The Turning of the Sphere

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The UK general election

The UK general election held on June 8 resulted in a hung parliament in which no party possessed a majority of seats in the House of Commons.  The Conservatives, who won the most seats were followed by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, who came in a distant third.  An assortment of smaller parties followed from there.  The results were a striking return to two party predominance as the two largest parties won more than 80% of the vote between them.

The results for the three largest parties were as follows:

Conservative Party: 42.3% of the vote and 317 seats

Labour Party: 40% of the vote and 262 seats

Liberal Democrats: 7.4% of the vote and 12 seats

Regional parties, such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), received seats also.

After the election, Theresa May narrowly retained her position as Prime Minister, although the damage dealt to her political position due to seat losses probably will result in her replacement some time prior to the next election.  Several potential options, scenarios, and names have been circulated since the election.  Nonetheless, the Conservative Party retained its status as the governing party as it reached a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP, which is one of the parties of Northern Ireland.  Jeremy Corbyn retained his position as leader of the Labour Party due to the fact that Labour gained votes and seats off its 2015 total, although the party nonetheless failed to win the election and lacked any viable numerical path to forming a government.  Corbyn is currently positioned to retain overall control of the Labour Party into the next election unless new developments alter the current situation substantially.  The possibility of a coalition or confidence and supply agreement between the Labour Party and the SNP ended when it became apparent that even together the parties could not obtain a majority.

Prior to calling the election, Prime Minister Theresa May seemed to hold a nearly unassailable position and her main challenger, Jeremey Corbyn, faced a daunting gap in the polls (both in terms of party vote and for preferred prime minister).  However, during the campaign the Prime Minister committed a series of campaign errors and the Conservative manifesto included certain changes to how homes were counted as personal capital in adult social care payments.  These changes were labelled by critics as a “dementia tax” and constituted a major turning point in the campaign.  Days after the manifesto launch, Theresa May announced that there would be a maximum cap on the amount one would have to pay towards home based care.  The cap was often claimed to be a “U-turn” and it could only contain the damage the Tories suffered with older voters, who are generally the most likely to turn out.  The controversy over the “dementia tax” proved to be heavily damaging to May and provided a tremendous opening for the Labour Party, which was trailing badly in the polls at that time, to exploit.  The Conservative lead over Labour quickly halved after this maelstrom began and the Tories had difficulty finding their footing after this event.

The Labour Party’s manifesto represented a watered down version of Jeremy Corbyn’s past views, but it still constituted a significant shift towards increased taxation and spending and away from the more market oriented economic strategy of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Critics of Corbyn’s campaign promises argued that there was no “magic money tree” to provide for the new spending which they argued could only be paid for by measures that would likely harm the economy.  However, Corbyn’s calls for a major social spending surge resonated within a substantial portion of the Labour electorate and gave him a focused narrative during the campaign despite concerns in many corners over the particulars of implementation.

While much of the campaign focused on household economics, other issues did feature into the campaign.  Jeremy Corbyn has faced significant and wide ranging controversy since he won the Labour Party leadership election of 2015 with the help of highly committed activists against more centrist candidates.  Members of his shadow cabinet, particularly Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, have often been the subject of controversy for their past positions or statements.  The sudden ascendancy of the once relatively obscure John McDonnell within the Labour Party led to fresh examination of his views regarding the IRA and the conflict in Northern Ireland.  One particular instance involves remarks that he made in 2003.  At that time John McDonnell argued that, “We are in the last stage of imperialist intervention in Ireland and only armed struggle has stopped it.  It is about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle.  It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.  The peace we have now is due to the unilateral action of the IRA.”  This statement sparked immediate controversy and the Labour Party condemned the remarks and prepared to investigate McDonnell and possibly expel him from the party.  McDonnell later apologized for the statement and, in an article he authored, offered what he claimed to be his motivation for making the statements although his explanation has been questioned and challenged.  As with John McDonnell, Diane Abbott’s past statements and views regarding the IRA and the Troubles also resurfaced as she reached a newfound prominence.  One such case involves an interview held in the 1980s during which Diane Abbott declared about the armed conflict in Northern Ireland, “And it is our struggle – every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us.  A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed.”  During an interview in the 2017 election, Diane Abbott was pressed on the statement and appeared to suggest that she had later changed her views on that topic.  Additionally, Jeremy Corbyn himself has modified or amended some his more controversial positions or policies he espoused as a backbencher in Parliament, including those regarding NATO and the Falkland Islands.

The Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron faced some campaign stumbles although much of the electorate’s collective attention was focused on the two largest parties rather than the LDs.  The Liberal Democrats maintained their position in favor of remaining within the European Union during the campaign.  The question of how to manage and handle Brexit featured as a staple of the campaign, but other issues began to compete for electoral attention and the positions of the two main parties did not differ dramatically on this issue.

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