Rob Murat, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom
The collapse of May’s majority was certainly not something I expected. In my previous articles, I discussed why the weaknesses of her opposition and the need for legitimate authority to handle Brexit negotiations led to an election.
Almost out of spite, the result changed both of these factors.
The House of Commons lacks a majority. Theresa May lacks a mandate. The country lacks a clear direction. Another election may well be inevitable in a hung parliament as the lack of a majority at this critical juncture hinders decisive decision making.
This could very well mean that another election is coming, and May is not in the best shape to fight it.
From the Conservative perspective: things are dire. There are concerns that May herself may be facing what Jeremy Corbyn experienced during his ascension – leadership challenges. While she has been backed by senior ministers claiming that a leadership challenge would be disastrous, there are other voices in her party declaring that she has got to leave. If an election is on the horizon, how is Theresa May going to prove that she should be the one to lead the party, and the country?
Furthermore, May’s new government has already suffered in its brief existence. Terror attacks, Brexit disappointments, and a tragic fire highlighting the inadequacies of British housing do not reflect the government in a positive light. There’s no one else May can blame: the Conservatives have a previous tenure of seven years, during which May served as Home Secretary for six. Labour will not hesitate to make use of this in a new election campaign.
Going back to the election result, one might view the result of the election as a fundamental rejection of the Conservative’s Brexit policy. This is undoubtedly something May’s opponents are going to espouse. Negotiations, which began in earnest last week, have already hit snags. Is the public prepared to entrust May to carry out two years of this?
But if they don’t trust May, do they trust Corbyn? He secured both his own position as the Labour leader as well as thirty more seats for his party. The questions around his stability as leader have been firmly answered. His efforts to reintroduce a socialist aspect to Labour have been vindicated to some degree by the election result.
Corbyn is secure, and worse for May, Corbyn is much more popular than he used to be. Theresa May’s lead in the polls has shrunk drastically. Given recent events and the difficulty in governing with a majority, that lead could shrink further in a new election campaign.
Corbyn does not offer an alternative to Brexit however. With opinion polls still dividing the county, but leaning more towards wanting to remain than carrying out Brexit, this is a contentious political issue which could be exploited by the right party.
A third party in British politics is never to be underestimated. Just two weeks ago the Democratic Unionist Party found themselves in a kingmaker position. Time will tell how that arrangement lasts, but it adds to rich legacy that minor parties have added to British politics.
Another election in the near future may provide the chance for a third party to make their voice heard by providing a Brexit alternative.
The Liberal Democrats are currently leaderless with Tim Farron standing down. If they can avoid internal division and support a leader who can espouse an alternative message, could this prove attractive to the 45% of people who want to remain in the EU?
They’re not the only party with an alternative message. The Scottish National Party have declining fortunes but these may turn around if they are able to promise a programme which is more favourable to remain supporters. The Green party could also reverse their recent decline by appealing to those on the left who do not agree with Corbyn’s policy of not considering a second Brexit referendum.
Third parties can threaten both May or Corbyn. It might be the case that Corbyn’s base of support is undermined by left leaning voters who are more attracted to a policy of remaining in the EU than they are attracted to Corbyn’s insistence of leaving. It could also galvanise voters in Conservative seats that are disillusioned with the Conservative government, and maybe the Conservative message as well.
I am wary of making any predictions about the political future of Britain, considering my previous articles have been proven to be laughably off the mark. I do feel safe in saying that May has a tough fight ahead of her to stay in power, and Corbyn has plenty of ammunition to use for a new campaign. I also feel that the minor parties have an opportunity here to make a difference in the political landscape, perhaps more than usual at this critical time for the country.
Either way, I expect to be surprised.