Sanity Injection

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Posts Tagged ‘Nicola Sturgeon’

UK Election Analysis: Expectations vs. Reality

Posted by sanityinjection on June 9, 2017

Yesterday’s UK parliamentary elections are being spun in the media as a disastrous result for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, despite the face that the Tories remain by far the largest party in Parliament, losing 13 seats from their pre-election tally of 331. To understand what is really going on here, let’s look at the the difference between expectations and reality.

Elections are increasingly viewed not so much by the significance of the actual result, but by the difference between the result and what was expected going into the election. These expectations are themselves the product of media reporting and polling, which vary wildly in the accuracy of their predictions. In the case of this recent election, the Conservatives were originally expected to increase their majority, given the perceived unpopularity of Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Against this expectation, losing any number of seats seems like a failure for May and the Tories. They no longer have an absolute majority in the Commons, although May should be able to count on the support of the small DUP party of Northern Ireland to create a very slim majority. (It is also important to note that Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein party refuses to actually take up their seats in Parliament, which reduces the practical number of votes on the opposition side.)

In reality, then, May will be operating in an environment similar to what has often prevailed in the US – a very narrow parliamentary majority in which a few defectors can derail the government’s initiatives. This forces the government to obtain at least some support among opposition MPs in order to get things done. It’s harder to pass legislation, but what does get passed usually ends up being better for having broader support. So the “disaster” for the Conservatives is really just business as usual in the US and many other countries.

Now, it’s certainly true that the result is a setback for May, particularly because the results suggest not so much a repudiation by the voters of Conservative values, but of May and her leadership team. A number of her ministers were among those who lost their seats, even while the Tories increased their percentage of the vote among working-class Britons. May is widely perceived to have run a poor campaign, alienating both older and younger voters with poorly explained social policy proposals. Meanwhile, Corbyn comes out as a winner despite his party still being in the minority. Not only did his leadership improve rather than worsen Labour’s numbers, he was particularly effective in motivating Labour turnout among students and young people. The results should bolster his position as Labour’s leader which had previously been on very shaky ground.

One bright spot for the Tories is in Scotland, where the party has been effectively reborn with its best showing since 1983. The Tories, as well as Labour and the Liberal Democrats, gained at the expense of the previous dominant Scottish National Party. The SNP’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, had been calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence, and will now probably have to shelve those plans for the time being.

A number of writers seem determined to try to interpret the results as being a referendum on Brexit. In fact, most voters seem to have been more concerned with domestic economic and social issues, understanding that whether “hard” or “soft”, some form of Brexit is now inevitable regardless of who resides at No. 10. It is also interesting that the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London do not seem to have greatly affected the results one way or another. My personal sense is that the typical gain that the “law and order” Conservatives would normally get among some voters was offset by the alternate view that the Tory government, being already in power, is responsible for not doing enough to prevent the attacks.

Speculation about Theresa May being unseated as Tory Leader and Prime Minister is probably extremely premature. This is not because May is beloved or will easily be forgiven by the party for the perceived election failure. Rather, there simply is no obvious choice to replace her, nor is there a significant ideological divide within the party from which a challenger could draw strength. Instead, May will have to make her leadership style more inclusive and put more effort into keeping her MPs happy.

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