The British people have managed to conjure the most fantastical of outcomes from the General Election. The hung parliament is a unicorn of a result where no Party gained an overall majority. Although the Conservatives won the most seats, they most definitely lost an election whose raison d’être was to deliver a “strong and stable” Tory government.
The chaotic aftermath to the election has ensued amidst the lament of the pollsters. Journalists revel in the rumours of Tory plots and intrigues that have sprouted like mushrooms. Theresa May’s reputation for unswervable common sense has been badly damaged. The Conservative Party’s unflinching confidence has been replaced by existential angst and the frantic scramble for alliance.
As Mrs. May’s star has fallen, Jeremy Corbyn’s has risen far into the stratosphere reserved for national statespeople. The Parliamentary Labour Party now applauds the triumphant Mr. Corbyn, the man who previously some seemed to think had more duff lines than a pulp novel.
Meanwhile, the Commission’s negotiators sit in their offices and wait impatiently for the negotiations to start. No one needs to tell them to sharpen their pencils. They have their mandate and their detailed list of negotiating principles. Everything is in place with one key exception. Are the British ready? Europe yawns and looks at its watch. Tick tock tick tock.
Away from the Westminster shamblesphere, it’s as if the people have said to their newly elected representatives, ‘We’ve done our job. Now sort yourselves out.’
Politicians nod enthusiastically. The scapegoating process (and for a different reason an actual goat seemed to matter for a moment) begins and Mrs. May’s two principal advisors leave. But the Prime Minister stays, at least for now. The Tories’ newfound fear of Jeremy seems to trump all other considerations.
Conservatives line up to argue that if the Party would just listen to the people then all of those votes can be regained. Some deride large parts of their own manifesto. Perhaps the age of austerity should be cancelled? It’s past its sell by date. And as for Brexit, the fissure in the Cabinet between the different factions apparently re-opens. Surely it’s time for the ship of state to steam in a different direction?
But the Brexiteers’ zeal is undiminished. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ comes the familiar triumphant cry, even from the depths of electoral underperformance. And Brexit doesn’t mean any old Brexit. It’s the Brexit of the Three Red Lines. The ‘No Deal Better than…no one knows what’ Brexit. The Brexit that Mrs. May and team have trumpeted so assuredly since the Conservative Party Conference.
Surely many people must have reeled in astonishment. You can imagine cups of tea dropping from astonished hands. Unless this has all been some strange dream, the election was unequivocally framed as the quest for a mandate for the PM’s Brexit vision and her leadership of the negotiations.
The Brexiteers argue that through some miracle of political alignment the Labour and Conservative manifestos aligned to such an extent that more than 80% of the public voted for the one, true Brexit. We can reasonably conclude that the use of this argument demonstrates that peak Carry on Brexiting has been achieved.
Let’s be clear on this one point at least. The only Brexit conclusion that can be clearly drawn from the General Election is that on June 8th a majority of the public voted against the Conservative manifesto, including its vision for Brexit.
Time will tell whether the Government amends its Brexit approach. But if there is no change, no pragmatic compromise, and the Government’s shambling Brexit continues, the uncertainty we have seen will pale into insignificance as we experience the twists and turns of the actual Brexit negotiations.
(NB amended after publication to remove now redundant reference to Mansion House speech)