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by Jamie Cater 9th June, 2017
3 min read

General Election 2017: GK Analysis

We are becoming used to expecting the unexpected when it comes to elections and referendums, and the last 12 hours have seen the predictions of experts, commentators and politicians confounded again. Already labelled a ‘catastrophic’ and ‘historic’ mistake on the part of Theresa May, the future shape of the UK Government – against all expectations – is highly uncertain today. What we do know is that May’s gamble on calling the election to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations, and distancing herself from David Cameron’s brand of conservatism, has backfired.

It has been another vote in which the conventional wisdom has been torn to shreds in a number of different ways. The first is the question of turnout. The expectation – even in the face of narrowing opinion polls – of an increased Conservative majority has been trumped predominantly by an unprecedented turnout among voters between the ages of 18 and 25. Any increase in the vote share for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour was expected to be limited to the urban metropolitan areas in which the party has already performed well; rather than just piling up votes in cities, the party has significantly outperformed expectations in some seats in smaller towns and rural areas that had been forecast to break strongly for the Conservatives.

The second is the importance of the manifestos and the campaign itself. Previous elections have seen significant movements in the opinion polls during the campaign that have not materialised in the actual result, with a general consensus that while there is greater public attention on politics during an election campaign, this usually serves to reinforce existing prejudices about the respective parties and solidify, rather than radically change, people’s voting intentions. The unprecedented U-turn from the Conservatives on their social care proposals, May’s apparent evasiveness and Corbyn’s energetic campaigning over the last seven weeks have turned the election on its head and produced an outcome few had dared to call.

While the Conservatives end this campaign as the largest party and Labour have lost, the scale of Labour’s defeat in 2015 meant that it would always be difficult for the party to overturn fully a Conservative majority and they will take heart at a performance that takes them over the number of seats won in the last two elections. While the Conservatives will draw some comfort from being able form a government and their better-than-expected performance in Scotland at the expense of the SNP, May is likely to come under pressure immediately from backbenchers who feel that Corbyn’s party should have been routed.

What happens now?

While Parliament is hung, the existing Government remains in place until a new one is formed. Although there is no formal constitutional right to do so, the leader of the Conservatives – whether Theresa May is replaced or not – will effectively have the first opportunity to try to form a Government, whether this is a coalition or a minority administration. The DUP in Northern Ireland has the numbers to support the Conservatives, but no party is likely to want to enter a formal coalition arrangement following the decimation of the Liberal Democrats two years ago and from which they will have not recovered in this election. A confidence and supply arrangement between the two parties appears the most likely way forward at this stage.

A minority government is relatively unknown territory but not necessarily as unstable as might be expected. A Prime Minister does not need to command a majority in the House of Commons to vote in their favour, but only that a majority does not vote against them. In the event that the Conservatives pursue a minority administration with the support of the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland, the immediate test of its legitimacy would be the Queen’s Speech, to be held on 19th June; if the Government were defeated, there would immediately be pressure on the Prime Minister to consider her position. Prior to 2010, this would have effectively been interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the Government, but the Fixed Term Parliaments Act will complicate matters, likely meaning that a separate vote of no confidence in the Government would be needed and would lead to a fresh general election. The new Government’s agenda will be focused on areas of cross-party consensus in order to try to find stability and avoid questions over its legitimacy.

There will be further uncertainty as a reshuffle takes place over the coming days, with a number of key Ministers – Jane Ellison in the Treasury, David Mowat and Nicola Blackwood in the Department of Health, and Edward Timpson in the Department for Education – having lost their seats. With the reshuffle having been expected to begin over the weekend, this process may now be delayed by hung parliament negotiations, but new Ministers should still be in post before the end of next week.

Whatever happens over the next few days, the Conservatives are undoubtedly in the best position to try to form a Government. The make-up of that Government, and how strong and stable that Government can be, will remain to be seen.

Get in touch with one of our consultants to discuss any election outcome concerns here: info@gkstrategy.com

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