It’s been a strange night. The 2017 General Election has resulted in a hung parliament, the worst possible scenario for the Conservatives. Who would have thought it just seven weeks ago, when the election was called on the back of a Tory landslide in the polls?
Our ‘Strong and Stable’ leader has been forced to make yet another tough decision, that of deciding just how to form a government with this quite embarrassing result. At the declaration of her seat of Maidenhead, Theresa May’s ashen face and shaken demeanour was the manifestation of her failed campaign, and now, with the Tories depending on what seems like an informal arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party, this election was one no one could predict.
The night was rife with shocking results. Both Labour and the Tories made gains in swing seats, but Labour emerged with an overall increase, up to 262 seats from 232 in 2015. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lost his seat of Sheffield Hallam to Labour; senior SNP MPs Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson lost their seats; Labour gained the historic Tory seat of Canterbury and the crucial swing seat of Enfield Southgate; and Zac Goldsmith retook Richmond Park, a seat Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney won in a by-election only last December. In safer seats, Labour increased their shares of the vote, hinting to a return of the two-party system.
What would a Conservative alliance with the DUP mean for the next five years, however informal a form it may take?
The main impact of a Tory-DUP alliance seems to be in the Brexit negotiations. Considering that this election was initially dubbed the ‘Brexit Election’, its main objective being to increase Theresa May’s mandate going forward with negotiations, her hard-line policy on Europe may be forced to change. Indeed, the DUP are against any form of Hard Brexit deal. It is worth remembering that Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU, with 55.8%. While the DUP backed Brexit, the party rejects the prospect of a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would jeopardise Northern Irish relations with the South. Overall, Brexit seems to be even more complex than anyone could have thought.
No election can be a single-issue competition, and Brexit was not the decisive factor through the campaigns. If this were the case, places with the lowest percentage of Leave votes would have swung significantly towards the Lib Dems. The Labour campaign focused on welfare and the impact of Tory cuts to public services, promising to invest in the economy and the public sector. In this sense, this election could not be further from the ‘Brexit Election’. In Scotland, the concern about a second independence referendum was significant in understanding the SNP’s 24-seat loss.
Keeping this in mind, it is important to look at the DUP’s social policies. The DUP has consistently voted against extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland, and has rejected same-sex marriage and broader LGBTQ+ rights. And with historic links to terror organisations during the Troubles, the question is whether an election that failed to result in an overall Conservative majority should have such a socially right-wing conclusion. Further, will Theresa May will be able to rule a minority government for the next five years? What seems likely is that the Tories will not be able to pass some of their manifesto promises in government.
So, Theresa May is still our Prime Minister, the Brexit negotiations begin in just over a week, and the Tories had a disastrous campaign. The youth turnout is too great to be ignored, and British politics looks increasingly unstable.
Much else, this far, is unclear.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor