A new government for the U.K.: analyses and future perspectives

June 14, 2017
Editorial Europe
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1 – Theresa May’s mistakes

At the time when Theresa May requested the dissolution of the House of Commons, all polls showed a difference of about twenty per cent between the Tories and Corbyn’s Labour. May felt that with a short and “conservative” election campaign (ie., where it would be enough to show up as little as possible while avoiding any pitfalls), the chances of maintaining that advantage were very high. That’s not the way it turned out. Every election campaign, we know, is unpredictable, and May has not been able to play her trump cards. Choosing not to confront directly other aspiring prime ministers – used in many occasions by those who have a great advantage and often turning out to be effective – did not bring the expected results: Corbyn insisted strongly on a “fear of confrontation” and debate on the prime minister’s part, and that message has stuck. May had another asset, that is the promise of stability and continuity. At a turbulent time, with the Brexit negotiations ready to go, why not trust who had led the country so far? There was, however, a great deal of difference between the will to project a strong and stable leadership and the ambiguities and reversals that May was forced into during the electoral campaign. Her lack of empathy, even in the relationship with the ordinary voters, took care of the rest.

2 – Jeremy Corbyn’s revenge

Corbyn started with a very low potential consensus at the beginning of this election campaign. Obviously, as the merits for great comeback, his are also the responsibilities of the apparent disarray in which Labour found itself. Corbyn made a very intense campaign based on a few simple messages centered on the need to bring the State back in the limelight. In a highly liberalized economy, where many public services have been privatized or gone underfunded (the UK being very different in this respect compared to the welfare state of much of continental Europe), this message has been heard: he has been seen as a realistic alternative to the Tories’ will of continuing on the path to the present moment. In addition, the centrality of the Brexit theme has led Labour to benefit from an anti-Brexit (or at least anti-hard-Brexit) so called “useful vote”: Labour became the only party that could stop the train bound to a harsh and complicated separation from the rest of Europe, or at least bring it to a track of much less drastic scenarios. The Labour party wasn’t able to get massive votes only in the poorest areas or in those affected by globalization, and performed poorly also in those affluent London neighborhoods that had voted for Remain. It was seen as a necessary counterweight to the conservatives, as they seem to be embark in an endeavour that has little chance of success.

3 – Future perspectives

The second May government will go on. There has been some nervousness in the last few days, due to negotiations with the Northern Ireland DUP, which will guarantee a conservative government a kind of “external support”, but there seems to be no doubt on the final result. However, various factors spread suspicion about the stability of this government. First of all, the Tories’ new ally is a party with eccentric positions on important politics such as LGBT rights and climate change, positions that are an embarassment especially to the moderate wing of May’s party: tensions may soon arise. Secondly, it is a numerically very slim majority: it will be enough for a handful of votes to go missing to jeopardise the approval of the whole government program. May has a sort of last card she can play: she could hardly survive one more crisis in her majority. She remains in office because at the moment there are no alternatives. If this new government experience ended early or had to face serious failures, however, it is unlikely that someone like Johnson could take the baton, as he is closely tied to Theresa May’s strategy: he entered the government thanks to her, as a representative of the pro-Brexit wing. If things were to go wrong for the second May government, it will probably be due to Brexit itself: at that point the ball will be in the court of those who had expressed greater reservations about choosing to leave the European Union.