The British Election: Likely Chaos in the Conservative Party
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Rodric Braithwaite

GCMG, Chairman, International Advisory Board, Moscow School of Political Studies; Former British Ambassador in Moscow (1988-1992).

Valdai Discussion Club

It is too early to absorb the results of the June 8 parliamentary elections, there will be much discussion of what has happened and what it represents for the future of British politics. But the essence is that the United Kingdom have a hung parliament, and therefore the possibility of another election before too long, writes Sir Rodric Braithwaite, Chairman of GCMG International Advisory Board.

Prime Minister May has been humiliated: she called an election to strengthen her grip on power and failed. There is likely to be chaos in the Conservative Party and a change of leadership. There is a lack of convincing candidates, though Boris Johnson (Foreign Secretary) is already positioning himself for the job.

Most people were wrong about the Labour leader, the old-fashioned Left-winger Jeremy Corbyn. He fought a surprisingly good campaign, and his party took a number of seats from Conservative ministers. Young voters seem to have turned out to vote Labour, perhaps because they saw their future in the European Union, and were cross that the older voters who voted for Britain to leave the European Union (EU) in the referendum in June 2016 failed to take their interests into account. More widely, Corbyn’s anti-austerity rhetoric seems to have appealed to working class voters. Mrs May hoped that many of those who voted for the United Kingdom Independence Party in the referendum would move to the Conservatives. Instead a significant number of them returned to Labour. But Corbyn still hasn’t explained how he would pay for his policies and he still doesn’t look like a potential prime minister.

What all this means for British plans to leave the EU (Brexit) is unclear. The election result may represent the revenge of the those who voted in June 2016 to remain. But anti-EU emotion is deeply rooted: the British are unlikely now decide they want to remain in the EU after all. The government, led by May or not, will find it even harder to put together a coherent negotiating strategy. Some Continental Europeans may exult. But an incoherent Britain will make life no easier for them. And the EU still needs to tackle the deep flaws and problems which are losing it popular support on the Continent as well.

The Scottish National Party took a battering, and lost seats to both Labour and the Conservatives. This makes the breakup of the United Kingdom less likely, though  Brexit would still pose a hideous problem to the two halves of Ireland.

Britain still does not have a serious defence and foreign policy, and neither Brexit nor the election result will arrest its comparative decline in international affairs. Traditional security issues did not play a major role in the campaign. Terrorism was much talked about. But no one suggested anything more viable than the present policy of keeping calm, further improving our police and intelligence work, and doing what we can to encourage the majority of British Moslems who want to be a respected part of the wider community. 

All that said, the election result shows that politicians and commentators are always unwise to take the ordinary voter for granted. The man in the street is as capable of coming to a sensible view as his confused betters. Contrary to what a commentator in the New York Times recently said, democracy in Britain is alive and well. Despite the bizarre phase through which British politics is going, the British are still entitled to feel reasonably proud of themselves.

Valdai Discussion Club