So that was all rather unexpected. The democratic socialist (Jezza) just got over 40% of the vote in 21st century Britain, Scotland is now the most important support base for British conservatism and Northern Irish parties are suddenly extremely relevant.
Yes, I’m back to explain foreign affairs and elections in what is hopefully not a condescending way. Unlike with France however, the British elections rather directly affect New Zealand, had incredibly unexpected results and are just all around far easier to follow because they all speak English, well maybe not in Wales, but they were the one part of the United Kingdom that didn’t instantly become important again this week. Well, I don’t follow rugby so I could be wrong there.
For those of you who choose to focus on New Zealand, American or European politics more than British, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the important parts. Even if you are more than likely a traitorous Kiwi Republic sympathizer.
So the United Kingdom has, in scientific terms, a shit tonne of MPs. 650 to be exact. Due to a host of different reasons the majority of that number of seats can change however. Some reasons include the speaker being neutral and the rather unique situation of Irish Republican party ‘Sinn Fein’ MPs refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, and therefore not taking their seats. So a majority to form a government in the UK is around about 321, as it usually depends on how well Sinn Fein does in elections and some other issues.
The United Kingdom also uses first past the post (FFP) and only has constituency based MPs, like New Zealand before mixed member proportional (MMP) was introduced. So there are no ‘list MPs’ which puts the two largest parties in the UK in extremely powerful positions, as you can only ever have a single vote. For instance, the Green Party over there only has has 1 seat with 1.6% of the vote, whereas the United Kingdom Independence Party has 0 seats at 1.8%. So, you won’t be getting a Green revolution anytime soon but by the same token Nigel Farage will not be crowned god emperor of the British Isles either.
As of time of writing, after all is said and done, the Conservatives will be forming a minority government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party. Meaning that, to the dismay of wheat farmers everywhere, Theresa May will be staying as PM for now, but with an extremely thin majority of seats.
Now the reason this election has been so controversial and confusing, is that from the onset it was predicted to be a Conservative landslide. Instead we have a ‘hung parliament’, that is, a parliament in which no single party holds a majority. Theresa May called the snap election for the express purpose of increasing her majority and forming a Strong and Stable™ government to begin negations with the EU over Brexit. Unfortunately, the complete opposite has occurred and leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn (Jezza), has led his party to one of their largest electoral wins in a decade. The Conservative bloc is so small that the UK will be in a very poor position to negotiate strongly with the EU or even govern their own country effectively. Many are calling for a second election early next year or even late 2017, an election Labour is currently tipped to win. The “New Labour” or “Tory Lite” era is well and truly over as it seems that voters actually like having a choice.
But on to the explanations. There are, in my opinion, three main reasons I think this election went so weirdly: Scotland, Northern Ireland and third parties. Let’s start with the home of the brave, not the USA, Scotland.
When you think of Scottish – English relations, you probably think ‘bad’. Despite the recent independence referendum voting to remain in the United Kingdom, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to also remain in the European Union. Due to this the Scottish National Party (SNP), a party whose entire policy base revolves almost entirely around an independent Scotland remaining in the EU, took essentially complete control in the election before last. Scotland is not a place for British Conservatives.
The Conservative party’s full name is literally “Conservative and Unionist Party” as in, ‘if you vote for us we will keep you in the Kingdom… Party’
It has also been noted that if it wasn’t for the Scottish vote, the UK would not have had a left wing government until the 1990s, and even then, many think that may have just been a Conservative who liked to wear a red tie. So I think it came as a surprise when the SNP began losing seats not to Labour, but to the Scottish Conservative Party, a party that the BBC has stated is considered “vile” by most Scots. Despite that, Scotland Conservatives gained a staggering 12 seats, SNP lost 21, Labour gained 6 and the Liberal Democrats gained 3.
Yes it was thanks in large part to Scotland, the country that is stereotyped in to hating the English and loving freedom, that saved the very party that party exists to keep them in the Kingdom.
In my opinion, this was down to the Scots who supported Brexit and remaining in the Kingdom realizing a couple of key things. A vote for the SNP was a vote for independent Scotland and a vote for Labour was a vote for a “soft” Brexit and possibly even independence as well. So it seems the Scots will be getting their “frrrrreeeeeedoooooommmmm” after all, but from the European Union, not the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Which brings me to the next important part of this election, Northern Ireland.
Much like Scotland, there are some important parties in Northern Ireland that deal with independence. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) being one of them, from the name I’m sure you can tell where they stand on some issues. My English flatmate once described DUP policy as “A Protestant bible plus fortnightly bin collections”. Needless to say, they are rather socially conservative and probably wouldn’t be all that sad if the Pope died. Importantly, they gained two seats putting them at 10, in one of the closest elections in recent memory. With Sinn Fein never taking up their seats, this easily makes them the dominant political force in Northern Ireland. They have also been quoted as wanting to do anything that keeps Labour out. So it was no surprise then, when they confirmed their support agreement with the Conservative Party.
This is an important development due to the DUP's social conservatism. Despite the name, and being British, the British conservative Party has been slowly becoming more and more socially left wing. Their former PM supported gay marriage for example. The Scottish conservative party is on average more socially left wing then even that, so this overly holy alliance with the DUP has them a tad worried. The DUP has assured the public that we won’t be invading the Republic of Ireland or rounding up Catholics and homosexuals, but Scottish conservatives are still worried. With threats of breaking away and forming their own party, Northern Irish politics are becoming extremely important to Britain once again, with their small but powerful parties holding the balance of the Kingdom.
Third Parties and Students
Here we have a good segway in to my final point which is third parties. Unlike New Zealand, third parties in the United Kingdom very rarely hold any sort of huge power. This comes down mainly to their electoral system favouring Labour or the Conservatives. A couple very contradictory things happened this time however. A third party is responsible for keeping the Conservatives in power, but third parties are also responsible for some of Labour’s massive gains.
We have already talked about the DUP and their great importance but something else occurred with a party that we all know and love or at least love to hate; the Green Party. The Greens in the UK will never support the Conservatives and would have supported a Labour government. However with their one seat they are not very important. But they are still relatively popular among students. Students who this time around decided to come out and vote in massive numbers, any other year this would be Great for the Greens™. But this year students have been voting tactically in an effort to remove the Conservatives. Sadly for the Greens and other third parties such as the usually-important-but-not-really-this-time Liberal Democrats, under the British electoral system this meant students voting Labour in record numbers. This for sure has had an effect, with Labour seizing key battlegrounds and even some unexpected seats such as the Canterbury electorate, who now has their first non-Conservative MP in 160 years.
Effect on New Zealand
Anyone who has gone through history classes at a New Zealand high school will know, I now am legally obliged to make this article connected to New Zealand. So I’m going to take the fact that we have a Canterbury in New Zealand to shoe horn in a bit about how this election is important for New Zealand.
I will stop staring lovingly at our flag for a second to leave aside the fact that New Zealand and Britain have some rather obvious historical and cultural links and talk about the more immediate effects. It is mainly Brexit related yet again. With the whole point of this election being the Conservatives wanted to sure up their support for Brexit, a plan that 100% backfired.
A ‘soft’ Brexit is looking more and more likely. There may even be another election in less than a year ending in a Labour victory that would all but solidify a soft Brexit. A soft Brexit would mean the United Kingdom would be less likely to go hard on wanting free trade or at least ‘good’ trade deals with New Zealand and other Commonwealth states. A huge part of the Brexit campaign was that the UK should be trading more with the Commonwealth and not Europe, due to our cultural links and the fact that they sort of left us out to dry when they joined the common market in the 1970s. So there is that, and then there is immigration.
The moment I realized a key reason why some people support Brexit was also the moment I was entering the United Kingdom for the first time. Standing in line at customs for the channel tunnel in Paris was a bunch of Kiwis, a French man, a Polish man and an American. This is a true story, not the set up for a horrible joke btw.
The French and Polish men were sped through the gates in record time. I thought this was good news, maybe for once customs would be fast. But alas, the Kiwi family in front of me and then myself were taken away for further questioning and interviews. The American man was outright turned away at the border and not let in. I thought to myself, ‘this is why Brits support Brexit’. When anyone from Europe can enter your country that easily, but a group of people who not only speak your language, share a common flag and have literally the same person as your head of state, are detained and questioned for over an hour. I can see why Mr Farage got through to a lot of them.
A hard Brexit would fulfil the promises of closer ties to the Commonwealth, a soft Brexit may still do this but under Labour it would be less likely.
I bet this all sounds like I support Brexit but I cannot stress enough how on the fence I am about it all. I sometimes tell people that if I were British, I would be against it, but as a Kiwi I may support it. I think we will have to wait and see if that stance changes, now that Labour could seriously be in charge of the whole affair.
The coming days and weeks will be very important. There is a chance Theresa May will resign, Northern Irish politics are now actually important again and Labour is on top of the world upon working out the fact that left wing parties should be left wing, and despite losing an election, Corbyn will stay. To top it all off, Scotland is having an identity crisis, interesting times for the mother country.
Anyway, so that is just a short look at a very confusing election outcome. I would have had this article up sooner, but political students tend to be hungover the day after controversial elections.
Chris Nixon is the current Vice President of the Victoria Politics Society. He is studying for his masters in Strategic Studies, having just finished his B.A in International Relations, History and Political Science. He also works part time at Parliament as an intern for the Foreign Affairs, Defence, Intelligence and Security spokesperson of the Green Party, Dr. Kennedy Graham MP. His comments do not reflect the opinions of any person or organization other than himself.