Shocking results of snap election throw Britain into political turmoil.
- PM’s colossal mistake – calling an election when none was needed
- Conservatives lost previous slim majority, resulting in hung parliament
- May criticised for running a dreadful campaign
- Brexit process hangs in the balance
In a night that British Prime Minister Theresa May would rather forget, she gambled and she lost when British voters dealt her a devastating blow in a snap election she had called to strengthen her hand in Brexit talks. The shocking results wiped out her parliamentary majority and have thrown the country into political turmoil.
With all 650 seats except one declared, the Conservatives won 318 seats. Though the biggest single winner, they failed to reach the 326 seats needed to command a parliamentary majority. Labour won 261 seats. Before the election, the Conservatives had 330 seats and Labour 229.
May’s Labour opponent Jeremy Corbyn, once written off by his rivals as a no-hoper, called for her to step down. But the wounded prime minister signalled she would fight on.
In the aftermath of one of the most sensational nights in British electoral history, politicians and commentators called her decision to hold the election a colossal mistake and derided her performance on the campaign trail.
May had unexpectedly called the snap election seven weeks ago, even though no vote was due until 2020. Back then, polls predicted she would massively increase the slim majority she had inherited from predecessor David Cameron. The forecast then was a win of 400 plus seats.
But as were with the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, the unexpected is the new norm in politics.
Conservative member of parliament Anna Soubry was the first in the party to disavow May in public, calling on the prime minister to “consider her position”.
“I’m afraid we ran a pretty dreadful campaign,” Soubry said.
May had spent the campaign criticising Corbyn as the weak leader of a spendthrift party that would crash Britain’s economy and flounder in Brexit talks, while she would provide “strong and stable leadership” to clinch a good deal for Britain.
But her campaign unravelled after a policy reversal on care for the elderly, while Corbyn’s old-school socialist platform and more fervent campaigning style won wider support than anyone had foreseen.
In the closing stages of the campaign, Britain was hit by two Islamist militant attacks that killed 30 people in Manchester and London, temporarily shifting the focus onto security issues. That did not help May, who in her former role as interior minister for six years had overseen cuts in the number of police officers.
With the smaller parties more closely aligned with Labour than with the Conservatives, the prospect of Corbyn becoming prime minister no longer seems fanciful.
That would make the course of Brexit even harder to predict.
During his three decades on Labour’s leftist fringe, Corbyn consistently opposed European integration and denounced the EU as a corporate, capitalist body.
He has said Labour would deliver Brexit if in power, but with very different priorities from those stated by May.
“What tonight is about is the rejection of Theresa May’s version of extreme Brexit,” said Keir Starmer, Labour’s policy chief on Brexit, saying his party wanted to maintain the benefits of the European single market and customs union.
With complex talks on Britain’s departure from the EU scheduled to start in 10 days’ time, it was unclear who would form the next government and what the fundamental direction of Brexit would be.
From the EU’s perspective, the upset meant a potential delay in the start of Brexit talks and a higher risk that negotiations would fail.
Analysts say a hung parliament is the worst outcome from a markets perspective as it creates another layer of uncertainty ahead of the Brexit negotiations and chips away at what is already a short timeline to secure a deal for Britain.
In domestic policy, Labour proposes increasing taxes for the wealthiest 5 per cent of Britons, doing away with university tuition fees, investing 250 billion pounds in infrastructure plans and re-nationalising the railways and postal service.
Analysis suggested Labour had benefited from a robust turnout among young voters.