Britain plunged into greater uncertainty by election result

After the Brexit referendum, British voters have once again spring a surprise. Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of a strong mandate ahead of negotiations for Britain’s departure from the European Union have been shattered. Now, it is not even clear that the talks will go ahead on time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 1:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 1:05am

Britain’s leader Theresa May was taking a gamble when she called a snap election earlier this year. At the time, it seemed her bet was a safe one. Polls were showing a big lead for her Conservative Party and she looked set for a comfortable victory. But after the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential race, we know only too well that polls can be wrong and elections unpredictable. Once again, voters have sprung a surprise. Rather than securing the landslide victory she craved, May saw her party lose seats and fail to secure a majority in Parliament. Her hopes of a strong mandate ahead of historic negotiations for Britain’s departure from the European Union have been shattered. Instead, the UK has a hung parliament. No party secured a majority and May was left scrambling to form a coalition government. The country has been plunged into greater uncertainty.

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May’s campaign has, with justification, been described as disastrous and catastrophic by members of her own party. Her presidential style made her appear aloof and did not sit well with voters. She alienated core Conservative electors and the party’s manifesto was poorly received. The opposition Labour Party, in contrast, fought an unexpectedly successful campaign. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose old-school socialist views are seen by many to make him unelectable, struck a chord with young voters and seemed to grow in confidence as the election neared. He has described his party as having changed the face of British politics. But it is the vote in favour of Brexit last year which has done that. The fault lines in British politics have changed. There are deep divisions between those who wish to leave the EU and those who want to stay – and they cut across party lines. One of the positives in this election was the surge in the number of young people voting, which benefited Labour. The turnout was high. Clearly, the Brexit referendum has made people realise the importance of exercising their right to vote.

The result is important not only for Britain but around the world. London remains an important international financial centre. Britain is a key trading partner for China and a potentially significant player in the belt and road project. There is a need for the Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU to be swift and conclusive. Most of all, it was hoped, this election would lead to greater clarity. But the result is more uncertainty. Now, it is not even clear that the talks scheduled for later this month will go ahead on time. And there will not be a British leader with a strong mandate to conduct them. Democracy is often untidy. It will take time – and probably another election – for matters to be resolved. Hopefully, the process will lead to better cross-party collaboration and, ultimately, a leader with a clear mandate.