The British Election Aftermath
May 8, 2015
The British electorate gave pundits, pollsters, and analysts alike a great comeuppance yesterday. How confident we were in our belief that we would awake to a hung parliament, with questions about government illegitimacy and coalition fragility, and face an overwhelming likelihood that Britain would be heading toward early elections. How very wrong we were.
The British people returned the Conservatives to Westminster but this time with a majority, albeit a very slim one (the Tories claimed 331 seats—just five over the 326 benchmark). There are no doubts surrounding the government’s legitimacy or stability. This election was a clear referendum on David Cameron’s stewardship of the British economy, and the people placed their trust and bets on the success of continued Conservative leadership. This election also clearly signaled that the British people want to have their say about the United Kingdom’s future membership in the European Union—be it an affirmation or a rejection.
The domestic consequences of this historic election will reverberate for years to come. The Scottish National Party (SNP), which won an extraordinary 56 seats out of Scotland’s 59 total, will continue to demand greater regional devolution and budgetary authority, which can only be comprehensively addressed by the writing of a British constitution at some future point. The rise of Scottish nationalism will inevitably produce an equivalent counter-surge in English nationalism, which will continue to strain the United Kingdom’s ability to unite around a common political and economic agenda.
The future direction of the British Labour and Liberal Democratic (LibDem) parties is unknown, as both suffered enormous losses (netting -25 and -49 seats, respectively), particularly within the ranks of their leadership. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) succeeded in displacing established parties in many constituencies and winning 12.6 percent of the popular vote, but it was unable to translate this momentum into parliamentary seats. All three parties will be subject to new leadership contests in the coming months and will undergo a great deal of soul-searching about what they stand for and their future electoral viability.
For the United States, we today have in No. 10 Downing Street a known leader with a strong mandate to focus on economic growth and embark on an opaque two-year EU referendum process—priorities that will distract him from pursuing an outwardly focused foreign and security policy, thereby reducing both the United Kingdom and Europe’s ability to engage in an increasingly unstable international environment. On the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe (VE-Day), we are reminded how much the United States needs its greatest ally and partner engaged in the world today.
Heather A. Conley is senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Artic and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
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