Election result demands grown up politics
The smoke is clearing after last week’s general election brought more fireworks than many had anticipated.
Despite a strong assault on Theresa May’s power from Jeremy Corbyn – who gave Labour its biggest vote share increase since Clement Attlee in 1945 – the Tory leader is still standing.
So, what’s next?
A deal between the Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) seems imminent, which will keep Theresa May in Number 10 for the time being.
The ‘confidence and supply arrangement’ which is being forged means a quid pro quo. The Conservative’s minority government will receive the tacit support from the DUP on key issues and the budget while the Tories give the DUP things in return.
It remains to be seen how strong and stable this shotgun marriage will prove to be.
Even with the DUP’s backing the PM will only have a wafer-thin majority. And May’s position within her own party has taken a hit, so a lot will depend on how she recovers from this setback.
As May supposedly called a snap election to decrease the importance of hard Brexit backers within her party, some argue the probability of a hard Brexit has increased.
The reduced majority means backbenchers who want Britain to leave without access to the EU’s single market or customs union now have Theresa May over a barrel or so the argument goes.
I personally think the election has made a soft Brexit much more likely. It’s the only logical path to pursue for May given that Parliament has the final say on the negotiated Brexit deal.
Parties favouring a soft Brexit (Labour and the Liberal Democrats) made gains at the expense of the Conservatives. A clear majority in the Commons will therefore back a less intrusive split from the EU.
In this sense, Theresa May won’t be ‘hostage’ to the minority within her own party that wants to sever ties with the EU more cleanly, but to the opposition.
Only a deal backed by a cross-party alliance of MPs favouring a soft Brexit is likely to pass when May presents the fruits of her labour to Parliament.
Curiously, the Observer has suggested that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker may have influenced May’s decision to call a snap election:
“It is understood that Juncker had advised May to call an early general election as a result of his concerns that the 17-seat majority she had inherited from David Cameron would not be enough during the pinch points of the negotiations, including over the issue of the UK’s divorce bill, estimated to be as much as €100bn.”
Make of that what you will. There’s no doubt that May had her own reasons to call a snap election. In the end a 20-point poll lead may have simply proved too tempting.
With the end result being a weaker rather than a stronger mandate, voices within May’s own party have acknowledged the need to work with other parties to get the best deal for Britain.
“We should run with a minority government and work cross-party on big issues. The UK demands grown up politics,” Conservative MP Heidi Allen wrote on Twitter.
Given the importance of Brexit for Britain’s future, parties should put the country ahead of party politics.
Theresa May asked the country to back her government’s Brexit stance. The electorate refused to give her that backing.
The government should now work with the opposition to negotiate a deal that will be supported by as large a majority in Parliament as possible.
Despite that Theresa May will probably be propped up by the DUP, it seems likely the PM will have to get used to working across party lines if she wants to make this term work.
If she fails to do so, then last Thursday’s election ‘win’ will be nothing more than a pyrrhic victory.