Once again, the polls were off, by a lot. Most polls had the Tories running away with the election. Pollsters using turnout models had the Tories with an even bigger margin. In the end the Tories did win the biggest chunk of the popular vote since 1987 but so did Labour. Due to the power of third parties and the way the vote was distributed, despite winning 42.5 percent of the popular vote the Conservatives fell nine seats shy (317) out an outright majority, losing 13 seats. Labour, winning 40 percent, won 262 seats, a gain to date of 32 seats.
How did this happen? I won’t rehash the entire campaign as I analyzed it recently but it does appear two things happened that doomed the Tories from developing a super-majority. First, the Tories gamble that UKIP voters would move into their column was ill-founded. These are fiscally liberal but culturally conservative voters likely repelled by the Tories efforts to cut funding for elderly care and low income lunches in schools. Secondly, a surge in the youth vote in urban London and the Yorks and Northwest region washed out a dozens of Tory lawmakers.
Obviously, Teresa May’s gamble to call a snap election on the eve of Brexit negotiations has failed. Her majority is shot and her only hope to form a coalition is with the firebrand Northern Ireland Unionist Party DUP (yikes). But, despite their failures, the Tories did score some successes in surprising places.
The Tories scored a number of successes in Scotland of all places. Scottish National Party Leader Nicola Sturgon’s call for a second vote to leave the UK apparently rubbed rural voters the wrong way. Longtime SNP party heads Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson lost their seats and the SNP was whittled down from 56 to 35 seats. These losses benefited the Tories, Labour and even the LDP.
An excellent and brief analysis of where the Tories failed can be found here. But, the losses can be summarized as a gamble by May that did not pay off. Strategic voting by the Greens and LDP in marginal constituencies and increased turnout in college towns doomed hopes of a Tory super-majority.
So, where does this leave the largest party, ie. government heading into the Brexit talks? Well, going upriver without a paddle. It should be mentioned the Tories are likely to be propped up into a majority by the DUP. But, the idea of calling a snap election was to give May more leverage in her talks with France, Germany and other members of the EU. She now has even less.
Despite being a member of the “Remain” camp back in 2016, May has come out forcefully in support of a “Hard Brexit.” Basically, this means the contours of exiting the European Union would mean leaving its custom’s union and the single currency (Euro). She might still be able to pull this off at the negotiating table. But, she also has to get any agreement through Parliament and that is why she wanted a larger majority. The Conservative Party is still split between Remain and Brexit factions.
Now, May finds herself with no margin for error and over the coming weeks she will have to decide whether she wants a “Hard Brexit” or something that Labour and the SNP can support. Most likely, Labour and the SNP want to stay in the custom’s union but may be flexible on the single currency.
Despite the major electoral setback, May does have one thing going for her. With the DUP backing her she does at least have a majority behind her. It’s just not a majority made up solely of her party.
Going forward, May will not only have to worry about Brexit but she will also have to worry about a lack of confidence in her abilities within the party. It is expected a resurgent opposition would call for the Prime Minister to step down after an electoral drubbing. But members of her own party, current and former, have begun sniping at her not just behind the scenes but in the public. Such blatant opposition shows just how tenuous her position now is.
Indeed, reports indicate the resignation of her two top aides her advised her to dissolve the government and call for an election was forced upon her by many of the remaining Cabinet Ministers. She may have conceded but she is probably deeply hurt by the move.
The UK’s position on Brexit is even less sure than it was soon after David Cameron’s exit. Jeremy Corbyn, the firebrand he is, now has leverage to force May to concede on certain issues during the talks. Her own party is divided. And UK voters just delivered a vote making things even less certain than before.