Hindsight is a wonderful thing. As Theresa May prepares to strike a deal with the DUP and form a government, let’s pause for a second and consider how we arrived at a hung parliament in the first place, and what can be learned.
The Conservatives have come out as the largest party with 318 seats, but are short of that crucial 326 needed for an absolute majority. Labour made impressive gains, up 29 to finish with 261 MPs. It’s been a bad night for the Scottish Nationalist Party, who lost 21 seats; the Liberal Democrats didn’t make the big comeback they were hoping for, but gained 4 seats. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party have become the kingmakers, with their 10 MPs now giving scope for Theresa May to form a government – not necessarily with a formal coalition, but with agreements and assurances.
The PM called the snap election with a hope to increasing the Conservative majority, and giving her a stronger mandate for Brexit negotiations – keeping things ‘strong and stable’, if you will. Having previously said she had no intentions of calling a general election, Theresa May took everyone by surprise. Polls were very favourable for the Tories when the election was called, but have dipped over the course of campaigning: how have we ended up here, with a diminished Tory party?
In short, Labour appealed well to young people and targeted their campaigning engagingly, while the Tories failed to attract this group. Youth turnout is estimated to be at 72%: a figure to be proud of, and one which has definitely strongly influenced Labour’s gains.
Historically, 18-24 year olds have the lowest turnout of any demographic: women under 24 are statistically the least likely to vote. However, Labour mobilised young voters well, not only with their policies but also by genuinely urging them to vote. Nowhere on the Conservatives’ social media outlets was any encouragement to young people to vote.
Policies such as free tuition fees and writing off graduate debt doubtlessly attracted young people to Labour, as well as genuine efforts to mobilise young voters and increase turnout. The campaign itself was well-pitched: from Instagram takeovers by Clean Bandit, to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with JME about the importance of youth voting.
There was genuine enthusiasm and well-wishing from celebrities such as Steve Coogan, Billie JD Porter, Lily Allen, Paloma Faith, Daniel Radcliffe, MIA, and Patrick Stewart. #Grime4Corbyn was a highlight of the entire election, with artists such as Stormzy, Big Narstie, and JME lending their support. Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at a Libertines gig went down a storm, both on Twitter and from the crowd.
Labour also profited from the Liberal Democrats’ losses, particularly among young people. Ever since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, many young voters feel betrayed by this – particularly with relation to the broken promise of tuition fees, which saw a tripling in university fees despite promises of reduction.
Related to youth turnout is the stark contrast in campaign style between Labour and the Tories.
Labour’s improvement on the 2015 vote share is compelling. Jeremy Corbyn has thrived from the energetic and enthusiastic campaigning, with large rallies and real engagement with the public. After all, he has been first and foremost a protestor and campaigner for much of his life – Corbyn appears to genuinely enjoy the campaign trail, and talking to ordinary people. Corbyn’s team made good use of Snapchat to document the campaign trail, and to track Jeremy’s journey: people were given a behind-the-scenes insight, such that Corbyn seemed down to earth, and voters knew where to expect his appearances.
The BBC reports that the Tories’ spin doctor Lynton Crosby and his team never fully understood Theresa May and how to present her. The prepared lines such as ‘strong and stable’ were prescriptively doled out; reportedly, when individuals from May’s inner circle conveyed their concerns that these had become jokes and asked for changes, they were not taken seriously.
Theresa May’s appearances tended to be much more orchestrated, with Conservative activists positioned in the audiences. Her addresses to factories tended to be to a small number of workers, who were told only to expect a VIP and then were met with the surprise of the PM. May’s absence from crucial television debates and interviews was also very damaging, and created the impression that she was aloof and not willing to sufficiently engage; Home Secretary Amber Rudd was sent to the leaders’ debate and Justine Greening was sent to Women’s Hour.
The elephant in the polling station has been Brexit. The Conservatives have lurched towards a hard Brexit, which caused alarm among sections of the electorate; while the Lib Dems sought a second referendum once a deal was reached, Labour’s hopes of a more mediated Brexit became an attractive prospect.
This is directly reflected in the vote swing. When Labour gained former Tory constituencies, these tended to be ones which voted Remain, such as Gower and Brighton Kemptown. Conversely, when Labour lost seats to the Conservatives, this was often areas which had voted Leave, such as Stoke On Trent.
Working class voters which may traditionally be the preserve of Labour constitute a significant part of Leave voters, and therefore some switched allegiance to the Conservatives. Equally, the 10% swing from Tory to Labour in Chelsea is remarkable: an affluent and upper-class area which would traditionally be presumed to be Conservative territory swung to Labour largely on account of their vote to remain in the EU.
RETURN TO TWO-PARTY SYSTEM
SNP, Lib Dems, and UKIP were all diminished to various degrees. The SNP lost many of the seats they had won in the last election, while UKIP failed to win any MPs, and saw the resignation of leader Paul Nuttall. The Lib Dems made some gains, but also suffered key losses: most significantly, former Deputy PM Nick Clegg lost his seat, commenting ‘you live by the sword, you die by the sword’. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas increased her majority, but remains their only MP.
On a constituency level, Labour’s gains often came from the Lib Dems as Labour candidates pushed themselves as being the only viable alternative to the Tories. The collapse of the UKIP vote was expected, as their primary aim of leaving the EU has now been reached: however, there was the assumption that much of this vote would go the Conservatives. This is true to an extent, but approximately 1/3 went to Labour and provided them with a significant boost.
The Tory manifesto may well get labelled as a ‘suicide note’. Former Deputy Speaker and Conservative ‘big beast’ Nigel Evans firmly laid blame on the Conservatives’ disappointing outcome on the manifesto: he definitely has a point.
The Conservatives crucially tripped up on their social care policy. From issues with the triple lock on pensions to the ‘Dementia Tax’, the Tories struggled to shake their reputation as ‘the nasty party’: a reputation which Theresa May had formerly hauled the party up on, and supposedly sought to change.
The main dent in the Tories’ polling came after the manifesto’s release: they experienced a significant drop of 3 points, while Labour gained.
The tragic attacks in Manchester and London pushed security further up the electoral agenda.
Ultimately, any failures in this area could easily be laid at the Conservatives’ door, having been in power since 2010. Cuts to policing were under Theresa May’s watch as Home Secretary, casting doubt on the Tories’ actual commitment to practically allocating funding to these areas.
Theresa May’s suggestions that it could be necessary to encroach on human rights in the name of security caused significant alarm, adding to the image of a harsh and increasingly right-wing Tory party.
On a practical level, COBRA and other necessary security meetings and briefings caused disruption for the Conservatives, and hampered their fight-back on social care and other contentious issues when their polling started to dip.
THERESA MAY’S STYLE OF GOVERNANCE
Long-standing reports of Theresa May governing with a small, tight inner circle could point to a problematic style of governance.
While David Cameron moved away from Tony Blair’s ‘sofa government’, with informal and relaxed decision-making from cabinet members, Theresa May has moved away further.
BBC analysis reported that particularly from May’s significantly weakened position, cabinet ministers will be seeking to ‘not only be heard, but heeded’: more collective decision-making and wider consultation are not May’s signature style, but may need to quickly become so.
The election intended to bring stability has brought chaos – and people say politics is boring.
Written By Ellen Pickett