The results of the snap election in Britain have shown beyond doubt that Prime Minister Theresa May made a monumental miscalculation in calling for parliamentary election to secure a stable mandate. Her motivation was to strengthen her government’s hands on the eve of the talks with the European Union so as to ensure a smooth transition to a Britain-free EU but as things stand, it appears that the effect of the vote may be the opposite.
Though her Conservative party has emerged as the single largest party, it is short of a majority. Not only has the party’s representation in the Lower House shrunk but its share of the popular vote has also fallen. The gainers have been their bitter rival – the Labour party. That the Theresa May government still had three years to go reveals the extent of her blunder. Britons were truly exasperated by her decision because the country had gone to the polls in 2015 and had voted in a referendum in 2016 on the decision to quit the membership of EU. There was a voter fatigue that had set in.
In the short span that Theresa May was at the helm after her predecessor David Cameron had quit office taking responsibility for the adverse EU membership vote, there were terror incidents that shook Britain and worsened the security environment. The last thing many wanted was another divisive campaign.
In the immediate aftermath of the results, the Labour Party, more particularly its leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been baying for her resignation but she is determined to continue. As the leader of the single largest party, Queen Elizabeth II would by convention invite her to form the new government. She would then be called upon to prove her majority on the floor of the House of Commons possibly after the Queen’s address is through on June 19.
Only marginally short of the magic figure, Theresa May has the option of accepting support from the 10-member Northern Ireland Unionists but that support will only come at a price which she may willy nilly have to accept. The Scottish National Party (SNP) will seek to extract an even bigger price which is unlikely to be acceptable to the Conservatives. For the same reason, Liberal Democrats may also be unacceptable even if they offer support. There have been precedents of minority governments but they are inherently unstable arrangements. If May fails to muster the numbers, the Queen could even invite Jeremy Corbyn to have a go at it if he can cobble up a majority.
More than anything else, what must worry Theresa May is the impending negotiations with the European Union for an honourable and potentially not too damaging an exit from its membership. May had made it her business during the election campaign to paint a gloomy picture of how Britain would lose out if the mandate given by the electorate is not strong. With the fractured mandate that she has got now, the task of the negotiators would be far from easy.