UK general election 2017

Much ado about nothing?

The UK elects a new parliament tomorrow. All indications suggest that the Conservatives will be returned as the largest party in Parliament, though polls and projections are wildly divergent and suggesting anything from a hung parliament to substantial victory for the governing party. If Twitter is anything to go by, then it would be a Labour landslide, but then Scotland would have voted for independence in 2014. In essence, it is anyone’s guess. It did not start this way. It was widely assumed at the beginning that the Conservatives would win bigly, perhaps in the scale of the 1983 general election, but after weeks of campaigning, Theresa May has performed much worse than many had expected and Jeremy Corbyn has performed much better than many had expected. If the result is not a clear change in either direction – a hung parliament or a three-figure majority for the Conservatives – but essentially the same as it was, then questions would be raised as to what the whole election fuss was about.

I haven’t really been following the election too closely, partly because I have been busy with other things, but also because I doubt much will change whoever wins, since the economic constraints within which the new government has to work is going to be extremely challenging due to Brexit. A weaker currency, higher inflation, and increases in taxes (aka shaking the magic money trees) are in my view inevitable. The economy will more likely to be sluggish than flourishing as the details of Brexit are hammered out. It is going to get tougher whoever wins the election, and I do not think any party could honour its promises made in the manifesto, be it related to the NHS or education or social security. I hope I will be proven wrong, but economically thus socially, the outlook is somewhere between bad and bleak as far as I can see.

Brexit – very much the elephant in the room – has been curiously absent in this election campaign. It is still unclear what kind of Brexit will be negotiated by a Conservative or Labour government after this election. With the polls tightening thus reducing the likelihood of a landslide victory, Mrs May seems to have been pushed towards harder Brexit. She had been rather ambiguous and that is not a bad tactic as such, but the problem with a slender majority, as John Major and David Cameron found out, is that the prime minister can be held hostage by the fringes of the party. In a parliamentary democracy, it is usually the case that a government with a majority can only be brought down by a rebellion from within, not by the opposition. Talking to different people with different political persuasions, there was a feeling among some that a big Conservative majority would strengthen Mrs May’s position within the party, though not her position in negotiating with the EU, allowing her to reach a reasonable Brexit deal despite opposition within her party. The argument is that certainty (of any kind) is better than certain uncertainty.

Incidentally, another thing missing from this election has been any talk of Russian interference: perhaps this UK general election is not important enough for them to meddle with? Anyway, given the recent political upheavals, I dare not guess how this contest will end.