So yesterday I wrote a draft of this article. It assumed that by now, the UK would have voted (perhaps narrowly) to continue with a Conservative government, more because of worries about the opposition Labour party’s tax and spend policies, and doubts about the capability of their leader, rather than any great enthusiasm for the Conservative manifesto, campaign and vision of the future of the UK.
I have had to change it of course following the most stunning election result in the UK of my lifetime, I think. And now we have huge uncertainty over whether the Conservatives can form an effective government at all, whether a minority Labour government is feasible, or whether we will need to have another election soon. And in any case, Theresa May might not survive as Prime Minister or leader of the Conservative Party.
How did this happen? Well, any sense of vision from the current conservative ruling party really was lacking during the campaign. Their approach appeared to be simply “we’re better than Labour, you can’t trust them. You can trust us to negotiate a better Brexit deal even if we won’t tell you anything about how we might achieve that”.
We weren’t really told anything much about what this wonderful negotiation strategy would be, or about the vision for a post-Brexit UK. Now maybe that is inevitable, and clearly no-one gives away all their negotiation secrets in advance of the discussions with the other party. Indeed, the opposition parties saying how terrible a “hard” Brexit would be does nothing to help the country’s position – this is about creating a credible BATNA, as we have said before.
But Theresa May did not give the public much confidence really in her negotiation abilities (or her ability in any sense really), refusing to debate with the other leaders, not facing the public much and generally spouting platitudes for the whole campaign rather than engaging. We were also left wondering if she and her party really do have a Brexit plan. The gossip we hear from inside the civil service is not exactly re-assuring either in terms of how prepared government is for the work ahead, but I guess we will find out soon.
In any case, the idea was that the election would give the Conservatives a stronger mandate in advance of the negotiations so they could take a stronger line with the EU side. I’m not sure that was ever really the case – I don’t really see why the EU team should care at all about how big a majority the ruling party in the UK holds, as long as it is enough to provide certainty. But we don’t even have that certainty now; the negotiations are supposed to start in a few days’ time, and it is not even clear we will have a government by then.
This is the “nightmare scenario” come to pass – a hung parliament and perhaps another election in a few months’ time. Good heavens, has the UK turned into Italy …?