What next?

All right on the night: Labour is predicted to suffer its fourth election defeat since 2010.

Friday 13th might be a bit of a horror show for the political party leaders. If, as many suspect, the election delivers a slim Tory majority, every party will have to deal with some big problems.

  • What will Boris Johnson do if he does win?

    Boris Johnson finally achieved his dream of becoming Prime Minister last summer, after several false starts. But he was immediately confronted with a series of seemingly intractable problems — not least of which was that he only had a mandate from the Conservative Party membership, and not from the country through a general election.

    Now, it looks like he may get his mandate — just — but the problems have not gone away. He will probably be able to fulfil his central promise to “get Brexit done” in as much as the UK will legally leave the EU at the end of January 2020.

    But it will also see Johnson’s other promises and reality come into sharp and probably painful contact.

  • So, will Brexit be done?

    On Brexit, the UK will be entering a period where it is still in the EU in all respects except having any representation. The transition period, which runs to the end of 2020, will see little practical change to trade or other relationships with the EU.

    During the transition (in reality, it has to be done in considerably less than 11 months), Johnson claims he can negotiate fresh deals with the EU, outlining trade and future cooperation, and get them ratified in the UK and Europe.

    The vast majority of experts say this simply isn’t possible. If they are right, then Johnson faces a choice: exit the transition without any deal on 31 Dec 2020, or ask for an extension. Both pose huge problems.

    But Johnson faces other big problems too. His promises of being a liberal, one-nation government are not supported by many of his MPs and current cabinet. Nor are his promises to end austerity and spend more, without putting up taxes. And many of the working-class Leave voters, who are expected to defect from Labour, will want those promises fulfilled.

  • Will Jeremy Corbyn quit if Labour loses?

    The Labour Party will have suffered its fourth election defeat since 2010, two of them under Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the most radical Left-wing manifesto since at least 1983, Labour is likely to have fallen back in the popular vote and number of MPs on their 2017 tally.

    After the 2010 and 2015 Labour defeats, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband respectively stood down as Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn will be 71 next May and few expect him to stay on as Labour leader for very much longer after a second defeat. By some accounts, the battle to succeed him has already started.

  • So will Labour descend into civil war?

    It seems unlikely. Corbyn supporters have steadily consolidated their control of the party apparatus.

    Anti-Corbyn MPs have been remarkably quiet and there is no obvious alternative leader to replace Corbyn. Many potential challengers, like former deputy leader Tom Watson, have stood down, There will be an internal fight, but it will probably be muted and the Corbyn faction will almost certainly win comfortably.

    After the 1983 election, when Left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot suffered a big defeat, the Labour Left (led then by Tony Benn) claimed it was really a sort of victory: eight and half million people had voted for a Socialist manifesto, and this was a basis for future advance. Labour’s current leaders will likely claim the same after this election.

  • Didn’t the Lib Dems look like they would do well?

    They did. After the 2016 referendum, the Liberal Democrats embarked on a strategy to make themselves the party of Remain. Given Labour’s decision to implement the referendum result and support leaving the EU, this seemed like a plausible strategy. But it never seemed to work.

    At least, not until this year’s local government and European Parliament elections, when the Lib Dems surged in both. They almost doubled their number of local councillors, gaining 704 and, in the EU elections, they came second, pushing Labour into third place. It looked like their strategy was finally working.

    The Lib Dems were further boosted by several former Conservative and Labour MPs joining them over the summer and autumn. They looked like they were on a roll.

  • So, what went wrong?

    As the election has unfolded, this apparently promising position seems to have slowly eroded. Several explanations have been given. New Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has been blamed for making some tactical mistakes.

    The party’s decision to promise to revoke Article 50 (the device that takes the UK out of the EU) without another referendum was seen by many as undemocratic.

    Its claims that it could form a government and Swinson could become PM were seen as unrealistic. And its presidential-style campaign — referring to the party as “Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats” — was seen as an error because she was relatively unknown.

    Fundamentally, the problem was — as it so often is for third parties in a first-past-the-post system — that, unless a certain level of critical momentum is reached, they tend to get squeezed out by the two big main parties. The Lib Dems seem to have fallen short again.

    There will be a serious, possibly fractious, post-mortem on the Lib Dems campaign, but Swinson’s position is probably safe — unless she decides to quit?

    This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy.

You Decide

  1. Should the leader of a losing party be forced to quit?

Activities

  1. Make a list of the pros and cons of the Liberal Democrat campaign so far. What did they do well, and what were their biggest mistakes?

Word Watch

Intractable
Hard to control or deal with.
Mandate
The authority to carry out a policy, given by voters to a party or candidate that wins an election.
Ratified
A treaty, contract or agreement that is signed, or formally consented to, making it officially valid.
One-nation
A type of conservatism often associated with moderate, socially liberal policies.
Austerity
Difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public spending. The government pursued a policy of austerity as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Socialist
Someone who practises socialism, any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership (for example, of health, education, railways) and of the means of production (the machinery, tools, and factories used to produce goods). In reality, pure socialism rarely happens. Socialism developed in opposition to the excesses and abuses of liberal individualism and capitalism during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

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