UK Election Results

UK Election Results
  • Good afternoon Rosa –

    The question ‘How did we get here?’ seems straightforward. Only relatively small minorities of the UK population have ever felt strongly pro- or anti-European. Most members of the public have rarely framed their overall political views with reference to Britain’s EU membership, owing to the sheer complexity of the boundaries between national, European, and indeed international law and politics.

    That complexity has made EU membership a scapegoat for all and sundry evils. In order to placate Brexiteers on both the right and the left, David Cameron pushed through the referendum, overly confident in a ‘Remain’ victory. Only after the narrow Brexit victory did elected politicians, Whitehall civil servants, the media, and the public start to take its significance seriously, leaving Theresa May doubtful about parliamentary support for any final deal she might strike. Believing she had generated confidence, she calculated that public support would be easier to consolidate before the negotiations were underway.

    But Cameron’s gamble had failed, and so did May’s. No one really knew what Brexit meant, and no one really knows what Brexit negotiations mean.
  • Hi Eric,

    Do you think that Europe and Brexit featured in many voters’ minds when casting their ballots in this snap election? The SNP managed to lose seats in Scotland, despite being strong Remainers. And the Liberal Democrats picked up very few new seats despite campaigning on a platform of not leaving the EU. If anything, I felt that very little was said about Europe during this campaign – as though the country has resigned itself to Brexit meaning Brexit, and riding out whatever Brexit may bring.

    I agree with you as to why May called the election – arrogance, and the need to cement her position. But she misjudged the mood in this country, not around Europe but around social welfare and well-being. I am watching the news about the causes and consequences of last night’s horrors in West London. The large tower block in Kensington, where Labour replaced Conservative on Friday, housed hundreds of working class Londoners in an area where the disparity between rich and poor is stark. What has become clear over the course of today, as the shell of that tower block burns in the background, is that class remains a major factor in the divisions within this country, and that there are deep social divisions that need to be addressed. Perhaps a hung Parliament is the way to do so…
  • Hello Rosa –

    To be frank, I don’t think Europe and Brexit featured in many voters’ minds even during the Brexit referendum, let alone during this past election round. When I say that, people think I’m condescendingly assuming ignorance on the part of the Leavers. But that’s not quite accurate. I’m assuming ignorance on the part of the entire population, on both sides, including most government officials.

    At the time of the referendum, I seriously doubt that more than a few hundred people in Britain could have spoken at any level of detail on the relevant issues. Referendums should be held, if at all, on isolated, symbolic issues, like changing the flag or the national anthem. No one would dream of holding a referendum even on something as straightforward as raising interest rates, and yet Brexit is exponentially more complicated. What instead happened was that Brexit was turned into a seemingly isolated, symbolic issue – and in turn, like most such referendums, simply degenerated into a plebiscite on Cameron’s government, spurred on by austerity and immigration.

    Or rather, Brexit became a football match. Winning even by a small margin meant that it became bad form for Remainers to act like “sore losers”. It’s no surprise, then, that we ended up with the present election result, forcing people to vote in the shadow of Brexit, having to guess about whatever would leave them, or the country, better off. It’s astounding how much mileage Theresa May got out of her absurd declaration, repeated over months with so little resistance, that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, in other words that Britain might somehow be forced to choose between very bad and exceptionally bad – as if disappointing negotiations would leave us with no other option.
  • Good evening Eric,

    The sun is still blazing here, and by all accounts the fire is still raging in West London. As the death toll rises and as Londoners start delivering everything from toiletries to new kitchen equipment, we are starting to hear the same anger from people as we heard during the Brexit debates. And most of that anger focuses on the attempts to force working class people out of their homes and neighbourhoods; on food banks; on cuts to essential services; and so on. I agree that those debates largely were not about issues of the single market or free movement, but rather about the single issue of the rising inequality within our society.

    How did we get from Beveridge and Bevan to the current state of play? Our society seems to be becoming more divided, more unequal, more unjust and unfair. And that was reflected in many pockets of the country and how they voted for Brexit. We know that some of the places that most depend on EU funding voted in large numbers to leave the EU – and I agree with you that many of them were voting for reasons that have nothing to do with the topic of the referendum.

    So what do you make of the shake-up of the political landscape since that time? Some traditional Labour heartlands have moved towards the Conservatives, perhaps because of Brexit. Others that are traditional Tories have moved to Labour, again perhaps because of Brexit. Or maybe Brexit has not featured at all. Perhaps the UK is more European than it would like to believe – the lurch to the left and to the right that is dividing many parts of Europe seems to be playing out here, albeit in a much more ‘British’ manner.

    Interested to hear your thoughts on this…
  • There are certainly divisions, inequalities, injustice and unfairness in Britain, as there always have been in larger and more complex societies. Whether the UK is becoming “more divided, more unequal, more unjust and unfair” is a complex question. Up until just a few decades ago, British public life was pervaded with unproblematised hierarchy. Flagrant assertion of class superiority, along with casual and offhand racism, sexism, or homophobia were entirely routine.

    You are right that wage gaps have widened, but what that signifies about prosperity across the board is less evident. It’s by no means clear that those at the bottom are worse off today than they were in the time of Beveridge or Bevan – whom I suspect you cite more for their aspirational visions than for their completed projects, most of which are largely in a better state today than a generation or two ago. Don’t forget that we demand exponentially more from the state today than anyone did a century ago. At the bottom, life expectancy, literacy, and basic health services have surely risen, even if they leave plenty to be desired. I would certainly dispute a facile line drawn from “worse off” to “better off”, but I would just as strongly question a straight line too readily drawn in the opposite direction. The displacement from a large under-class to a larger middle class has in part been made possible through expanded markets and greater purchasing power due to globalisation, but that same globalisation exerts pressures that even a country of Britain’s stature cannot so simply master.

    Going forward, what will not work, if the government is to actively combat divisions, inequalities, injustice and unfairness – and incidentally I’d also toss environmental protection onto the list – is to shrink our economy, which Brexit most surely will do.
  • I take your point about progress in society, but let's not shrink away from the fact that over recent years the cuts to the welfare state have resulted in the UK having pockets of extreme poverty that are steadily growing worse. Failures to invest in social housing, education, the NHS, and so on have led to a two-tier society with a glass floor/ceiling between the two. And that in turn has led to voters turning to Brexit as a protest vote and to Corbyn as a pseudo-saviour.

    Speaking of Corbyn, what are your views on his rise to nearly-power? On him as a politician? And on the way he has been portrayed across all political spectrums? (just small questions...!)
  • I can understand voters attracted to Corbyn bluntly naming those problems, but his pledges to deal with them don’t add up. I’d agree that a bit more revenue might be earned through his proposed rise in corporation tax, and possibly by raising taxes on the highest earners, but it’s hard to see how those takings could finance the massive injections he has promised. Either he would have to break many of the promises he has made, or he would have to raise taxes on the middle classes – precisely in the way Labour criticised May for doing with the “dementia tax” – or he would have to increase public borrowing substantially.

    I’d agree that portions of the press have not weighed Corbyn and the Tories with equal measures, though it took Corbyn far too long to engage with the media, creating a vacuum for his foes to fill. In the meantime, however, Theresa May has also turned out to be camera shy, and in the final weeks of the campaign the media certainly didn’t overlook her shortcomings, from the dementia tax to sitting out the TV debate. As we saw today in response to the Grenfell tragedy, Corbyn has recently learned to turn May’s media aversion to his advantage. May was right to charge Corbyn with imagining a magic money tree – the problem is that the Tories have been shaking the same tree, promising a successful Brexit that they have shown no prospect of delivering.
  • Now you'll know more about this than me (and certainly more than Diane Abbott) but surely Corbyn’s plans for the economy make more sense than the Tory austerity policies that seem to have resulted in more rather than less national debt? I know very little about money – other than how to spend it – but measures to stimulate job growth seem more sensible than the alternative that clearly is not working.

    I do notice, Prof, that you have avoided the question of what you think about Corbyn... And let's be honest, what people think about Corbyn has been central to this Parliament being well and truly hung.

    (Don't worry, the next sets of questions will be about the DUP and the resignation of the Lib Dem leader – in some ways even more fun than talking about Jeremy C)
  • I’m not entirely sure how you mean that austerity created greater debt -- unless you mean lower revenues through less economic stimulation than expected? Yet the UK revival since the banking crisis had been, at least until recently, generally good.

    Be that as it may, the standoff between, on the one hand, lowering debt through austerity and discipline, and, on the other hand, borrowing-and-spending our way out of recession in the hope of raising revenue through an economic stimulus, is an old one. Its success seems to depend on other factors, including international ones over which Britain has little control.

    In my view, this all just brings us back to the reason we’ve ended up with an election in the first place: Brexit. Both of those two models, and variations thereof, have their downsides, which can only be aggravated through the economic hits caused by diminishing the UK-EU trade relationship. As to my views on both May and Corbyn, neither of them have sent the right messages on easing that situation, aside from their featherweight slogans backed by pseudo-economics.
  • Yes, there has been little credible choice in this election – the two main parties sought to appeal to the extreme ends of their natural supporters, and the Lib Dems ran a poor campaign headed by a leader who was unable to shift the spotlight away from his personal, religious beliefs.

    But your comments throughout indicate that you think this election was called solely because of Brexit negotiations. I see it somewhat differently: I think the Tories called the election because they thought Labour was in disarray and that very few people would back Corbyn. They seemed to be hoping for a landslide not just for Brexit but also to enable them to push through any policies they wanted for the next five years. Clearly that backfired, but I dont think it was because of Brexit given that Labour have been so weak and divided on that topic.

    Did you see Macron’s offer for us to stay?
  • I suppose I’d hesitate to look for any single or dominant reason for holding the election. The substantive reasons (Brexit, austerity, security) and the strategic reasons (public image, increasing seats in Parliament) seem to play off each other. I do indeed feel encouraged by Macron’s reminder that Britain can still remain in the EU. Wolfgang Schäuble’s recent message was the same, surely with a nod from Merkel. They were both right to send it.
  • A week ago I would have dismissed the advances from France and Germany. But given that the Grenfell Tower fire in West London looks likely to topple May (we can but pray) perhaps we are heading for another election. The Fixed Term Parliament Act says that if a government has not been confirmed within 14 days then another election must be held.

    What do you think will happen?

    Can May survive the election result and the horrors of Grenfell? Do you think she will commit to a deal with the DUP despite their homophobia and misogyny, let alone the damage it will do to the peace in Northern Ireland?

    The sun is shining – I hope that you are lapping up the rays in your beautiful garden.
  • I definitely think the Tories can make deals with homophobes and misogynists. There’s no serious majority, nor even appetite, to re-open those types of issues at Westminster, and the sheer idea of re-winding the clock on them, as if the government doesn’t have enough on its plate right now, is borderline comical. By contrast, the idea that the Tories can bring in the DUP without jeopardising the peace in Northern Ireland is self-deluded even by the Tories’ recently unprecedented standards.

    Off to Mexico now, and wondering the country will even be here when I return!
  • Enjoy Mexico, Prof – hope the conference is engaging and stimulating, and look forward to continuing our discussions in person after you return home.