After another extraordinary night in British politics, here is what we know about the 2017 general election result… and what we don’t know.
Source: BBC, after 646 out of 650 seats
What we know
For only the third time since 1945, the General Election has produced a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party but short of an overall majority. Despite both Labour and the Conservatives increasing their share of the vote, no party has won a majority in parliament. The election has signalled a return to two party politics in Britain: Labour and Conservatives share over 80 per cent of the vote, their highest cumulative result since 1970, with minor parties, especially the SNP and UKIP, losing votes. With final figures still to be confirmed, turnout is looking likely to be over 68%, two per cent more than at the 2015 election with 72 % of 18-25 year olds voting. Labour has won fewer seats than 2010 with a 12% higher vote share. The Conservatives have lost seats since 2015 but enjoy a 7% higher share of the vote and their best result in Scotland since 1983.
Jeremy Corbyn said that Theresa May had “wanted a mandate” but that “the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support and lost confidence. I would have thought that is enough for her to go.” Speaking in Maidenhead, the Prime Minister said that “if the Conservative Party has won the most seats and most votes then it will be incumbent that we will have that period of stability and that is what we will do.
Several ministers lost their seats including Treasury minister Jane Ellison, culture minister Rob Wilson, housing minister Gavin Barwell, international development minister James Wharton and symbolically, Cabinet Office Ben Gummer, who wrote the Conservative manifesto. We also know that this election marks the highest number of female MPs ever elected, with 192 at the latest count.
In an extraordinarily close vote in Fife North East, the SNP’s Stephen Gethins won by two votes after several recounts, proving every vote really does matter: had one single voter changed their mind, it would have been a dead heat.
What we don’t know
1- The make-up of the Government
With a hung Parliament now confirmed there are only two likely outcomes:
- Conservative Party enter an agreement with the DUP to secure a majority Government. This is the most likely approach but could have significant consequences for the Government’s approach to Brexit negotiations as the DUP favour a more softer form of Brexit. Even this outcome would also leave the Government with a smaller majority than they enjoyed before the General Election, with the total majority set to be around 8.
- Conservative Party govern as a minority Government. With Sinn Fein not taking their seats, and the Speaker’s role, some Conservatives in the Party’s HQ are suggesting the Party could govern alone, albeit with a minuscule working majority.
Whilst the Labour Party has performed better than many expected them to do the arithmetic makes it impossible for Jeremy Corbyn to form the next Government. A coalition of Labour / SNP / Green / Plaid Cymru would only provide Corbyn with 300 seats – less than the Conservative Party’s 313.
2- The future Prime Minister
Reports this morning suggest Theresa May will give a speech at 10am to outline her approach to the coming days. The BBC and ITV are reporting that she will remain as Prime Minister and will form a new Government. Given her comments throughout the campaign that intimated a loss of Conservative seats would mean she would not be able to carry out Brexit negotiations, it will be an uphill challenge for her to reclaim a mandate for Brexit negotiations in the coming days. Conservative MPs are split as to the PM’s leadership and there is likely to be both public and private post-match analysis with a number of MPs feeling let down by the Prime Minister and her campaign.
However, the tight Brexit timeline (the UK will have to leave in Spring 2019 regardless of the political situation engulfing the country) gives the Prime Minister a workable narrative that she has to continue in place to secure a deal for Britain and that changing Prime Minister (and Government) will lead to too much disruption at a time when stability is required
Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson are considered the two most likely candidates for the next leader of the Conservative Party if and when May steps down. Amber Rudd (having narrowly kept her seat) has been emboldened through this campaign and her stock is rising among Conservative MPs. Others could also throw their hat in the ring in due course.
3- Another General Election?
In this uncertainty it also remains to be seen whether the UK may have to again go to the ballot box later this year on a national vote for the fourth time in three years if a minority Conservative government finds it impossible to push through legislation or a Brexit deal. If it were to take place it would likely be in the Autumn.
4- Another Scottish referendum?
In one of the evening’s most notable paradox’s the Conservative Party has exceeded expectation in Scotland gaining 12 seats. The SNP has lost 21 seats. With the result coming months after the SNP’s leader Nicola Sturgeon announced her plans for a second independence referendum her mandate for such constitutional change has been significantly diminished. Whilst the previous two years have shown nothing should be taken for granted in UK politics, the prospect of another Scottish independence referendum looks a lot more unlikely.
Implications for business and Brexit
The result of the election means that there is uncertainty as to how Brexit negotiations, which were supposed to begin on June 19, will be conducted. The outcome will depend on the extent to which the scope, direction and pace of the incoming government’s policy agenda is hindered by this lack of certainty about a political mandate. Not only is there uncertainty on the Brexit process itself, but questions remain about the approach that the new government will adopt. Will the moving political landscape and Parliamentary deadlock influence the key asks of the UK in Brexit talks? Will the Labour surge in Parliament tilt the balance towards a softer Brexit, including full access to the European Single Market?
As soon as the exit poll was released, the pound dropped by 2% as markets sensed a hung parliament. The CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn has warned that businesses will be stunned by the result and the country “needs to be signalling strongly that we are pro-enterprise and open to business”
The Public Affairs team
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January 21, 2021