Saturday, 10 June 2017

An extraordinary few days.

Cartoon by Dave Brown for The Independent.
I hardly know where to begin in summing up the past few days here in the United Kingdom. I suppose the easiest place to start is with the obvious: on Thursday we had a general election in which the Tories won the most seats however did not win a majority. To explain: parliament in the UK is made up of 650 MPs, each representing a constituency, which is an area of the UK (known as a seat). A majority would mean a single political party winning over half of these 650 seats, therefore they need 326 seats at the very least. Here's the results and, in brackets, how many seats were gained or lost since the 2015 election:
Conservatives: 318 (- 13)
Labour: 262 (+ 30)
Scottish National Party: 35 (- 21)
Liberal Democrats: 12 (+ 4)
Democratic Unionist Party: 10 (+ 2)
Sinn Féin: 7 (+ 3)
Plaid Cymru: 4 (+ 1)
Green Party: 1 (0)
Other: 1 (0)
Edit: Before I get into this I've just realised I've taken for granted a bit that everyone will understand the political leanings of these parties. Here's a very brief guide to these parties' political leanings based on their 'official' standpoint. I personally find them problematic (for example I see the Conservatives as right-wing, not centre-right), but it's just a guide:
Conservatives: Centre-right
Labour: Centre-left
Scottish National Party: Centre-left
Liberal Democrats: Centre
Democratic Unionist Party: Right wing
Sinn Féin: Left wing
Plaid Cymru: Left wing
Green Party: Left wing
Now, despite the fact that the Conservatives won the most seats, you'll have no doubt heard by now this is a disastrous result for the Conservatives, and in this post I want to get into why, partly to be of use to others, and partly to get my head around what's happening myself. Here, then, are three reasons why this was a bad result for the Conservatives:

The Conservatives' Goals

Theresa May walking out of Number 10 yesterday. (Picture: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

The first and most obvious reason why the Conservatives are downhearted is to look at their goals. This is easy, I can quite simply quote Theresa May's announcement on 18th April. To be brief, I'll pick out the key points (you can read her announcement in full here):
I have just chaired a meeting of the cabinet, where we agreed that the government should call a general election, to be held on 8 June.
I want to explain the reasons for that decision, what will happen next and the choice facing the British people when you come to vote in this election.
[Referring to Brexit negotiations] ... At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.
In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill.
The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain's membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.
Our opponents believe because the government's majority is so small, that our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change course. They are wrong.
They underestimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country.
Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the government's negotiating position in Europe.
If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.
Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country....
And the decision facing the country will be all about leadership. It will be a choice between strong and stable leadership in the national interest, with me as your prime minister, or weak and unstable coalition government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, who want to reopen the divisions of the referendum, and Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.
Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done.
Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.
Every vote for the Conservatives means we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take the right long-term decisions for a more secure future.
There was quite a few misleading statements in this speech, for example though the SNP and Liberal Democrats did and do oppose Brexit and the triggering of Article 50, the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) did not. Whatever the case, the goal is clear: "Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done." In 2015 the Conservatives won 331 seats (a majority of six). They wanted a greater majority in order to get things passed and to give them more credibility. They failed.

The Conservatives' Expectations

Cartoon by Steve Bell for The Guardian (1/06/17).

Secondly, let's look at expectations: it was widely predicted that the Conservatives would win this election by a landslide. Let's look at the polls on UK Polling Report that show the share of votes each party were projected to gain:

March 2017

YouGov/Times (27/03/17)
Conservatives: 43%
Labour: 25%
Liberal Democrats: 11%
UKIP: 10%
Green: 3%
Conservative Lead: 18%
April 2017

YouGov/Times (13/04/17): five days before the General Election was announced
Conservatives: 44%
Labour: 23%
Liberal Democrat: 12%
UKIP: 10%
Green: 4%
Conservative Lead: 21%
YouGov/Times (19/04/17): the day after the election was announced
Conservatives: 48%
Labour: 24%
Liberal Democrats: 12%
UKIP: 7%
Green: 2%
Conservative Lead: 24%
Now, a reminder: what actually transpired -
Conservatives: 42.4%
Labour: 40%
Liberal Democrats: 7.4%
UKIP: 1.8%
Green: 1.6%
Conservative Lead: 5.5%
The Conservatives believed they would win by a landslide. An example: the eve-of-vote poll by ComRes for The Independent gave the Conservatives a 10-point lead, indicating an 74-seat majority, the largest gain since the days of Margaret Thatcher. The actual result: 318 seats, eight less than a majority, 82 seats less than predicted. Their expectations were wrong.

The Share of Votes

Boris Johnson (Photograph: James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock).

It's important to know that constituencies are not equally divided. The largest constituency I believe is the Isle of Wight with 108,804 electorate. The smallest is Arfon with 40,492 electorate. Nor are they equally divided geographically: the largest is Ross, Skye and Lochaber, measuring approximately 12,000 square kilometres (it has 54,169 electorate) and the smallest constituency is Islington North, measuring 7.35 square kilometres (73,326 electorate). Because of that, I think it's very useful to know how many votes each party got regardless of seats:
Conservatives: 13,667,213
Labour: 12,874,985
Scottish National Party: 977,569
Liberal Democrats: 2,371,772
Democratic Unionist Party: 292,316
Sinn Féin: 238,915
Plaid Cymru: 164,466
Green Party: 525,371
UKIP: 593,852
Now, forget about constituencies for a moment, let's see how the votes were translated into seats by dividing how many votes each party received by how many seats they gained to show an average number of votes per seat:
Conservatives: 42,979
Labour: 49,141
Scottish National Party: 27,930
Liberal Democrats: 197,647
Democratic Unionist Party: 29,232
Sinn Féin: 34,131
Plaid Cymru: 41,147
Green Party: 525,371
Here is a clear argument in favour of proportional representation, but, that's for a whole other post! The point is the other English parties (that's excluding the SNP, DUP, Sinn Féin, and Plaid Cymru) needed more votes than the Conservatives to gain more seats, and that advantage still didn't help them secure their majority.

Here's another problem with their share of the votes: the perception of safe seats and the perception of marginal seats. There were some close calls all around: the Liberal Democrats won North East Fife by two votes, Labour beat the Conservatives in Newcastle-under-Lyme by thirty votes, and Labour beat the Conservatives in Crewe & Nantwich by forty-eight votes. But, the Conservatives had some uncomfortably close calls themselves: in Southampton Itchen, they beat Labour by thirty-one votes, and in Richmond Park they beat Labour by forty-five votes. Furthermore, safe seats were lost, most famously that of Kensington and Chelsea, regarded as a Conservative safe seat and the UK's most prosperous area, won by Labour with a majority of a mere twenty. Some marginal seats were lost too by the Conservatives: Canterbury was also lost to Labour, as well as Battersea, Warwick & Leamington, Reading East, Portsmouth South... The list goes on. In short, Labour made gains in Conservative areas and some big names were lost. Aside from the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg and the SNP's Alex Salmond, Conservative losses include Ben Gummer, Jane Ellison, Gavin Barwell, Rob Wilson, Nicola Blackwood, and James Wharton.

Cartoon by Steve Bell for The Guardian.
The Conservatives promised a "strong and stable" government, but what we have is a party in chaos. Having mocked votes for Labour ensuring a "coalition of chaos" we have a government that has just this past hour agreed to be propped up by the DUP and a party in disarray. Some of stood by Theresa May and said very firmly she must not resign. On the other hand Anna Soubry described the situation as "bad... very bad", saying May must "consider her position". A senior Conservative MP told Robert Peston "We all f***ing hate her. But there is nothing we can do. She has totally f***ed us". They were so sure of their victory they even planned to revisit the highly controversial issue of fox hunting, despite 84% of people being against it. The arrogance of the campaign, quite frankly, was checked.

It was, in short, a bad night. Labour did not win the election, but the Conservatives lost too. We cannot know if they'll hang on and for how long. We can be sure though that strong and stable is out of the question. Labour defied all expectations and significantly increased their majority as well as making Conservative safe seats very much marginal, which explains why they've been looking rather pleased with themselves, and the Conservatives... well, we know why they look so downhearted. What happens next is anyone's guess, but yes, it has been an extraordinary few days. I've been following it of course, and I've not had that much sleep! I'll resume normally blogging next week and sort those reviews out I mentioned in another post that I'm behind on and get back to some reading. But I had to pause to follow this election - I couldn't miss this.


  1. Wow, what a mess of a situation. Thanks for the info, it is appreciated.

    1. No problem! It is quite the cock up. No idea what's going to happen next. I wish I'd been there when she was explaining herself to Tory HQ!

  2. tx for the summary; it's still pretty complicated, but a bit of light gleams thru the cracks... it kind of reminds me of Disraeli's troubles in his last twenty years...

    1. I'll have to look that up, it'll be interesting to see how he coped. Not very good with the old politicians, I'm pretty fuzzy pre-Thatcher to be honest :)

  3. All very enlightening....but the first big change has to be proportional representation. Our voting results (March, Netherlands) were projected on to your voting system and the results were completely different: VVD (conservaties) swept the country....and 2nd party PVV (sort UKIP) came in last while it is (I'm ashamed to say...) a very close second to VVD. I know my 2 cents about Dutch politics doesn't change your stituaiton...but just a view from across The Channel. I wonder if 'the Queen of Denial' will survive.

    1. That is interesting... Alarming. Conservatives *did* win the highest share of votes and actually did have more votes than last time (2 million more I think?). That did sadden me - they've done such dreadful things but people are willing to put that aside.

      Will she survive? Personally I doubt it - the Tories can be pretty ruthless when their leader has brought them failure.

      YouGov has done a few more polls since this disaster -

      On who would make best Prime Minister:

      T. May: 39% (-4)
      J. Corbyn: 39% (+7)

      Westminster voting intention:

      LAB: 45% (+5)
      CON: 39% (-3)
      LDEM: 7% (-)
      UKIP: 3% (+1)

      Following the GE result, Theresa May...

      Should resign as Prime Minister: 49%
      Should not resign as Prime Minister: 38%

      "Theresa May is a strong and stable leader":

      Agree: 36%
      Disagree: 50%

      George Osborne's well and truly stuck the knife in today.

      Plus Corbyn seems sure there'll be another General Election soon (as do quite a few others) saying "We cannot go on with a period of great instability."

      Cannot believe these past few months here. Are we ever going to have a calm period?!

    2. It's not "Et tu, Brute?"
      Theresa May's last words as PM could be
      "Et tu. George?"

    3. So funny you've just said that, I've just read this in an article a few moments ago -

      "Undeterred, The Guardian ploughed on, planting the knife in Corbyn's back so many times and in so many ways, that Caesar's murder looked like the work of a lone wolf."

      Lots of Julius Caesar references today I think :)

  4. This is just a messy situation! We had the same situation about 3 years ago and current government is in power, not because as they claim they are people's voice, but because they got 33% of the total seats of the 543. Its quite alarming to consider that we are currently being led by a government which is not wanted by 67% pr so of the populace! The glories of Democracy, though needless to say I would NOT want any other form of government ever!

    1. To not be wanted by 67% is not good, agreed. Corbyn's in the same position though, so I'm hesitant to get excited at prospect of a minority government. I think we do need another election, but goodness.... Scottish ref 2014, General Election 2015, Brexit 2016, General Election 2017, and now potentially another General Election 2017 or 2018. This is ridiculous!

      It's certainly messy. I keep checking the news to see if it's fallen yet. Today will be a big test I think - she's up in front the 1922 Committee I read. We'll see....

  5. We share a similar parliamentary system, & I'm still feeling bamboozled by everything happening in the UK right now!

    1. Don't blame you!

      One of my friends just asked me - can the Queen say no to May putting together a government. I know the Queen can't say no, but I was thinking of times when the Queen or monarch refused Royal Assent, or selected a PM (as the Queen sort of did with Douglas-Home). Didn't the Queen refuse to give Royal Assent for something in Australia? Or they forgot to ask her or something? I'm not good on Australian history...

    2. Back in 1975 the Queen's representative in Australia, the Governor General was called on by members of the opposition to sack our PM, Gough Whitlam because he was unable to pass his budget (& other problems). Anyone my age or older has very firm views on the rightness or not of this. The Queen avoided saying too much at the time & left things to the G-G, but it certainly shook things up! The republican movement in Australia has this day as one of the main reasons why we should have an independent parliament.

    3. Thanks for that, I'll read the article and pass it on :)


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