Well, I was wrong about the 2017 general election, and am happy to admit it. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party did a lot better than many expected. My own predictions were pretty accurate, though; first of all I predicted the election would happen in 2017. Secondly I predicted a Tory win, but without a clear majority. I did expect the SNP would drop a few seats from its historic near monopoly in Scotland, but did not see the big resurgence of Tory vote there coming (without which we might be looking at a left-of-centre coalition not a right-of centre one). I did predict a ‘coalition’, but I thought it would be with the LibDems again (despite what the LibDems were saying publicly, they had ‘form’). Instead we’ve got the Ulster Unionists propping up the Tories, which is a pretty frightening prospect – I’ll write about this later in this post.
I was wrong about Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to reach the public. As the campaign went on he did better and better; he played to his strength of public speaking and getting out into the country. Even with the help of some blatant lies, a lot of hostile and smearing press coverage and, it has to be said, subtle (perhaps institutional) bias in the BBC, Theresa May showed she couldn’t do it, if anything she was worse than Jeremy Corbyn. She couldn’t campaign, and being unwilling to debate and being seen to only speak at carefully staged meeting of party activists, she seemed detached, even aloof. She provided an unlimited supply of ammuniton for a well organised social media campaign against her.
Good ‘on the stump’, Jeremy Corbyn did less well on camera, and showed he isn’t as fleet of foot as he needs to be – as has been seen time after time at Prime Minister’s Questions in th House of Commons. Why is this important? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, Theresa May cannot survive as PM beyond (perhaps even up to) the end of the Brexit negotiations. You can almost hear the knives being sharpened. The timing of her departure is entirely dependent on how well the Brexit negotiations are perceived to be going. Her replacement is unlikely to be as inept or non-combative at the next election. I predict another election will be fought at the time the Brexit negotiations are concluded – 18 months for Labour to get its act together. The Conservatives will not make the mistakes they did this time round. Realising they shot themselves in the foot with an ill-considered manifesto, they already realise a more collegiate approach to policy forming is required. Labour can’t count on many more ‘own goals’ from them.
Secondly, the secret weapon of Corbyn’s unassailable integrity can only last so long; the young and first time voters go ‘off the boil’ quickly. They must be encouraged to remain active, engaged and ready to vote. The part of the Labour party that tried to dump Corbyn and then, when they failed, turned its back on him, must rue the fact that he took them to within a whisker of victory. They must be thinking “if only”, especially those that came close to, but failed, to winning a seat. It’s good to see a few of his detractors have publicly recanted.
Now, to the ‘unholy alliance’ with the DUP. The LibDems stuck to their, broadly, anti-Brexit stance and said “No deals”. The only others left standing with enough votes to keep Theresa’s Tories in power are the DUP, The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. During the election, one of the smears repeatedly thrown at Jeremy Corbyn was his alleged sympathy with the IRA (and others). Even though this was shown to be misreported and taken out of context, some of that stuck. The DUP are the political representatives of Ulster “Loyalism”: their power also grows from the barrel of the gun, they are to the Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Ulster Volunter Force (etc.) what Sinn Fein is to the IRA. After the so-called Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to open armed conflict between Loyalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland, known as “the Troubles”, the two sides came together in a devolved power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. This institution collapsed just before the UK election was called, resulting in an election in Northern Ireland which has, so far, failed to restore functioning government there. Suspicion and anger has returned, open (and armed) hostility might be only just around the corner. Sinn Fein has 7 members elected to the UK parliament, but they have consistently refused to take those seats becuase they don’t recognise the authority of the institution over Northern Ireland (which they see as properly part of the whole of Ireland), and refuse to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen. How will Sinn Fein see the inclusion of its ‘mortal enemy’ in the government apparatus of Westminster? They have, for years, believed the UK government is secretly “in cahoots” with the Loyalists. They are bound to think that the DUP is going to get concessions, and help, in exchange for keeping the UK Government afloat. Even if they don’t really think this to be true, they are going to say it. They have a constituency to maintain and you can imagine guns being dug up and oiled, on both sides, already.
In the context of an already extreme security threat, from ISIS etc., the last thing our already overstretched security services need is another, this time internal, threat to deal with. The broader implications of this election result are therefore very, very worrying. “Strong and Stable” was Theresa May’s ‘tag line’; if nowhere other than Northern Ireland, things look considerably less stable. And, as for strong….?