As I write this, it is nearly 9AM in the United Kingdom, whose voters have chosen to take away the small Conservative majority from 2015. It appears that the Tories will still be able to govern, so long as the Democratic Unionists support them, but it’s a far shakier situation then it was before dissolution.
First off, once again, I got it wrong. That shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore.
What else happened: outside of Scotland (where a very different election was happening), it was clear that Ms. May’s campaign was too-mistake-riddled. First off, her manifesto turned what was a Brexit election into a Brexit-and-social-care-reform election. That gave Labour Leavers pause, and May’s attempt to bring Brexit back to front-and-center clearly didn’t work. In constituency after constituency in the North of England and Wales, Labour Leavers (and quite a few UKIP voters) refused to cross over to the Conservatives. Additionally (and I’ll admit to missing this), the type of Brexit May seemed to champion caused serious heartache with liberal (as labeled in Europe, not here) voters. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there were two different strains of Leave arguments. The first could be described as Fortress Britain – focused on immigration numbers, pushed by UKIP, and increasingly adopted by May in an attempt to win over North-of-England Leavers. However, there was also the (European-style) liberal argument – focused on increasing immigration from the Commonwealth, better trade deals, etc. – which was presented by Michael Gove and by Boris Johnson. That vision of Brexit (which I prefer), while obviously not enough to win over Remain voters, would have at least assuaged them more than what May presented. But they never heard it, so they went for “soft Brexit” or anti-Brexit parties where they could find them. When combined with Jeremy Corbyn’s success in winning over younger voters by basically promising the moon, it eroded the Tories’ position in the South – including London.
Scotland, of course, was a different story. Up there, it was about “IndyRef2” – and the voters continuing lack of support for it. Thus, the Conservatives had their best result since 1983 – and finished ahead of Labour in votes and in seats for the first time since 1959. Where voters felt the Tories couldn’t beat the SNP, they went to the Liberal Democrats and to Labour, knocking 21 seats of the SNP.
What it means: I don’t think May should continue as PM. She has made Jeremy Corbyn viable. Her MPs will be furious with her. The liberal Conservatives (who actually won an election just two years ago) will hound her relentlessly. I think the Conservatives need a liberal Brexiteer, one from whom leaving the EU is a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel instead of a minefield to suffer through. That means, in the current climate, Boris Johnson. Sure, it’s less than one year after he seemed to lose the plot, lost Michael Gove’s support, and chose not to run for Tory leader. However, he’s been Foreign Secretary for nearly a year, and he’s still very popular with the Tory faithful. More importantly, he would present a liberal vision for Brexit – which is desperately needed.
For now, though (and by now, I mean just before 9AM UK time), Ms. May appears determined to go on. We’ll see how long she can stay as PM. I’m in no position to guess.