By Arthur I. Cyr
The unexpected results of the British general election continue to reverberate. The Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Theresa was generally expected to increase their thin majority in the House of Commons, which forms the government, and thereby move ahead more confidently in implementing their ambitious program.
This includes a “hard Brexit,” shorthand for a tough approach to negotiating withdrawal from the European Union. Historically and currently, Britain has a highly ambiguous attitude toward the continent of Europe. The seminal European Economic Community was formed in 1957. Britain remained aloof, then applied and was rejected twice by President Charles de Gaulle of France. The nation finally gained entry in 1973. In the actual voting, the Conservatives won only 318 seats, short of the 326 for a majority. Some commentary emphasizes the impact of the Manchester and London terrorist attacks, following an earlier London attack. However, polls indicate that the Conservatives steadily lost ground throughout the election campaign. The Labour Party made gains, despite being led by the bland and left-wing Jeremy Corbyn. Pundits have varied widely regarding the impact of the election on upcoming Brexit negotiations. That is quite appropriate given the remarkable unpredictability of voters currently, and not just in the United Kingdom. However, a weakened Conservative government is unlikely to take — or be able to take — a hard line toward negotiating with the EU. The main driver of voting appears to have been a collective desire to reject the status quo. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and UK Independence Party (UKIP) were visible winners in the last general election, in 2015. Both lost in 2017. The SNP retreated in Scotland, providing gains for the Labour Party. Scotland traditionally is Labour territory. The UKIP led by incendiary Nigel Farage earlier gained in elections to the European Parliament. In the 2010 general election, the Conservatives led by David Cameron won a total of 306 seats in Parliament’s House of Commons. Again, this fell short of total M.P.s required for a governing majority. The Liberal Democrats’ 57 seats added enough to form the coalition government, the first since the special circumstances of World War II. During the 2010 campaign, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg performed strongly in first-ever American-style televised debate with Conservative and Labour party leaders. Generally, Liberal Democrats represent reformist sentiments. While the coalition provided the party with credibility in government, Establishment collaboration meant decimation in 2015. The Liberal Party (predecessors of today’s Liberal Democrats) revived starting in the early 1960s, spearheaded by charismatic party leader Jo Grimond. From time to time Liberals and Liberal Democrats have rivaled the main parties in public support. The post-war Liberals never won more than a handful of parliamentary seats. An early 1974 general election also resulted in a House of Commons with no clear majority, but no formal coalition resulted.