The first General Election I was eligible to vote in was 1997, when Labour finally took power after 18 years of Tory rule, the majority of which was under Margaret Thatcher. It left me with the misconception that anything could be done. That a motivated group of young people could put a cross in a box and the evil would be banished into history.
My vote felt like the deciding vote. I made a difference.
Fast forward 20 years, and the thought of casting my vote this week filled me with horror. The Tories, this time round, seemed invincible; after a series of campaign disasters, it’s easy to start wondering what on earth the candidates would have to do to actually lose votes. Theresa May has refused to appear in debates, has produced an uncosted manifesto and continues to destroy the NHS, benefits system and social services, and still her supporters were predicted to vote for the Conservatives in droves.
She was expected to manage the biggest landslide since Thatcher, while Labour supporters – making up a considerable proportion of my social media bubble – were campaigning hard and seeming to achieve little in terms of results. There were a few more encouraging opinion polls but most of Britain’s lefties switched on the BBC last night with trepidation when the exit polls were due to be announced.
Then, the shock: Jonathan Dimbleby, the male, pale, stale guy in charge of election commentary for the BBC, reported that, according to exit polls, the Conservative Party was predicted to win the most seats but not have enough of a majority to form a government. This is because we have a multiple-party system, so if a party wins overall but has fewer than 326 seats, they will never be able to guarantee that they will win a vote. The opposition, when working in combination with all of the other, smaller parties, could outvote them every time.
It’s power, of sorts, but insufficient for overall political domination.
However, these were only exit polls and there were lots of seats in the polling that were borderline. Nobody could bank on the forecasts.
Where the Tories went wrong
There was a complacency about the Conservatives’ campaigning that shocked many. Their manifesto challenged older voters – their core constituency – on several areas, including questioning the protection of pension levels and who should pay for social care costs, which was dubbed the Dementia Tax.
That, along with May’s refusal to engage with media opportunities, television debates with fellow party leaders, or even members of the public, has left a bad taste in the mouth regarding her leadership.
Jeremy Corbyn was up against the brute force of many of the country’s newspapers and news coverage, as well as MPs and activists from his own party who did not trust that he could win votes. He started the campaign from a wobbly place that made many question his capabilities, especially in leadership, but he became visibly more able to cope with the demands of the campaign and the requirements of leadership.
The exit polls were more or less correct, give or take a seat or two. The Conservatives lost 12 seats and Labour gained 29. This is an unmitigated disaster for Theresa May and her party, and they did not gain the magic 326 seats required for an overall majority.
With 316 seats won, the Tories needed 10 more seats, but there was only one left to be counted.
Enter, the DUP. This far right Northern Irish party has been putting the fear of god into people who need abortions and LGBT+ people for years, but we on the mainland have had little to do with them for some time. They have been instrumental in blocking abortion rights in Northern Ireland, have blocked attempts to legalise gay marriage, and have even appointed a climate change denier as their Environment Minister.
Theresa May spoke to Arlene Foster, their leader, and agreed that they would back up the Tories with their 10 seats.
The Tories who tried to fight off the image of themselves as the ‘nasty party’ will soon have nothing left to go on. Sure, they introduced gay marriage, but they can’t keep dining out on that when they are partnering with parties like the DUP, and we can feel confident there will be no more progress on social equality for some time ahead.
And what about May?
Theresa May was arrogant when she called an election to boost the Tories’ majority. She made a series of assumptions and took her campaign for granted, and she is now in the precarious position of having put the party in danger of defeat. She says she is staying put and refusing to stand down, but whether she can withstand the pressure from colleagues and opponents will remain to be seen.
On the positive, we have many more left-wing MPs, and there are more female MPs in power than ever before. Plus, at least two of the newly elected Labour MPs are disabled.
And they will have their work cut out for them.
Photo: Alex Brown/Creative Commons