Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics, looks at the lessons learnt from last night’s election results.
After an astonishing electoral night, Theresa May’s misguided plan for a snap election to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations and crush the opposition has backfired spectacularly. On a night of shocks reaching to even rock solid Tory Canterbury, we can draw three immediate lessons from the election:
- You take the electorate for granted at your peril. May believed the opinion polls in April and thought this would be an easy, boring ride to a 100 seat majority. We are getting used to electoral volatility so votes can never just be assumed. She also thought the arch campaigner Corbyn would collapse under pressure.
- Hope triumphs over fear. The old adage about campaigns not having an impact on the result can be thrown out. Labour’s campaign was positive and forward looking. The manifesto offered an alternative to austerity and galvanised long suffering public sector workers and the young. The Tory campaign was negative, chaotic and backwards looking. May managed to upset parents, young people and pensioners.
- Leaders and leadership matters. If you make an election a referendum on your own leadership, make sure you are up to it. May was badly found out and as I wrote here leaked leadership capital. As when Edward Heath asked Britain ‘Who Governs?’ in 1974, she found out that the electorate said ‘not you’.
Now we prepare for the fallout. Short of a majority, Theresa May is significantly damaged, her gamble has backfired. She is dependent on 10 Democratic Unionist MPs to govern – probably via some ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement – but she undoubtedly has a diminished not enhanced mandate for the upcoming Brexit negotiations. In the short term she will hang on as leader of the largest party yet for how long?