Surprises come in threes, be they election surprises or some other form of surprise. It’s an old saying, and like most old sayings sometimes it’s true and sometimes it isn’t. Of course this may or may not prove that old sayings are true, or it may or may not prove that old sayings are merely observed coincidences. If that has you either confused or thinking, stick around for a while.
Most people in the UK now realise there is going to be a general election on June 8, and I suppose there are a number of people in other countries around the globe who also realise it. The pundits in the UK are already saying the result is a foregone conclusion, indeed that must be what Prime Minister May also thinks, otherwise why would she have called a general election some three years before one was due?
If you’ve stayed with me so far, I’d better not test your patience further, and get to the point. So, surprises may or may not come in threes. I wonder how you select which event should be included in any particular group of three. For example, the UK general election of 2015 produced a surprise result. The Conservative party won a majority. Oh wait, I predicted they would win so it wasn’t a surprise to me – I put it in writing on my blog, and I also correctly predicted the result of the 2014 Scottish referendum. I know what I’m talking about, right? Ah no, not always.
Back to the point, if we accept the Conservative win in 2015 was a surprise, then I’m sure we have no difficulty in accepting that Donald Trump’s win in the American presidential election was also something of a surprise, so that’s two out of the three. Now we come to selecting the candidate for the third surprise; should this be the result of the Dutch election? Might it be the upcoming French election? It could conceivably be the decision of Prime Minister May to hold a general election in the UK, or might it just possibly be the result of that election?
As already mentioned the pundits, with a degree of caution, have already announced the result of said election. The Conservatives currently enjoy something like a 15 point lead in the opinion polls. Of course similar polls suggested that the Conservatives would not win the 2015 general election, and were fairly united in predicting the people of the UK would vote to remain in the EU. Ah yes, I forgot to mention the EU referendum, didn’t I? Surely that should count as a surprise? Okay, so do we say the group of three surprises might be the result of the 2015 UK election, the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory? Difficult, isn’t it, so I tell you what, why don’t we nominate the 2015 UK general election, the US presidential election, and the result of the forthcoming UK general election as the three surprises we’re going to consider? Good, glad we got that out the way, now back to the point!
Elections are all about issues – no, not really. Elections are all about results, and not necessarily just the number of votes cast for a particular political party, candidate, or policy in general. In America Trump did not get the majority of votes, but due to their electoral system he won the presidency. In the UK we have what is termed a ‘first past the post system’, which essentially means the votes are counted in individual constituencies – every voter getting one vote only – and the candidate who gets the most votes in that constituency becomes the elected representative of that constituency. The party that has the most elected representatives in Parliament gets to form the government of the day. Generally speaking most governments get around 43 to 45% of the popular vote. There is an argument that this is not truly representative, but that’s an article for another day. At the risk of being labelled a Remoaner I should remind you that in the referendum held last year, approximately 48% of the UK voted to remain in the EU, and 52% voted to leave. The vote was conducted on a country-wide basis, not on a constituency basis, however it was possible to see which areas/constituencies voted to remain and which wanted to leave. If the UK had a proportional representation system of voting the results of the forthcoming general election would be quite interesting, as it is we don’t have that system here, and as a result the results of the forthcoming general election are going to be quite interesting, interesting as in the old Chinese curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’ – if indeed any old Chinese ever actually said that.
Prime Minister May obviously believes those pundits who tell her she has an unassailable lead in the opinion polls. The official opposition, the Labour party, has a leader who is regarded as being unelectable – this despite the fact he is extremely popular with the rank-and-file Labour members. Now you have to pay attention and try and stay with me here, because it gets a bit tricky. The rank-and-file Labour supporters while supporting the leader, also supported leaving the EU. Not every single one obviously, but by and large, the majority of them appeared to have done. The Labour Party did not support leaving the EU, and the rank-and-file basically ignored their instructions to vote to remain. Assuming the rank-and-file Labour supporters do indeed continue to want to leave the EU then they now have something of a problem. Labour’s position remains somewhat ambivalent, of course there is much mention of respecting the rights of the voters, the people have spoken et cetera et cetera, but Labour’s position seems to be to want what is has been termed a ‘soft Brexit’. This means Labour would rather like the UK to remain a part of the single market, and accepts the fact that to be part of the single market we have to accept freedom of movement within the EU, and by extension freedom of movement within the UK for EU nationals. Most people who voted to leave (52%) seem to want to leave completely. No to the single market, and definitely no to freedom of movement. While everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, there are some – I can only describe them as Muppets – who wonder aloud why we haven’t simply left the EU already. The complexity of the situation either hasn’t occurred to them, or they haven’t been reading the press or listening to the news media, or they are simply rather intellectually challenged. Sorry and all that, but it has to be said. On the other hand, the Conservative party appears to favour what has been termed ‘a hard Brexit’, either we get what we want or we are off. Off to where world trade organisation (WTO) rules apply. Basically that will mean starting from scratch, and is going to take some time to get up and running.
There is one political party which has decided to run their campaign on the premise that some who voted to leave the EU might have changed their minds. I am referring, of course, to the Lib Dem’s (liberal Democrats), and as they were decimated in the 2015 UK general election they really have nothing to lose by going out on a limb in the 2017 UK general election. Just let me remind you 48% of those in the UK voted to remain in the EU, and most political parties who win elections and go on to form a government with a working majority usually get around 43% of the popular vote. As things stand, if an individual voter is convinced that leaving the EU is a really bad mistake, then the only way they have – think of it as a last-ditch option if you like – to prevent the UK leaving the EU, is to vote Lib Dem. As I previously mentioned, the electoral system in the UK does not favour smaller parties, so it’s unlikely the Lib Dems will form the next government, however, Prime Minister May might be in for a rude surprise. To put it another way, I think there’s a fairly equal chance she will either win a reasonable working majority, or will get a damn good kicking in the election. If her idea is to gain a sizeable majority and thus use that as justification for any deal that she can get, then if the actual result is the Lib Dems get a sizeable number of votes and possibly become the second-largest party in Parliament, she has a real problem. Or perhaps this is her cunning plan all along? A way out of an impossible situation.
Since we’re discussing surprises, I think about the biggest surprise would be if Labour, under the rather uncertain leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, succeed against all odds in winning the election. Actually, I wouldn’t be that surprised. Now, I’m not predicting it, but Corbyn is seeking to widen the debate. Whilst still maintaining his stance that the people have spoken, he is becoming something of a populist. He’s talking about all those old socialist ideals which never were put into practice, and if they had of been would probably have proven disastrous, but all the same sound – nice. I mean, who wouldn’t want to put more money into the sainted NHS, pay nurses and doctors more, guarantee that pensions would continue to rise every year, tax the rich – whatever rich actually means, or how much money you have to learn to be classed as rich. He also wants a soft Brexit, we want to continue trading with the EU, we want to remain part of the single market, hell we just want to be nice to everybody, and to be friends with everybody. Well, who wouldn’t? Yes, I know, it would be a case of turkeys voting for Christmas if Labour were to be elected. Never gonna happen. Just like Americans would never vote for Trump as president, or the Conservatives would win the 2015 election, or people would have been silly enough to fall for the little Englander rubbish spouted by some sections of the British press, and vote to leave the EU. Oh hang on a minute, oh dear oh dear oh dear. I repeat, I’m not predicting a Labour victory, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
I haven’t mentioned UKIP, must I? Oh all right then, I think they’ll prove to be a one trick pony. There, I’ve mentioned them.
So, do I think the UK is going to leave the EU? Nope, and frankly I think that is Prime Minister May’s plan. She is taking a hell of a risk with her personal political future, and I think things may not turn out the way she expects, always assuming she is genuinely expecting a large conservative majority in parliament. With either a sizeable contingent of Lib Dem MPs, or the Lib Dems winning a sizable proportion of the popular vote but due to the first past the post system not gaining that many MPs, the way would be open for Prime Minister May to call a second referendum on the outcome of the negotiations with the EU. That in itself could be a mistake. I’m personally of the opinion we elect a government to govern, and politicians to hold the government of the day to account. I find it interesting that the noises coming out of the EU are either very combative when speaking about the negotiations, or very conciliatory when saying that if the people of the UK ever change their minds the UK will be welcomed back into the fold. Although the enormity of the referendum result still has not really filtered through into the popular consciousness, those concerned with agriculture in all its forms, the financial sector, indeed any sector of the economy which depends on migrant workers, are now realising – and vocalising – the very real problems which exist. The UK economy, UK regulations and many aspects of UK law have, over the last 40 years, been fully integrated with EU law and regulations. To imagine that 40 years worth of institutionalised integration can be overturned in just two years, without pain, is just plain naïve.