To me there is a bit of Deja-vu about this election that recalls the one Ted Heath fought because of the miner’s strike, the electorate ran away then too ! There will be much musing over the runes and entrails by political commentators over the next few days, no doubt but the bottom line is simple:
She was right to go for a longer Parliament than she had to deal with Brexit and regardless of whom the next PM is, that is a bonus secured for the UK but the campaign was flawed and wrongly drawn around her rather than other policies. The Tory Manifesto was quite right about the upcoming problem of Care Costs but in political terms, it was unwise to mention it, the public are often truth averse however irrational that might be. David Cameron deliberately ‘bribed’ the OAP vote, Corbyn did the same with young people and the promise of “Free Universities”, it’s mucky, it’s nonsense but it is politics.
Well at the time I’m writing on Friday morning, the Conservatives will be the largest party and may be able to run a minority government courtesy of Northern Irish MPs, the Unionists who take their seats and Sinn Fein who don’t but we will see, there are many permutations on who forms the next government.
However what is certain is that Theresa May having gambled and ‘lost’ as far as her own party is concerned will most certainly lose the leadership of the Conservative Party who are historically totally ruthless with disposing of their party leaders under such circumstances. When the dust starts to settle, the ‘men in grey suits’ will appear at her door and a leadership election will follow, besides which a politically “humbled” Theresa May could not lead UK negotiations with the EU so there has to be a change if the Conservatives are to be the Government.
Obviously and unlike the Labour Party which still suffers from the hollowing out of the Blair/Brown years, the Conservatives have a fair pool of potential candidates to call upon as potential replacements however, a prolonged leadership contest is not really needed at this juncture because Brexit awaits. Something pretty rapid that mirrors the way Theresa May came to the job, would be good and it may well be that Boris Johnson’s time has come.
BoJo is not best loved by many within the Tory ranks mainly because of his past successes as a journalist and as a two term Mayor of London, politicians are spiteful by nature especially to the success of others however and for a number of specific reasons, he may well be the only choice.
Politics Have Changed
Corbyn has said that politics have changed and that May should resign as a consequence. Well he is right that the situation has changed but not in the way he thinks and May will go anyway, what has changed is the ‘dynamic’ of the situation we find ourselves in, quite possibly the worse of all worlds, a hung Parliament which brings with it, dangers for ALL parties. The first thing MPs need to take onboard is that the public don’t want another election in the foreseeable future so anyone who forces one is likely to be on the losing side next time a lesson the SNP needs to learn over Indyref2 from the results in Scotland last night.
The next important thing is that whilst Theresa May failed to get a “thumping mandate” to back her up in negotiations, the Brexit negotiations still await and a very different strategy will be required to the one originally envisioned by her.
The next Prime Minister will need to openly debate in the House every line of the agreements as they happen and the negotiations will now be run by the will of the Commons rather than the Government. It therefore means that the next PM needs to be able to deal with this easily and be capable of avoiding 3 line whips allowing all debates and votes to be based on the individual conscience of the MPs this will require some deft political skills by whoever is in post.
One of the reasons that Theresa May called this election was to free herself from being at the mercy of the headbangers of both the Leavers and Remainers within her own party holding her to ransom during the Brexit negotiations. Oddly a minority government offers a different though equivalent option to the one she sought but by other means. By having to open up the negotiations to the whole House and across party lines both obviates the risk to the governing party but also on a divisive topic like Brexit, also offers the opportunity to bind the wounds and heal divisions to the benefit of all.
The other bonus is that as the House will have to take full responsibility for whatever deal emerges, no party will find itself in the position to blame others for a “bad deal” because it will become Parliament’s Deal.
So What Next ?
Unlike David Cameron after the Brexit result, Theresa May needs to hang on in there, not resign and deal with the transition from majority to minority government because she needs to firm up the ground for her successor. Corbyn and the Labour Party may attempt to form a coalition and minority government but the Conservatives with NI Unionist and the empty Sinn Fein seats can soldier on, these matters need to be dealt with and settled so that Parliament may move forward together on Brexit.
In all probability the Brexit negotiations will have to be delayed too to some extent but this would be a positive thing as the opening sessions are just about agendas and frequency of meetings which means that the House could have clear sight of the agenda before things kick off and obviously all negotiations going forward would be both public and transparent. Initially EU politicians may not feel too unhappy about this outcome but, they may come to also rue it too if the consequences are strong demands right across the Commons instead of from just a government, we shall see in due course how this pans out.
Who Next ?
Back to BoJo, if he wants it, feels ready and up for it, Boris Johnson is the most obvious choice as the next leader of the Conservatives and therefore Prime Minister. The reasons are fairly simple: He is highly intelligent with broad and international cultural interests but best of all, is not afraid to deal with the ridicule that is part and parcel of every politicians life, if you prefer, he lacks pomposity but is by no means stupid however shambling he might sometimes and I suspect deliberately appear. This Parliament needs his affable touch, what it doesn’t need is a diehard dogmatic party member, highly competitive as a strident Prime Minister, it needs humour and wit.
One of the things Theresa May’s team didn’t do and in the process it probably cost them seats was to use Boris Johnson intelligently because he is “The Tory who reaches people that others in his party can’t get close to”. Instead they tried to hide him away, that was foolish. The other thing that may appeal to the Tory Party Grandees is that Boris will appear “expendable” to a large degree because the next leader is in for a very difficult time in Office and will likely totally trash their political career in the process. To them finally putting ‘him’ in the firing line so that this time he “doesn’t come back” once sent over the top, may be irresistible to them, we shall see.