What should we make of the election result? Some proper reflections

Following my tongue-in-cheek and slightly facetious post written before the election result came in, I thought it might be worth offering some comment on the actual result itself. It is a result that nobody predicted prior to the exit poll and we now have a hung parliament. Claire Phipps, at the Guardian, aptly sums up the situation:

For May, who demanded an election she’d previously insisted she didn’t want, in order to win a mandate for a Brexit she’d originally opposed, now finds herself in a position she did not anticipate when – with polls giving her a 20-odd-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn – she went to the country.

At the time of writing, the results stand as follows:

  • Conservatives 316 (down 12)
  • Labour 261 (up 31)
  • Lib Dem 12 (up 3)
  • SNP 35 (down 19)
  • Others 23

Credit must go to Jeremy Corbyn. Most would agree – whatever one may feel about either his politics or personality – he fought an excellent campaign. By contrast, Theresa May’s was woeful. Further, to reduce the government’s majority and be the first Labour leader to increase seats since 1997, despite facing hostile attacks in the media and dealing with a parliamentary party who insisted he was unelectable, he has achieved much against the odds. Beyond all this, it appears Corbyn has mobilised the youth vote like no party leader before to overturn a c. 20-point deficit in the polls and deny Theresa May the increased majority most predicted she would gain.

Apart from the Conservatives, the big losers on the night were the SNP in Scotland and UKIP everywhere. The latter won no seats – which is neither a surprise nor anything new – but it is notable that their vote share collapsed (so even if we ran a Proportional Representation system they would have been decimated). The UKIP vote split between the Tories and Labour, rather than (as some simplistically presumed) all going over the the Conservatives.

The SNP have lost some big beasts, such as former leader Alex Salmond and their leader in Westminster, Angus Robertson. It appears what did it for them was flip-flopping on the indy ref and a stated aim to ignore the democratic will of the UK on Brexit. Despite their Scottish independence stance, the SNP failed to contend with the fact that most of Scotland want to maintain in the Union – as stated in the independence referendum itself – and, as democrats, most want to uphold the democratic will on Brexit from across the UK. The SNP still remain the majority in Scotland but the sense is that they have peaked early. Worse, they peaked and overplayed their hand by holding a failed independence referendum too early as well.

Theresa May has stated she has no intention of resigning, which is odd given everyone said Corbyn should resign if he lost in the manner most expected. As it happens, he increased Labour’s seats and reduced the Conservative majority so that the Tories now can’t govern. The decision to hold an election appears to be a huge miscalculation on May’s part and, having pointedly made the campaign about her (almost certainly a result of her 20-point opinion poll rating over Jeremy Corbyn), it seems the public have specifically not voted for her in particular.

Given this, it is hard to see how May’s position is tenable. Perhaps she is calculating that just as Jeremy Corbyn held onto his leadership following PLP no-confidence votes, she may benefit by doing the same. The significant difference here is that Corbyn received a large mandate from the Labour Party membership, whose faith has subsequently been repaid. May does not have that sort of strong mandate from her party membership and has now been found wanting at a General Election. It would be another catastrophic political miscalculation if this forms any part of her thinking.

For my part, as a Brexit-supporting Labour Party member, I would have liked to have seen a Labour minority government. As a party who have made clear that they support the result of the referendum and, despite claims to the contrary – knowing as we do that Jeremy Corbyn (unlike Theresa May) has always been anti-EU – we had a chance of getting the Brexit we voted for on the sort of terms we wanted it. Alas, the Conservatives have struck a deal with the DUP. Nonetheless, although the idea of Progressive Alliance was poopooed, we may yet see a vote-by-vote effort to block the government.

Nonetheless, the hope of pressing on with Brexit but in a form that is more palatable than that offered by the Conservatives, still seems readily possible. The vast majority of people voting Brexit are not anti-immigrant but were concerned we are unable to vote in and out the law-makers in Brussels. This election may have given us the choice between the immigration-centred Brexit of Theresa May and a more traditionally Socialist exit that inclines less to close our borders but focuses on the issues of democracy and sovereignty. For many on the left, especially those like me who see themselves in the Bennite tradition, our position is that we are not hostile to foreigners (many of us want to see more relaxed immigration and asylum laws) but we are against an undemocratic supranational organisation removing power from democratically elected governments and thus, by extension, the people who elect them. The emphases on Brexit may now shift.

Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that Brexit was the primary motivator for most in this General Election. Unlike the Lib Dems and Greens, Labour supported the triggering of Article 50 as per the democratically stated will of the people. The Lib Dems pointedly positioned themselves as the party who would fight Brexit tooth and nail. Their gains of 3 seats, and loss of supposedly safe seats such as Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency, suggest fighting Brexit was not uppermost in the minds of many. If it played any part at all, it is as stated above – an effort to the see the kind of Brexit most of us voted for rather than the immigrant-centred approach many of us feared we might get.

As ever, the NHS is a voting issue for many as are welfare concerns and taxation plans. These are the things that, when they bite, people really notice. Having attempted to make the campaign presidential, May focused less on policies and more on personality. Few policy announcements were forthcoming during the campaign and – though not necessarily a voting issue of itself – it cannot have escaped many people’s notice that this ‘strong and stable’ candidate banking on her negotiating skills for Brexit was too scared to turn up to leaders debates and sent a deputy in her stead. For many, this would engender no confidence about her ability to negotiate Brexit given it appeared – despite her claims to the contrary – she didn’t seem to believe she was even the best candidate to debate other party leaders. A presidential-style campaign does rather unravel if the presidential-style candidate doesn’t want to make public appearance for fear they might not look as presidential as they want to claim.

Finally, and as ever for my Christian friends, three things are worth remembering:

  1. Power is fleeting. Some of us will be rejoicing this morning and some of us will be in despair (and some of us will carry on unmoved, bemused and disinterested). However you feel about the result, remember that power is fleeting. In no more than five years time, we will be able to do this all over again barring a return of the Lord. It may feel disastrous today, but next year the world will still be turning and in five years time there will be the opportunity to rectify whatever wrongs you perceive today. We need neither fall into despair nor rejoice as though all our ills will henceforth be no more. Power is fleeting and so are our feelings about whoever holds it.
  2. We are unified in Christ not by our politics. Our unity as believers does not lie in whatever party we belong to or vote for. Some of us may, for the sake of unity, encourage one another to keep quiet about our political views. To me, better than simply agreeing not to speak of our views, is to show the world how Christ can unify Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP and others into one unified body. Ask what commends the gospel more: our unity despite our differences or our desire to keep quiet in case we upset one another? Let our unity despite political differences commend the gospel however we voted.
  3. God remains sovereign. God was in no way surprised by the hung parliament. He knew, long before the exit poll, what the result was going to be. Not only did he know, but Christ still remains on the throne. Despite nobody having overall controll in parliament, God continues to have overall control of the universe. It matters not whether you rejoice in the result or you despair, Romans 13:1 tells us God gave the power to whoever holds it and Romans 8:28 makes clear that such will work for our ultimate good. In the intricately woven tapestry of interconnected events in the universe, as with all the other, this one will also be used by God to make his people more like Christ (maybe starting with how we live and grow and serve together with those who didn’t vote like us… perhaps?)