Richard Parry assesses the implications of the GE2017 result for Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon.
Theresa May is in a similar position to Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood in 2016: she has lost her overall majority but is by a long way the largest party, no winning combination of other parties is credible, and she should be able to survive as a minority. Her UK vote share is 42.4%, the same as Margaret Thatcher in her two landslide wins of 1983 and 1987. May might wish to consult two of her fellow centre-right leaders - Malcolm Turnbull in Australia and Mariano Rajoy in Spain – about their techniques for clinging on to power in tight situations. It’s not clear that she really has the heart to do so.
Yesterday we were faced with eight pollsters suggesting Conservative winning margins between 5 and 13 points, and a lone outlier – Survation – suggesting a one point lead (it turned out to be two). As in 2015, this is something of a crisis for the commercial political polling industry. But, more than that, it challenges the ‘political classes’ into understanding better the possibility of an unexpected outcome and the forces that might promote it. What could be more natural than voting against a government that had not prevented terrorist attacks?
In Scotland, the night came down to Moray and Gordon: as in many previous elections when you lose a heavyweight it is politically painful and sticks in the memory. The departure of Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond severely depletes the SNP’s Westminster ranks, but in notable personal victories against the tide they were spared the loss of Stephen Gethins (by 2 votes, tying the all-time UK low majority record) and Joanna Cherry.
The SNP were reconciled to drifting down below 50 seats and 45% of the vote but the fall was sharper to 35 seats and 37%. All the Unionist parties gained seats and for the first time since 1992 the Conservatives delivered a strong constituency performance in areas long-forgotten as their old heartlands. It is tough for the SNP that May pulled down their recent mandate along with her own.
It was already apparent that the SNP were retreating into caution on a second independence referendum. Now they have the chance, that they may be relieved to take, to make it a distant possibility. Again they are a victim of UK politics as without the Brexit vote they would not have needed to address the issue in the present decade.
The 2017 election put Theresa May in the company of two former Conservative Prime Ministers, Stanley Baldwin in 1923 and Edward Heath in 1974, who called elections to get a personal mandate and lost them. Baldwin recovered later but Heath did not. May might go either way. Despite everything she has actually come out in first place today.