This election will be remembered as a novelty: one in which both of the main parties managed to lose. Where do they go from here?

Leon Cook: Feeling Blue

Prime Minister Theresa May has probably not slept, after arguably the most eventful election – for all the wrong reasons – in over 40 years. Far from having strengthened her hand in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, she will have galvanised chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his team, who are now perfectly placed to exploit the gaping divisions in British society. Triple digit majority? Try a hung Parliament and a minority Government. 

Her immediate task now is to clarify what arrangements the Conservatives will need to make with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to form a working Parliamentary majority. My colleague Professor Nicholas Whyte has more on the significance of the DUP, here.

But May will also need to contend with the seething ranks of an ambitious, ruthless and unforgiving Conservative party. In their eyes ‘she’ cost them this election, a whopping majority, and the jobs of many popular MPs. The knives are out. Vociferous ‘Remainers’ such as Anna Soubry have already called for her to ‘consider her position’. Rough translation: ‘Thanks Prime Minister – get your coat.’ 

To retain power she will have to open up her tight-knit leadership group to the wider party. In particular, May’s gatekeepers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill face an inquisition, for their roles in shaping this flawed campaign, and Timothy for pushing the social care policy, which so spectacularly undermined the manifesto. Whether or not she can operate without them, and is willing to sack them to save her own skin, remains to be seen – but we can be sure that serial careerist Boris Johnson will be on manoeuvres already.

All eyes are now looking towards an Autumn election. May will know in her heart of hearts that if she fights that election, she will most likely lose it. And that’s before one factors in even the previously sympathetic press now smelling blood – to say nothing of Evening Standard Editor George Osborne, who was smiling last night as if he’d just put his life savings on a hung Parliament.  

She may be better advised to stay her course, either in coalition or with a series of ad-hoc majorities, wring the best possible deal she can from European Commission, and then take it to the polls for approval. It’s a bleak outlook. But what choice does she have?

Tom Newham: Seeing Red

A lot of seasoned political observers would have expected this morning to be about recriminations and internal squabbles for the Labour party. There’s plenty of that yet to come, but today even the most hard-bitten Blairite moderates look set to join the rest of the Parliamentary party in backing Jeremy Corbyn to stay on, and, in all likelihood, fight a second election against Theresa May in the near future.

Corbyn’s team had put a substantial effort into developing the case for his continued leadership in the event of a defeat. If Jeremy could improve on Ed Miliband’s 2015 vote share, the argument went, then he should be afforded second chance – as Neil Kinnock was, after making inroads into the Tories’ vote share but ultimately failing to oust Mrs Thatcher in 1987. This is in effect what came to pass, although very few predicted that Corbyn would surpass Miliband’s vote-share by a full 10%. A point or two above the 30% mark and a bloody coup would have been on the cards, but the so-called Corbyn surge has banished the wolves from the door.

It is a measure of how far the party has fallen that so many party members and activists have greeted this result as some sort of victory. In the excitement of the early morning, Corbyn even appeared to claim that Labour had ‘won’. But a return of 261 seats in 2017 represents an improvement of just three on Gordon Brown’s dismal 2010 haul. It is progress, certainly, but only because the bar has been set so low.

Corbyn can take some credit for the modest improvement in the party’s position – though he is also indebted to the Prime Minister and her Downing Street cabal, who have contrived to execute perhaps the worst election campaign of a sitting Government since the Second World War. He’s an effective and passionate campaigner, and, for all his many flaws, is undeniably authentic. But the issue has never been his campaigning.

The old adage that would-be leaders must campaign in poetry but govern in prose is apt. Received wisdom is that in long-form politics Corbyn’s dynamism evaporates – that he becomes sluggish, erratic, even lazy. That may or may not be fair, and Corbyn’s allies place the blame for his sclerotic leadership squarely upon the moderates who have worked hard to depose him. But this hardly excuses the chronic malfunction of his press team, his habit of alienating potential allies, and his obstinate refusal to accept legitimate criticism – over the handling of Labour’s anti-semitism inquiry, for example.

Conclusion

With the dust settling on one election, and in all probability another one to follow shortly, the electorate has an unappetising choice before it. An incumbent who has surely wrecked her Premiership within a year, and a contender who would probably only need six months. A Prime Minister chronically lacking in authority and a Leader of the Opposition without a party to support him. Strong and stable they certainly are not.

Leon Cook
Leon Cook

Leon Cook is a director in APCO’s London office. He provides senior UK public affairs counsel to APCO’s corporate and government clients. Read More

thomas newham
Thomas Newham

Tom Newham is based in APCO Worldwide’s London office and works across public affairs and corporate communications, having previously worked in PR and government relations roles in the alcoholic beverages industry. Read More