Angus Shaw ponders how Prime Minister Theresa May will continue after the last General Election.
What happens now?
We may have witnessed one of the biggest regrets of the Conservative party since Neville Chamberlain declared ‘peace in our time’ with Germany on the runup to World War 2. Prime Minister Theresa May and her party went into this fight with arms swinging, supported by a 20 to 24 percent favorability rating over Labour back in April’s polls, only for it to crash down to 3% on the last few days of campaigning, and finally ending in a starved minority government on the 9th. The Conservatives got too cocky, and Corbyn’s initial unpopularity may have actually helped bring out this kind of arrogance in them. From proposing aristocratic-like policies such as the re-instating of fox hunting to sneaking away from face-to-face debates, the Tories felt they could bombast any policy or action that would usually be too risky in most elections, since they were fighting a socialist. A hard fought socialist at that, suffering revolt by his own party, accused of terrorist sympathising, against the nuclear capabilities of the UK, it ticked all the boxes to alienate and infuriate most of the population in the Conservative’s eyes and lead to an easy win. However, if the result proved one thing, it is that the Conservative Government hugely misread both its own people and Jeremy Corbyn.
The resulting hung parliament of this election means that most, and quite possibly all proposals by the new minority government, can be easily out voted and rejected by the significant left-wing dominance now found in the House of Commons. Even if May got every single Conservative MP to vote to pass the Government’s bills, which is incredibly unlikely, her control of parliament would command a mere 48%, requiring complete cohesion with at least 8 other MPs outside of her party. With the current speaker, John Bercow, also being a Conservative who cannot take part in debates nor vote, the magic number would technically be 9. More realistically, a significant proportion of Conservatives will rebel outright. This is because Brexit is still a huge dividing factor for the party, with some members having campaigned for leaving the EU and others for staying in 2016. Although May changed her mind in eventually becoming set on a hard Brexit, many other Tory MPs have not and will not vote with her on such issues in Parliament. On top of that, the recent upset in the party of losing their tight but secure majority as won by David Cameron has caused resentment and rebellion against May for failing to keep the Conservatives dominant, papers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph report, losing yet more of her own party’s votes in the Commons. Such a recipe will therefore require the PM to seek far more than just 8 MPs from other parties not only to make up for lost seats, but also to offset the inevitable coup of her own backbenchers in order to pass the bills she wants. This will be made difficult by the huge gains made in the Labour party, who will no doubt have more loyal MPs than in recent years to vote for what Corbyn wishes due to his relative success for Labour in the election.
“The recent upset in the party of losing their tight but secure majority as won by David Cameron has caused resentment and rebellion against May.”
So what does this mean for the weakened Prime Minister? There are very few options left on the table here, and even her opponents must feel pity for her. There is now an incalculable amount of pressure with Brexit negotiations formally underway, and with no certain strategy on how she will muster up the votes to pass what she wants to do in exiting the EU, it is looking pretty dire. The strategy May has opted for, for now, is called ‘confidence and supply’. Think of it like a softer, more covert, watered down version of a coalition government. In this move, the government says to a similar leaning party in parliament that they will effectively pass bills and create policies which benefit that smaller party’s agenda. I.e., ‘supply’. In return, the government asks to receive confidence from them, meaning that benefitting party must promise to vote in favour of the government’s proposals to give them more secure and trustworthy votes in the House. The downside is this is in fact a potentially haphazard and uncertain way of securing votes, with the requested party having the potential to hold the government to ransom and refuse to help in giving them votes unless they get exactly what they want, whenever they like. This is unlike a coalition, in which the two parties simply must try to compromise and work together in order to create an effective government which they are both tied into and responsible for. However, a coalition comes with the downside of shared power potentially rupturing agreeing upon and proposing a bill, yet alone getting it passed through parliament.
Recently, May has signed a deal involving this confidence and supply strategy with the Democratic Unionist Party of North Ireland (DUP), whose mere 10 seats will be enough to push the Conservatives just over the hurdle to 328 seats, creating an incredibly wafer thin majority of 2. This has been slated as a controversial and desperate move by critics, with the DUP holding staunch religious and anti-liberal views such as anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, against the majority of stances represented in Parliament and indeed the country. May’s deal has also seen a £1bn injection into Northern Ireland as a trade for such votes, bringing many to question how money can be produced so easily when the Tories famously campaigned that there was no ‘magic money tree’ to solve issues only months ago. Perhaps the biggest tension of all in this agreement comes with the potential to disturb the peace in Northern Ireland, with ex-Tory Prime Minister Sir John Major warning that such close association with a pro-unionist party could alienate pro-republican supporters of Northern Ireland, pushing for some kind of action from them. However as mentioned earlier, if May cannot whip at least exactly 99.37107% of her party into voting for her bills, as well as encourage all 10 DUP MPs to do the same, her proposed social and economic policies and ‘hard Brexit’ intentions laid out in the campaign will be futile. This is because most votes outside of these two parties will likely be from left wing ones, and therefore less likely to agree with a Tory government. With May’s margin of error being 2, more technically just 1, such odds stacked against the Conservatives means they will have to massively reassess their 2017 manifesto. Likely, this will involve proposing more left wing orientated bills in order to please the dominant opposition and gain some of their votes, including a softer Brexit.
The next strategy is one that I am sure every single person in the country will hate to hear, and that would be calling another general election. I am sure such a move would destroy a country’s soul after enduring the 2015 election, Brexit referendum and now 2017 election, as well as the hot buttoned media coverage of the 2016 US elections and a sprinkle of French elections. Our world’s attention span is simply suffocated with democratic process, however such a possibility is being reported by many media outlets, with the Independent predicting it for 2019 to 2020, and betting agency Ladbrokes placing a 42% chance of it even happening this year as reported by CNN Money. The final option which can be seen, as is already being called for by members of the media and Parliament, is resignation. What is my take on it? It is clear Theresa May will resign as early as the end of this year, if not, then promptly after formal Brexit negotiations have concluded. She simply cannot push for any change in Parliament with her facing an already minority government possibly rebelling at her losses, and Corbyn smiling at his loyal gains. Tragically for May’s mandate, the votes have disappeared for the her in the Commons.
After the new Conservative leader comes to power? One of two things will happen. If the incumbent Prime Minister is popular enough within their own party, and can feasibly command at least a significant majority of its MPs votes on bills because of it, they will stay as a minority government and continue to push for a supply and confidence strategy with the DUP to make up for just a few seat losses. This would be the safest, if not most controversial, option for the Conservative party. However, if either the party continues to rebel, or if the supply and demand does not work out, there will be another general election sooner than the standard 5 year term. The most risky option for them, however if a government cannot do anything by being consistently outvoted in their position, with the alternative being to just do what the opposition wants, they will try forming again and again in different ways until one party succeeds that will ultimately carry through its mandate, perhaps at some cost. All of this can be avoided if May somehow unites her party together, to a point where she would only need to slightly alter her manifesto in order to gain left wing voters. However the divisive Brexit issue, election disappointment and now controversial DUP deal will certainly make it difficult to do so. Perhaps resignation would indeed be the best remedy, in which the party can vote for their new leader and feel more united behind whoever may come as a result of their collective inputs.
“If the supply and demand does not work out, there will be another general election sooner than the standard 5 year term”
Now the most shocking prediction I have to make; who would be the new Conservative leader, and therefore new Prime Minister, if May were to resign? In complete honesty, it will be someone like Boris Johnson. Think about it; shock candidates, outsiders, anti-establishment, controversial, memeable, these are the purest qualities which now make up the perfect candidate for elections. Safe, secure, ‘strong and stable’ establishment candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Theresa May simply do not resonate, coming off branded as robots and, ultimately, unpopular. Corbyn and Trump were perhaps the biggest victors of their parties for an entire decade, namely due to how disruptive and refreshing they were against the same-old style of politics to many people who had never voted before in their lives. It requires no explanation that Boris Johnson, ex-mayor of London and current foreign secretary, is a comical figure who enjoys much exposure to controversy and ‘celebrity’, often spearheading ideas such as Brexit which appeared unthinkable at the time to the ‘establishment’, but proved marginally popular with the people. He is, quite simply, the UK’s jovial Trump. Just as Corbyn pulled to the revolutionary side of the far left to a similar success of America’s Bernie Sanders, I can see someone like Johnson or David Davis pulling to the revolutionary side of the far right in a similar similar success to President Donald Trump, perhaps with a reactionary nationalist slogan like ‘Take Britain Back’ and proposals for less regulation and tougher immigration. For good or for worse, a revolution candidate either through Boris Johnson or others in the Conservative party is their only effective response to Corbyn’s rise, to energise that massively disenfranchised and lost UKIP and pro-Brexit demographic we saw in 2015. No matter how controversially inappropriate it may appear, it is important to remember controversy is king in an age dominated by media. Name it the ‘Trump effect’, or the ‘Corbyn effect’, or the ‘WTF’ effect, shock will spell the future for politics for many years to come.