When British prime minister Theresa May called a snap general election ahead of Brexit negotiations, it caught almost everyone by surprise. The expectation was that her Conservative party would gain a larger majority,supposedly in order to prevent opposition to any Brexit deal.
However, many suspected it was simply because the polling figures were irresistible. The Tories were far ahead in virtually every opinion poll and anticipated a parliamentary majority of between 80 and 100 if they went to the polls immediately.
As a prime minister without her own general election victory, May clearly hoped that her “hard Brexit” rhetoric would buy her plenty of votes from UKIP, strengthening her grip on Downing Street. However, the past eight weeks have been a disaster for her. She now finds herself the leader of a minority government, with Brexit negotiations due to start in less than two weeks.
A campaign crumbles
The campaign started well for the Conservatives. The expectation was that they would crush Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition. His Labour party was divided on key issues and suffering low poll ratings.
But a leak of the Labour manifesto should have been an early warning for May. With extra funding for the NHS, schools and public sector pay, the document appealed to those exasperated with austerity. As Corbyn began to be more exposed to the public at election rallies and television debates, voters also began to warm to him.
Conversely, the Conservative manifesto launch was shambolic. One of the key pledges was being undermined within 24 hours of publication. The manifesto pledge on social care, nicknamed the dementia tax by its critics, was concerning for many older voters. Coupled with a removal of the triple lock on pensions, the “grey” vote, which the Conservatives have relied upon in recent years, began to look less certain. Concerns were also raised over a more peripheral issue – fox hunting. While not a key issue for many, fox hunting certainly raises temperatures among some voters, and May’s pledge to hold another vote on the issue irritated some.