British Elections: Labour up as Theresa May, Tories see a gambit backfire

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Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives to address the Conservative Party's Scottish conference in Glasgow, Scotland March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The Conservatives remain Parliament’s biggest party but have lost their overall majority after an extraordinary surge by Labour. The pound fell sharply after Britain’s second democratic shock in less than a year.

British PM May falls short of majority
When Theresa May called Thursday’s snap general election in April, the prediction was a Conservative landslide and annihilation for Labour. That has been turned on its head, with the Conservatives losing their majority in the House of Commons after an opposition surge created one of the most dramatic reversals of political fortune in Britain’s electoral history.

With almost all seats declared, no party will reach the threshold of 326 required for an overall majority. May has been humiliated, ending the election with fewer seats than when she called it. At present, it appears that the Conservatives will have 317 seats (a loss of 12), Labour 265 (a gain of 33) and the Scottish National Party 35 (a loss of 19). In terms of vote share, the Conservatives won around 44 percent of the vote and Labour 41 percent.
“No politician wants to hold an election for the sake of it,” May had said when she called the vote in mid-April. At the time, she believed that she could take advantage of Labour’s internal strife and the then-abysmal approval ratings of party leader Jeremy Corbyn to safely secure her own position as prime minster for five more years.

“Though Corbyn has lost the election, he is in many senses the victor,” Matthew Cole, lecturer in history at Birmingham University, told DW. “He’s vindicated himself to his opponents in the party. People like Jess Phillips or Jack Dromey, who have been very critical of him, are now saying the Labour message works. Some are openly saying that Corbyn was an excellent campaigner and they got it wrong.”

‘May’s personal ambition’
The prime minister had said she would need a bigger mandate in order to effectively negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union. Now, her party has lost its majority, calling into question the Conservatives’ ability to form a government.

“We’ve just wasted a load of taxpayer money and administrative effort that could have been channeled into something productive and two months of time we could have been planning for Brexit – for what? Theresa May’s personal ambition,” said Zoe Evans, a voter in Brighton. “Now, in 11 days time, Brexit negotiations will start, and our position is significantly weakened. May has done this to the country and put our future at stake.”

The past month has seen a surge in activity by Labour Party members, who have been out canvassing for marginal seats in large numbers. “This result means that May’s vision of a hard Brexit lacks legitimacy and Corbyn is confirmed as a serious player,” says Kevin Porter, a London-based Labour Party member. “We needed this election to decide on Brexit and make sure that those of us who want to retain a relationship with Europe are represented. It is the most inspiring result of my adult life.”

Next steps
Speaking to the BBC early Friday, Anna Soubry, a member of parliament who very vocally campaigned for the Remain side in last year’s Brexit referendum, became the first prominent Conservative to publicly say that May should go. It has been reported that Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary and former mayor of London, is considering making a bid for the leadership.

Corbyn also repeated his recent calls for May’s resignation to “make way for a government that’s truly representative.”
Although May has insisted that she will not resign, the Conservatives have historically been brutally pragmatic following electoral defeats, as we saw with Prime Minister David Cameron’s swift departure after last year’s Brexit referendum result. “I think it’s a question of when rather than if,” Cole said. “There are forces in the Conservative Party now saying it is 50-50 whether she’ll survive the day. This is a failure of leadership and appeal.”
Leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they will not form a coalition, which suggests that a Conservative minority government is the most likely outcome. This might involve an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. It also raises the prospect of yet another general election if a stable government cannot be formed.

“I don’t know what comes next, but, for now, like many Labour supporters, I am basking in the feeling that we do have a say, that our voice does matter,” said Imran Qureshi, of Surrey. “We might not have got an overall majority, but doing so well despite the solid savaging in the press feels like a major victory.”

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