Last week’s election results saw twists and turns, ups and downs and a mixed feeling of tribulation and triumph across the two main political parties.
On the face of things, it is hard to deny that Labour, as a party, had the most success. They managed to seriously overachieve, after what can only be described as a well-fought election campaign, and the cherry on top came with the loss of the Conservative majority. However, this feeling of success cannot hide the fact that Labour didn’t win. Dislodging their opposition was only half of the race and Corbyn failed to clench that ever so important, yet elusive, majority. Perhaps, had Labour’s expectations not been rock bottom to start with, tonight might have been deemed as much a failure as their campaign in 2010.
The Conservatives, it goes without saying, had a nightmare of a time. As a party, they lost their majority and failed what this snap election was supposed to achieve. They lost the unlosable battle. It is impossible to see any silver lining in Theresa May’s end result, winning more seats than Labour is a shallow victory when in the long run she couldn’t achieve a majority.
The Liberal Democrats and UKIP both had poor evenings as well, with Paul Nuttall resigning after winning 0 seats and Labour taking a number of key Lib Dem constituencies.
Along with the SNP losing a third of their seats, it is hard to see any winners amongst the major political parties.
To put it bluntly, everybody lost.
Or did they? It can certainly be argued otherwise; and no, I am not referring to the surprisingly successful position of the Democratic Unionist Party. The real winners of the 2017 General Election were the Conseratives.
“What?!” You’re no doubt thinking, “The Conservatives lost their majority, failed in their goals for this snap election and allowed Labour to make huge gains!” And you’d be right. As a party.
But hear me out.
Where most are focusing on the successes and failures of individual parties, the factions within each party show a much messier, intriguing and contentious picture.
Theresa May made a bold statement when elected as Prime Minister. She claimed to be introducing “One-nation conservatism” to her party, as a nostalgic throwback to the much esteemed Disraeli. This resurrgence of traditional conservatism as a major faction within the Conservative Party was Mrs. May’s way of securing her throne and establishing a new dynasty. Ironically, out went the new, and in came the old.
To paraphrase the recently unelected MP, Julian Brazier, when he visited my University’s Conserative Association,
“There is a change in the Conservative Party, with so many new threats in the world a different approach is required”.
By doing this, she pushed the front-benchers from the Thatcherite faction away from power. Along with Brexit, Trump’s rise in the United States and Labour’s shift away from Blairism, it appeared as though free market neoliberalism were all but remnants of the past (turning a blind eye to French President Macron, of course). The Thatcherites became silent.
When Mrs. May adopted the central ground with her resurgence in social policies, following her “A Country That Works For Everyone” slogan, the Thatcherites remained silent.
When Mr. Hammond decided to abandon monetarism for a fiscal economic focus, the Thatcherites still remained silent.
Above: Phillip Hammond. Creative Commons 2.0.
Finally, when May led a car crash of an election campaign, the neoliberal faction still held their tongue. No doubt as a loyal display of party unity.
What, at first, appeared to be a significant loss of power and a silenced voice now reveals itself as much, much more. Whether by accident, or on purpose, the Thatcherites and neoliberals have managed to disassociate themselves from Theresa May’s traditional take on the party, allowing them to escape the horrors of last night. Now, the faction cannot remain silent. The vultures are beginning to circle.
At the moment I am writing this, very little is coming from inside the Conservative Party. It appears as though their current focus is unity; assuring the DUP support them and attempting to form a coalition government.
However, it appears to be the end of May. She cannot survive the medium-term with a 10 seat majority (assuming she is successful in her coalition attempts with the DUP), and her attempt to push the party towards the centre to gain more votes has had an adverse effect.
So the real winners in this scenario? The Conservative Party’s Thatcherism and neoliberal faction.
By using exactly the same methods Mrs. May used to gain power, staying quiet during a key election/referendum, the Thatcherites are set to usurp power once more in the Conservative government and slowly push back to where Cameron’s government lay, and potentially beyond.
Theresa May isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, she isn’t as principled in her beliefs and is no doubt more willing to step aside should the appropriate pressure appear. Were this to happen, there would no doubt be a number of key contendors for the party leadership:
Amber Rudd would no doubt stand, but she barely scraped it through in Hastings and would probably be considered too soft on the Brexit front.
Philip Hammond would no doubt be a dark horse candidate, one of the few left to prop up one-nation conservatism, but he has the stains of this election’s spillage all over him. The same issue Michael Fallon would face.
This leaves Boris Johnson and David Davis. Both are from the Thatcherite, neoliberal faction, both believe in free market economics and both are hard Brexiteers. A result would almost inevitably fall in one of their favour, were they to stand, resulting in a usurpation of power; Johnson and Davis may have been at odds in 2010 over many key issues within the party, but they stand here combined and no-doubt, behind their supportive smiles to Theresa May, planning their campaigns.
So the real winners of the 2017 General Election? The Conservative Party… the neoliberal faction within the Conservative Party.
Below: David Davis (left), Sebastian Kurz (right).