The land of my birth has been in the news a lot lately, and that news has not been good. A couple of terrorist attacks and a major and tragic fire in the capital would generally have had a unifying effect on the British people, who by nature tend to be stoic, resilient and stick together. However, growing political divisions in the UK are starting to mirror the situation here in the USA, and in the last couple of weeks that has been especially apparent with a lot of change and political miscalculation.
The UK’s system of government is a parliamentary democracy — a democratic form of government in which the party with the largest representation in Parliament (roughly equivalent to Congress) forms the government, with its leader becoming Prime Minister. If the largest party does not have a majority, they will generally work with a smaller party to form a coalition government. The election earlier this month was called by Prime Minister Teresa May, who leads the Conservative party. She was not the Prime Minister in 2015 when David Cameron led the Conservative party to electoral success, but she took over last summer after the surprise Brexit vote led Cameron (who had wanted the UK to stay in Europe) to resign. In the UK, the Prime Minister is not directly elected by the people, but instead the Members of Parliament (MPs) decide among themselves who should lead the party and therefore become prime minister. May was chosen when Cameron quit.
Teresa May was starting the two-year process of negotiating the UK’s exit from the European Union, and she decided to hold a general election. She did not need to call an election for another three years since in the UK, parliamentary elections are generally but not always held every five years, but she did anyway. Her goal was to increase the majority that the Conservative party had in parliament, and therefore strengthen her hand in getting parliament to approve the EU exit deal she struck. Since she had been appointed as party leader since the last general election, she also wanted to get her own personal mandate and vote of confidence from the British electorate before progressing with Brexit. The polls looked good, so she called the election.
It backfired. It will almost certainly be remembered as one of the biggest political miscalculations in British political history. The Conservative party lost a significant number of seats, in fact so many so that they fell below the 50 percent mark and needed to make an alliance with a minority party to have a workable majority in government.
To use a British style of understatement, this was a rather disappointing result. The general opinion back in the UK seems to be that May came across as arrogant, and her campaign was deeply flawed with some unpopular policy proposals affecting senior citizens. Her performance in interviews was also less than stellar.
In addition, the opposition Labour (spelled with a ‘u’ in the UK) party benefited from a big shift in support from two very different groups: young voters and people who previously voted to remain in the European Union. Talks between Britain and the 27 other members of the European Union have just begun, and despite May trying to use the election to strengthen her hand going into the negotiations, Britain will now enter those talks substantially weakened and divided. It all makes me shake my head, and hope for the best.
I will leave you with a quote from one of my British heroes, Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister who guided the country through the second world war. He saw a lot of political change and upheaval in his time, and summarized it like this: “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
God Bless America, and the United Kingdom too!
Francis grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her PR agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.