Attempts to place the Conservative performance last night as a ‘victory’ are understandable, but thin. Yes, the Conservatives won the most seats, an increased vote share and made regional gains in Scotland. However, the reality is that May painted this election as a mandate test – she wanted a big majority to take to Brussels, to show that the British population agreed with her ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ spiel.
In truth, yesterday night has led to a Conservative government, and in that regard little has changed. It has already been established that Theresa May will hang on, with a fundamentally identical cabinet, and will presumably begin Brexit negotiations in 10 days time as the leader of the United Kingdom. Whilst the election was certainly not a victory, one may be forgiven for thinking that it was not so much a loss. Yes, they lost their majority, but they still rule – and Labour are still a considerable distance from handling their own majority without the harmful connotations of the ‘progressive alliance’.
But it is notable that the election results propose mile-high hurdles for the Conservatives which, frankly, are nigh-impossible. Firstly, consider the election. Painting Corbyn as a terrorist-sympathiser worked for many, though commentators questioned its ability to sink in further; it is likely that those who would be swayed were already so. Yet, in a twist of fate, the Conservatives will rule based on…the appeasement of a terrorist-sympathising party, who are currently being plastered on social media as anti-LGBT (true), anti-women’s rights (true) and, indeed, with a contingent of militants who have been associated with, or partaken in, terrorist activities (true). The truth is that the toxic brand of the DUP will do little to prevent the collapse of the Tories to the ‘nasty party’, something more possible when one considers the reputations damage to Theresa May, once the benevolent Iron Lady and now simply a cardboard Tory, afraid of public debate and keen on robotic repetition.
Of course the DUP will need something in return. However, based on initial forecasts, the youth vote turnout has increased considerably. Anecdotal rises in University towns ended up securing surprising seats (including the unfortunate loss of Nick Clegg to Parliament), and it is perhaps not too soon to point out that if true, the structure of politics must change. The grey vote wins the policy war on turnout; or, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Youth turnout threatens to introduce another considerable contingent, capable of swinging unprecedented seats such as Canterbury, which need appeasement and consideration. Jeremy Corbyn’s tuition fee policy may have been laughed off by many but it clearly fed into something which younger people desire. Not necessarily a wholesale change in the political aims of the country, but a wholesale change in the what comprises the political sphere.
One cannot, therefore, forget that the British electorate voted last night that they did not want either of Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Whilst both leaders performed remarkably, for completely different reasons, there remains a considerable Conservative lead, and perhaps concern that the Tories have managed to burrow into the Scottish political level. No doubt the impressive performance of Ruth Davidson has a large role to play in this. One cannot help but think that Labour must find similar ground in Scotland, and rediscover their heartlands which allowed a Labour majority to appear feasible.
It is tempting to hedge in times like this. I predicted an 80-seat majority for May, and even when the exit poll appeared, I daren’t hope for better than a 40-seat majority. But I will happily place on record that there is the potential for this to backfire greatly in the Tory’s faces. As a strong Remainer, I struggled to believe that Brexit was truly railing against an organisation, and political agreement, which offered me so much. As Donald Trump was elected, I fought with my own liberal worldview, concerned that so many would fight it. But what has become increasingly clear is that this is not a fight against the EU, or Clinton, but the establishment. Take Wales, the EU’s welfare child, which voted Leave. Yet, this same area, expected on this basis to support May and her Brexit strength swung straight back to Labour. What is therefore clear is that the Welsh did not vote for Brexit, but against the establishment. The same can be said of the USA; as Luce points out in his ‘Retreat of Western Liberalism‘, Obama was a repository of hope. Many of the same voters then swung to Trump, and they did not suddenly become racist, nor bigoted. They swung to a mouthpiece of hate, of the establishment and of political hegemony.
I believe that this is what threatens the Conservatives the most. The view of May is now simply another Tory, and the attempts to cling onto power through the increasingly-scrutinised DUP is yet another signifier of a party embodying the elite and representing the establishment. Once ordinary people feel the Brexit squeeze, and the economy turns, the perception of economic mismanagement by Labour will fail and the Tories will lose by a landslide. The question is therefore what is best for Labour. Right now, I am uncertain. Corbyn performed admirably, mobilising the youth vote and managing to recruit anti-austerity UKIP voters who consider Brexit finalised. As the Tories continue to represent the establishment, an anti-Establishment candidate should continue to harness this disquiet with the political system and the direction of the government. However, the concern is that when the Tories are not merely the establishment, but have overseen the dismantling of the UK economy, voters will look for a steady hand; a charismatic, Blair/Macron-esque youth who will implement policies, representing the establishment on a level acceptable to voters who do not abhor the establishment, but have moved on to disliking the Tories outright.
This is not to say that Corbyn must go, or that I am asking the left-wing of Labour to step down. They have earned another crack at the ballot box, and I am amongst many who harbours their beliefs, and thought that the implementation was risky and would backfire. But the question is still to come of how Labour will win, and tough conversations will need to be had. And somebody will need to come out and show how best they can keep the youth, provide progressive and anti-austerity policies, whilst representing the opposite of Tories and not merely the other side of the establishment coin, even on a mere surface level.