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The Divided Kingdom: Post-Electoral Landscape

Analytics | Murad Muradov | 12-07-2017, 09:10

A month has already passed since the snap Parliamentary elections in the UK, and though the political direction Britain is likely to take remains one big question, the results, as well as the situation that has formed since, throw light on the most pressing issues haunting sociopolitical life. 

The Divided Kingdom: Post-Electoral LandscapeFirst of all, the unexpected outcome of the election that has brought about a hung Parliament, with the Conservatives having failed to obtain a majority that they had deemed to get so easily, as well as the whole dismal electoral campaign demonstrated that the Cabinet had slightly fallen out of touch with the sense of reality and popular feelings. First of all, the very decision to call for an election now seems to have been taken on utterly wrong premises, namely that low figures of support for the Labour Party observed in April and Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation as “unelectable” meant the campaign would turn into one big catwalk. First of all, it is reported that Prime Minister Theresa May takes important decisions with little, if any, consultation with her cabinet and the party at large. Most senior politicians did not support PM in her desire to get “a stronger mandate for governance”; it is claimed that the mastermind behind the previous successful Tory campaigns, Australian strategist Linton Crosby, played very little role in the latest one, being effectively pushed away. Unhealthy relationships within the cabinet are often emphasized, especially between May’s former aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill and some ministers whom they even reportedly offended on some occasions (it’s no surprise that both have resigned immediately after the elections). The atmosphere inside Downing Street, 10 is described as tense and mistrustful, Theresa May often being accused of barely disguised arrogance. 

Moreover, the government had thoroughly underestimated the challenges of the electoral campaign. Low support figures assigned to Mr. Corbyn made them oblivious of the fact that the latter is a natural-born campaigner and has always been doing well at public speaking and convincing, in contrast to the secretive and remote Ms. May. Her personal record during this campaign turned out to be dismal, as she refused to admit her obvious U-turn on “dementia tax”, trying in vain to represent it as a wise policy move rather than a sign of failure. Her audacious but ill-thought attempts to campaign in Labour strongholds were based on her belief that she could finally humiliate the Labour and wipe it out for the next government life-cycle; instead, the existence of dozens of “swing counties” that could, and eventually would, ultimately slip from the Tory control, completely missed her attention. She looked especially awkward with her mantra of delivering a “stable and strong” government which turned out to be so different from reality that she was dubbed by the media as “weak and wobbly”. 

The popular vote revealed the scale of public discontent with the myopic policies of the ruling party which now seems to be immersed in its own endless internal disputes instead of elaborating a coherent strategy for the Kingdom which has been at geopolitical and economic crossroads since the Brexit vote. The bogus of a “nasty party” that has haunted the Tories for a long time (in 1993 John Major scandalously called three members of his cabinet “bastards” for their endless intrigues ) and that seemed to be almost done away with by David Cameron, took its revenge with Brexit and now continues to weaken the Conservatives. Eurosceptics, playing on the patriotic strings of the Brits, have achieved little more than putting the country into the state of uncertainty and polarizing the population. Many people on the both sides now regard the divide over Brexit as cultural which is atypical for British politics, known for moderation and compromise-seeking. 

The Divided Kingdom: Post-Electoral LandscapeTheresa May’s government which came to power with the promise of building a fairer society and secure a convenient Brexit deal, has this far failed to do both- the only viable social measure implemented is energy price caps, while there is no clear Brexit plan a year after the referendum. It seems that in an almost supernatural manner everything that has recently happened served only to entrench this toxic image: be it the electoral map that enabled the Tories to get the majority of votes by an alliance with the North Irish Democratic Unionist Party, known for its ultra-conservative and loyalist views and despised not only by left liberals but by a progressive wing of Conservatives too, or the horrible fire in Grenfell Tower that revealed shocking avarice of the municipalities as well as Ms. May’s political weakness. The Prime Minister refused to talk directly to the residents and was booed by the crowd that branded her as a “coward” and “liar” . And the biggest sign of the crisis within the political elite is the fact that she ultimately came to head the new government, something hardly imaginable for a British politician after such a humiliation, and especially for the Conservative Party which is famous for “stabbing in the back”- they did it even to the Iron Lady in 1990. 

Overall, the discontent with ruling elites is not confined to the Tories only. Contrary to most expectations, the Scottish National Party that sought for capitalizing on Brexit and demanded a second independence referendum to be conducted in 2019, incurred huge losses, its Westminster representation shrinking from 56 to 35 out of 59, and it cannot boost with its overwhelming majority any more. The SNP tried hard to establish an image of an all-national single-issue party and combine its campaign for Scottish independence with leftist social policies. However, at some point having too broad a program started to hurt them, and the persistent demands for a new referendum, too: despite the Scots’ unwillingness to leave the EU, separation from the UK will be at least as big a challenge, since England would remain a far more important economic partner than any European country. Voting for Labour thus does not mean yet that Mr. Corbyn has a strong and cohesive policy plan (indeed, many of his proposals are of dubious applicability). Rather, it indicates to the lack of such a plan in the current government, and on this background many prefer the Labour leader since he at least looks and sounds more genuine, is not connected to privileged elites and has an obvious capacity of reaching out to common people. 

Nothing symbolizes the leadership problem in Britain better than awkward attempts to muddle through Brexit. Officially, the UK is set to leave the EU on 29 March, 2019, but no comprehensive action plan has been elaborated this far. It seems like the British government has not yet fully embraced the difficulty of the challenges it is going to face, as the Prime Minister continues to emphasize her willingness to get a “frictionless” trade agreement with the EU, despite of the constant warnings coming from Brussels that it would be impossible for London to get “the best of the both worlds” and leave the European migration zone while remaining within the free trade one. The N10 probably believes that the EU would try to accommodate London in order not to suffer ensuing losses; however, the political losses for Brussels in case it allows Britain to get a deal on the latter’s terms would be much greater. The great majority of the political elite is at least critical towards the opening prospects, and the option of “hard Brexit”, i.e. leaving the EU without an agreement, has been virtually abandoned in the aftermath of the election. It is now projected that financial sector that has long been one of the locomotives of the British economy, may shrink by up to 25% if London leaves the UK. At the same time, the Brexiteers’ hopes to get free trade agreements with the countries of the Commonwealth, Turkey or Brazil are rather dubious, bearing in mind their diverging interests and growing global trends towards protectionism. Many sources confirm that even the ardent Leave supporters feel rather lost and uncertain about the implementation of Brexit. It is reported that European diplomats in London are not even sure whether Brexit would take place at all, though a U-turn possibility would be very hard to believe. Indeed, calling for a referendum without any specifications as to how its results would be implemented, brought the UK into a trap where any attempt to even slightly re-consider the outcome of the vote might be interpreted as an assault on democracy and popular will. 

As Sunday Times put it (June 11, 2017 edition), “Britain has shot into its leg, taking a decision by a majority that would not be enough for a respectable golf club to change its constitution”. Indeed, it is now widely understood in Britain that serious institutional failures have been recently revealed that make considerable changes necessary. A significant part of the electorate now believe that the Tories’ pugilistic European policies serve to disguise their selfishness and narrow interests of the privileged groups in domestic affairs, hence increased voting for the newly-radicalized Labour is observed. The major conclusion to be made, however, is that Britain is still to leave the turbulence zone it found itself a year ago, since no major political force is currently capable of developing a consistent and optimal policy line. In this situation, economic growth is likely to remain depressed, another premature election or party leadership change are highly probable and some dramatic policy reversals might be expected, too. 


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Murad Muradov

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