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Political lessons from the UK Elections


Politics is surely a strange creature indeed. Two months ago, a confident British Prime Minister Ms Theresa May announced that she would seek parliamentary approval for the dissolution of the House of Commons and the holding of new general elections. (Parliamentary approval is now necessary since the passing of the Fixed-Term Parliament Act of 2011, fixing elections for every five years and preventing the Prime Minister to dissolve the House and call elections at her/his whim and fancy. A similar proposal here was rejected in the constitutional referendum of 2009).

At that time, Prime Minister May was enjoying wide public support, opinion polls suggested that Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn had little chance of winning an election, and the Prime Minister was seeking to strengthen her grip on her Conservative party, Parliament and the nation as a whole. She appealed for an overwhelming mandate, giving her a “strong and stable” government to enter into talks with the European Union for a British exit, the so-called ‘Brexit’.

Today that same Theresa May is in sheepish retreat. The promised election victory did not materialise and she has been left with a minority government, dependent on the support of right-wing Irish nationalists. She is in a much weakened political state, nationally, vis a vis Europe and with a damaged reputation internationally.

So chaotic is the situation that as we went to press, there was doubt over two major engagements for next week — the official opening of Parliament with the Queen’s Speech next Monday, and the opening of negotiations with the EU, also scheduled to begin next week. There is also much speculation as to how long her new government will last, amidst predictions for an early return to the polls to provide the “stable government” that her June 8 election could not furnish.

Even at this early stage, there are significant political lessons which can be learnt from the experience of the hapless Ms. May. Chief among them is the age-old one of avoiding arrogance and listening to the voice of the people (will politicians ever learn this?). Riding high in opinion polls and hell-bent on imposing her will and that of her rich backers, at the expense of the rest of the nation, Ms. May’s government persisted in hugely unpopular, anti-people policies, with disastrous effects for working people, pensioners, the elderly and young people. Health and education were in particular, areas of grave concern.

She paid the price for ignoring the cries of the people and placing selfish interests before those of the majority of the people. Young people especially, galvanised into action, not only registered in huge droves but defied the predictions of those who said they would not turn out to vote. The youth vote went largely to Corbyn and the Labour party.

So, the Prime Minister, riding a high-horse one week ago has become a contrite figure, desperately trying to hang on to power. A lot of humble pie must be eaten just to try and survive politically and the unprecedented uncertainty caused is damaging Britain’s interests. Clearly a lot of back-tracking will be forced on Ms. May, including social policies and her stance on Europe. Unfortunately it is not just her fortunes but those of her nation which are suffering. Our interests, in trade and development matters are also at stake and need to be addressed with urgency.