Eight of May’s top team failed to be re-elected to their seats. Even Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, won by a hair’s breadth. With her slim majority, it will now be difficult for May to pass any bills. If only 3 of the 55 hard Brexit Tory MPs do not turn up in the House of Commons, bills will not be passed. The only way Tories can cross the majority threshold of 326 seats is with the assistance of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 seats, but the DUP is unlikely to agree to a coalition. Perhaps a working agreement to support bills on a random basis is possible, but unsustainable in the long term. The DUP will command the shots. They will want to keep the open border between Eire and Northern Ireland, some financial incentives and a guarantee on the pension triple lock. Any assumption of collaboration is premature and pro-tem May will govern as a minority government.
Labour, on the other hand, is in a strong position, with the support of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, they are only marginally behind. Should they persuade Sinn Fein, the Irish Nationalist Party, to take their 7 seats in Westminster, it is possible Corbyn could form a government. Those who voted Conservative, fear a soft Labour government would be an invitation to terrorists.
May made many mistakes, first making the election all about herself. The Presidential style of the campaign did not resonate with traditional Conservatives. Second, demanding a strong arm for Brexit negotiations resulted in the Remainers tactically voting against her. A slim Tory majority weakens the chances of a hard Brexit, which the City feared and some doubted May actually desired. May was rumoured to have plans to replace David Davis, Minister for Brexit Negotiations, with Ben Gummer, the Remainer MP who authored the manifesto—that is until he lost his Ipswich seat on Thursday night. Surprisingly, the Kensington constituency, a Conservative seat since 1997, has gone to Labour. It shows that Victoria Borwick, whose seat it was, was a disappointing campaigner except perhaps for her part as president of the British Antique Dealers Association, in lobbying with Theresa May to ditch a long standing Tory pledge to promote a ban on ivory trading.
Ruth Davidson, unexpectedly, clawed back 13 seats for the Conservatives in Scotland, while the Scottish National Party lost 21 seats, drawing a line under a further call for Scottish independence. Most notably, Zac Goldsmith reclaimed his seat in Richmond and is the hero of the Conservative Party.
Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party were crushed. UKIP voters, who were borrowed from Labour, returned to their roots. Edgbaston got its first ever female Sikh MP and Slough the first turbaned MP, both supported by various organisations that stood against welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi to UK in 2015. The good news for India is that David Nuttall, the Tory MP who called the discredited Kashmir debate in Westminster, lost his seat.
Accepting that this election was a mistake, what this result reveals is the bottomless divide about Brexit between urban and non-urban demographics and also between generations. There have been suggestions that David Cameron should not have made the early negotiations as a Conservative statesman, but gone to Brussels with a cross-party delegation, representing the interests of Great Britain. Perhaps it is not too late to put pride aside and assemble a non-partisan panel of the best British brains to begin negotiations in a collegiate way. This may mean finding some middle ground, but it will avoid the breakdown and isolation of society and business that could be tantamount to civil war in Britain.
The prognosis is grim, Theresa May is trying recover her moral authority in the party and to stabilise the precarious situation and so to begin negotiations with the EU on 19 June. Despite her loss of face, Mrs May considers it her constitutional prerogative to form a new government. May delivered a curiously unapologetic victory speech and Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, Michael Fallon and David Davis will all remain in their current Cabinet posts. Further appointments will be added.
The first test for PM May will be the vote in Westminster, following the Queen’s Speech on Monday. If MPs want to be obstreperous, this will be the indicator. The question is, will Brussels want to begin negotiations with a possibly temporary Prime Minister, as May is unlikely sustain unity in her party. Already rumours are rife that the 1922 Committee (Conservatives’ parliamentary group in the House of Commons) is in discussions not favourable to the PM. MPs will rally round to save the party in the short term, but a leadership challenge and another general election looms.