Wins and Fails in the UK Election

Results in the UK election of December 12 have once again taken people by surprise, with the country delivering a large majority to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. The rebuke to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour was quite clear. But beyond the two most obvious winners and losers, what has emerged from early returns? Here is a list of wins and fails that summarizes the most important dynamics of the election and its results.

  • Boris Johnson: He has delivered the largest Tory victory since Thatcher for the party, neutralizing the Brexit Party and shattering Labour’s “Red Wall” in Northern England. Conservatives now have an open road on Brexit and most of their platform; Boris is king.
  • Brexit: The United Kingdom will leave the European Union by January 31, 2020. Regardless of the outcome of negotiations for a future UK-EU trade agreement, the United Kingdom will officially be out next year.
  • Nicola Sturgeon: The Scottish National Party (SNP) has gained 13 seats in Scotland, taking them from Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and Conservatives. This gain, combined with Labour’s routing, will make it very hard to argue (in good faith) against the fact that a substantial contingent of Scottish people approves of the SNP’s plan for a second referendum. The party and its leader will push hard for this to happen.

  • Labour Party: The party has suffered the worst result since 1935; its unpopular leader will have much explaining to do—if not a fast exit to make—; it did not fight the campaign on the main issue of the day, Brexit, but rather on policies that were too far from acceptable options, even for left-leaning voters; and its campaigning was evidently not sustained enough in Labour strongholds. As full results come to light, it will likely become clear that is has deprived the country of a powerful opposition that can be a check on the majority.
  • The Union: With Brexit now assured, fissures within the United Kingdom will only grow. Northern Ireland will bear the brunt of Brexit’s economic impact while the SNP will want to push ahead with a second independence referendum. The population will also be more divided after these results.
  • Liberal Democrats: Jo Swinson, LibDem leader, lost her seat, and the party lost an opportunity to rally the Remain vote and anti-Corbyn moderates. Perhaps its position on revoking Article 50 (cancelling Brexit altogether) was too extreme or tactical voting hurt its chances; either way, this was an incredible missed opportunity and a disappointing result for members of parliament who switched parties this last parliamentary term, from both the Labour and Conservative parties. More broadly, this is a blow to centrism in the United Kingdom, at least for the next few years.
  • The truth: The campaign was riddled with absurd statements and promises and flat-out lies on policy and facts. Election results will also be interpreted wildly differently by different people, even within one party, further suffocating level-headed analysis and conclusions.
  • All important issues besides Brexit: It is becoming clear there was no oxygen for anything but Brexit in this election. This left no space to discuss important policy preferences on austerity, public spending, the country’s place in the world, or climate change, an issue that was nevertheless high on the priority list for young voters. This leaves the country without a clear view of what is to come after Brexit is delivered—which is bound to darken the economic picture and affect whatever spending the Tories have promised. 

On the Fence
  • Government spending: The Conservative manifesto promised large amounts of public spending for public services, the NHS among others, but the expected impact of Brexit (an estimated 6 percent hit on GDP) may impede their plans. Potentially falling tax revenue would also limit the Tories’ margin of maneuver.
  • Parliamentary order: With a solid majority, the long deadlock in the Commons will be over with Conservatives firmly in the driver’s seat. However, parliament’s recent power over the order of business will come to an end as the chamber will likely be more submissive to the executive given its makeup. This may seem a return to normal order, but perhaps not a net positive for parliamentary power.
There will be much more to discuss in the coming days as close seats are called and parties begin their post-election analysis—or autopsy. But the dynamics listed here are clear: the United Kingdom saw tectonic political shifts in this election, and the Conservatives now reign supreme. 
Donatienne Ruy
Director, Executive Education and Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy, and Fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program