Your feed must be buzzing with headlines about the 2017 UK General Election, with an endless stream of memes showing UK Prime Minister Theresa May in dismay. So what exactly is going on?
Well, 8 June was an extraordinary night for British politics, with an election that saw the highest turnout of voters in 25 years. Here is what you need to know.
In the 2015 UK General Election, the Conservative party – commonly referred to as the Tories – led by David Cameron won an overall majority, and he became prime minister. Only a year into his premiership, Cameron called for a referendum on the UK’s European Union membership, in a calculated gamble to silence the Eurosceptic in his own party. On 24 June 2016, everyone woke up to discover that Britain had voted to leave the EU, with a majority of 51.9 per cent.
Soon after the Brexit result, Cameron resigned and Theresa May – who was home secretary at the time – was appointed as prime minister in charge of triggering article 50 and leading the Brexit negotiations. Her appointment meant she was not elected by the people themselves, of course, but she asserted time and again that she will not call for a snap general election. However, she called for a general election – three years earlier than scheduled!
May said she did that in order to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations – her hardline Brexit strategy already opposed by the main political parties. However, many accused her of calling the election for party gains, as the Tories had a big opinion poll lead over Labour, which led her to presume a landslide victory
Theresa May’s gamble backfired disastrously. After an unprecedented, tense campaign, the election results came as a shock to everyone, returning a hung parliament and plunging both the UK and Brexit negotiations into uncertainty.
The Tories have lost their parliamentary majority, while Labour defied all expectations under Jeremy Corbyn who has been fighting off fierce smear campaigns by both the Tories and others in his own party. Corbyn emerged victorious, delivering a larger share of votes than Tony Blair in 2005. “We have changed the face of British politics,” he said following the results, calling for May to resign.
But what is a hung parliament?
A hung parliament is when no single party has an outright majority in parliament. While a minimum of 326 seats is needed to be able to form a majority government, the Conservatives fell short by at least eight seats.
When elections return a hung parliament, a political party could try to form a minority government, where legislation could only be passed with enough votes by other parties that are not part of the government. This kind of government is quite unstable, and can even be brought down by a vote of no confidence if enough opposition parties unite for it. Another alternative is when two or more parties join forces and seek to form a coalition government and govern as a single entity.
The Conservative party has already turned to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which won ten seats in Northern Ireland, to form a minority government. Together, they would have some 329 seats, while a so-called “progressive alliance” between Labour, Scottish National Party (SNP), Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Greens would have only 313.
Is another general election possible?
Yes. There is still a possibility that a new general election might be held soon in an attempt to produce a working majority and form a more stable government.
What about Brexit?
The Brexit negotiations are due to begin on 19 June, though May’s hardline Brexit strategy opposed by all the major political parties hangs in the balance. The EU Parliament’s chief negotiator said the results “will make already complex negotiations even more complicated”.
How will this impact UK-Middle East relations?
Given the uncertainty surrounding the election result and the hung parliament, it is hard to tell what the future holds for both domestic and foreign policy in the UK.
In stark contrast to Corbyn’s stance on military intervention, Theresa May voted for the Iraq War and supported military action in Libya. She also voted for the government motion for military intervention in Syria in 2013. Corbyn, on the other hand, headed the anti-Iraq War movement. He campaigned against Western intervention in Libya, and voted against the 2013 motion authorising the possible use of military force against Syria. Most recently, he opposed the motion to bomb Daesh in Syria.
Under the Conservatives, the UK has approved some $3.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since their air campaign on Yemen began. Corbyn accused May of sacrificing human rights to sell weapons.
When it comes to the Palestine-Israel conflict, May has been described as a “true friend of Israel”. Earlier this year, May said that Britain would celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration with “pride”. Corbyn, however, has long been a critic of Israel’s illegal settlements and the blockade on the Gaza Strip. He has previously said that if he became prime minster, he would impose a two-way arms embargo on Israel and has said that Israeli universities involved in arms research should be boycotted.
You can find out where the main British political parties stand here.