hague once quipped, the Conservative party is a “absolute monarchy moderated by regicide”. However, in this dystopian scenario, Boris Johnson awaits in the wings.
Arguably the result is even more of a disaster for the British ruling class. The terms of any negotiation on a Brexit deal without any political leverage is likely to force British capital into disarray: particularly regarding the terms of trade, employment mobility, and capital flows for the City of London. The UK economy is already in the doldrums, with the weakest first quarter of growth than any other G7 country. The British pound dropped sharply following the election result and will probably plunge further as foreign investors mull their options, given the uncertainty of Brexit and at the paralysed position of a Tory-led coalition government, hampering their ability to carry out any concrete economic policy measures.
The seemingly unrestrained rightward march across the occident appears to have met some resistance: Wilders, Le Pen having lost elections, and even a bumbling Trump somewhat stonewalled in dealing with the repercussions of the structural pressures upon his office. With the Tories losing their majority, the election brought back into full view the issue of living standards of the majority of the absurd wealth of a tiny minority. The overwhelming reception of the demos to Labour’s manifesto illustrates that neoliberalism’s debilitating ‘There Is No Alternative’ ideology can be more than adequately challenged from the Left.
This Conservative government will find it difficult to navigate the choppy waters ahead, and there could well be a new general election before the year is out (election fatigue, anyone?) with a Labour government attempting to reverse neoliberal policies of the last three decades. But until then, what is certain is that the British political rubik’s cube has been upended and re-configured, having sustained a disruption that no one could have foreseen (including the Corbynistas), making for very interesting times ahead.
The Tories did not lose; rather, Labour triumphed. It offered change that people could believe in, and that optimism was reflected in the polls. The election, if anything, demonstrated there is a potential platform for a principled progressive politics and it has been activated thanks to Corbyn and the movement behind him – something even his staunchest critics cannot deny.
Amar Diwakar is a writer and research consultant with Global Risk Intelligence. Amar has an MSc in International Politics from SOAS, University of London.