I should probably begin this article by throwing away the political crystal ball before I am tempted to start making predictions about the way things are going to move in the next few weeks. Now that the nation is getting over its sleep deprivation and predictions of a Conservative landslide have faded into fantasy (happily or tragically, depending upon one’s political colours) it looks increasingly likely that Britain is going to be run by a coalition government – majority Conservative + the Democratic Unionist Party. If you are not sure who the DUP are, I would recommend looking up their website, but it crashed as thousands of people outside Northern Ireland tried to find out who the DUP are and what sort of a coalition they were likely to form. The BBC has put up a webpage entitled “Who are the DUP?” which labels them “pro-union (not Europe, but UK) pro-Brexit and socially conservative.”
Needless to say, this is not the outcome Theresa May planned when she called a snap election and she has apologised to colleagues who have lost their seats as a result of her decision. In Europe, Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt described the election as “yet another own goal, after Cameron now May.” However, it is not just the overall result that has come as a surprise. The briefly unassailable Scottish National Party have suffered heavy losses, with former leader Alex Salmond and the SNP’s deputy leader Angus Robertson losing their seats. Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also lost his seat and seats regarded as ‘safe’ for both the Conservative and Labour parties have changed colour overnight.
There were some curious footnotes to the overall election campaign. Predictably, the attempt by the leader of the Women’s Equality Party to defeat a Yorkshire MP she decided was a naughty misogynist failed so laughably that the WEP managed just over a thousand votes to Philip Davies’ 27,417. Having been involved myself with a small political party for some time, they are a double-edged sword. Seldom politically successful, a well-run minority party can still have some influence in terms of getting certain subjects onto the political agenda. Or, they can have the opposite effect, relegating their views to the territory of a fringe enthusiasm. Issues of genuine interest to women, such as the need to close the gender pay gap and improve maternity/parental leave do not belong in a tiny minority party and with record numbers of women elected to Parliament at this election, there is no need for the status of women to be relegated in this way. Unfortunately, the Women’s Equality Party were so busy celebrating the achievements of their seven candidates, no one apparently noticed that the WEP managed to win fewer votes than the Monster Raving Loony Party, though it did do marginally better than the Pirate Party (joke parties form a noble part of British protest politics and those parties are absolutely as crazy as they sound). The failure even of the WEP’s own membership base to come out in force, highlights the glaring reality here: the majority of women prefer to vote for mainstream parties with a fighting chance of actually getting MPs elected than being given a special little party all of their very own.
As with any unsettling political event in Britain, there were some predictably humorous responses on social media. “There’s not enough popcorn in the world. *settles down to watch the constitutional crisis unfold*” wrote one contact; others reflected on the various emigration possibilities (though the absence of Marmite from much of the rest of the world was a strong counter-argument), and an Irish pro-life contact, Ailish Hathcock, envisaged the Queen as a headmistress, taking Theresa May into her office for a good talking to. “Now, young lady, what have you done? You’ve let yourself down, you’ve let the whole school down. You have disappointed all of us. You’ve got your whole class in trouble, and you should be doubly ashamed. One is most displeased.”
Francis Reid, a friend of mine from Cambridge days, even wrote a Haiku on the subject:
Brexit means Brexit
Two Prime Ministers exit.
Tory dog’s breakfast.
Beneath the nervous laughter, however, the situation is depressing, if not quite the apocalyptic nightmare conjured up in some areas of social media. Britain is not a two-party state and coalitions, though rare, are not unheard of. It could be argued that the state of disillusionment with the political establishment has reached such heights that a coalition more accurately reflects the complexity of political loyalties in modern Britain and a strong, efficient coalition (dare we hope?) may be preferable democratically to a party winning by a landslide majority and being handed a mandate to do whatever it pleases for the next five years. However, Britain is about to start negotiating with the EU over Brexit and needs strong leadership now more than ever.
Ominously, there are no obvious winners to this election. The Conservatives have made two serious political gambles in a row to strengthen their own position – the first with the Brexit referendum, the second the calling of a snap election – and have lost both. The party conducted a lacklustre campaign which failed properly to gauge the mood of the people or to engage with the issues that most concerned voters. As a result, Theresa May has succeeded in destroying her own position of strength and will never command the respect or authority she enjoyed just days ago.
Perhaps worse, however, is the situation for those on the Left. The mood among Labour supporters has been one of jubilation and media reports have been correspondingly upbeat. Jeremy Corbyn has ‘had a belter of an election night’, he has described the election as “an incredible result” for his party. Across the pond in the United States, Bernie Sanders told the Washington Post: “I am delighted to see Labour do so well… I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn for running a very positive and effective campaign.” Yes, except that Labour lost. Yes, the Conservatives got a kicking, yes, they lost their majority, but before we all join in a jolly chorus of The Red Flag, Labour lost the election. When did politics become so defeatist and Labour so unelectable, that not losing an election quite as badly as last time is being treated like a victory?
The only thing worth celebrating after a shambolic night for all parties is that we have the right to vote in the first place and that as a nation we are committed to defending our democratic traditions in the face of an increasing terrorist threat. We can – and should – celebrate the fact that, as a stable democracy, we have the capacity to bring together different parties to form a coalition government and, hopefully, work together to make the country a better place for those who are most in need. As the dust settles, it is time for British Catholics to step away from the social media slanging matches, pour the tea, and say a “Hail Mary” or two.