The polls have narrowed considerably over the past few weeks with predictions of a Conservative lead ranging from 1-12 points and the outcome of this election suddenly becoming a lot harder to predict than it seemed a few weeks ago. While the consensus seems to be that Theresa May will still win a majority, it is important to recognise that when she called the election (after having repeatedly said she wouldn’t) she started out with a 20+ lead in some polls, and on the premise that she needed a large majority to strengthen her hand in negotiating and implementing Brexit. High expectations were therefore set for success. In this piece we take a closer look at the potential impact of the various outcomes and what they might mean for Theresa May’s leadership, the Brexit process and the wider political landscape in the short and long-term.
A hung parliament
Some polls are suggesting that this is a potential outcome. While it still appears unlikely, this would clearly be a disaster for the Conservatives. Although they would almost certainly still be the largest party, they would be faced with having to try and build a coalition government, or more likely, try to make a minority government work. With Brexit negotiations starting just 11 days after the election, this would be far from ideal. Theresa May’s credibility would be significantly diminished, and the future of the Conservative leadership and Brexit negotiations uncertain. It would throw the Brexit process into disarray and another General Election in the near future would be a strong possibility.
Conservative majority less than that of 2015 (12)
If the Conservatives win a majority, but less than the one they currently have, this would be slightly less of a disaster for Theresa May than a hung parliament, but hugely embarrassing and damaging nonetheless. Everything she was trying to make easier for herself by calling the election would become harder, and there would be both public and private pressure for her to make way. Her credibility in Brexit negotiations would be undermined, and with questions over her future, the Brexit process would also be impacted if a leadership election was needed.
Conservative majority 12-40
Given Theresa May called an election at a time when she was enjoying 20 point leads in the polls, an only slightly increased majority would be disappointing for her. Short term it may not have a huge impact, but in the medium to long term her position might become precarious. Questions would be asked as to why the Conservatives were not able to take advantage of the poll lead they had at the beginning of the campaign and there will be many lining up to place the blame at the feet of May and her team. A small majority would give those on the backbenches significant influence to sway the agenda both domestically and on Brexit. May would also be constrained in who she is able to reshuffle in her Cabinet without prompting further animosity.
Conservative majority 40-70
When she called the election, a majority around the 50 mark was reportedly what May thought would be a solid result. It would be larger than the majority of 43 that Margret Thatcher secured in 1979 and she would have strengthened her hand enough to no longer be held to ransom by a minority of backbenchers. The pathway for her domestic agenda would also be significantly eased and May would be able to enter Brexit negotiations in a few weeks’ time knowing she had significant support from her party and the public to pursue the Brexit agenda she laid out in her manifesto.
Conservative majority 70+
There has certainly been a failure by the Conservatives to manage expectations at this election. After the Prime Minister first called the election, talk of up to a 100+ majority was allowed to gather pace. The polling over the last few weeks has made this look a tough ask but if they are able to secure a victory in landslide territory it would be a hugely impressive result – lets not forget it has been 30 years since the Tories last did so. While the EU would be undeterred from their negotiating positions as a result of such a victory, it would still send a strong statement that the British public had overwhelmingly backed the Prime Minister to negotiate Brexit. May would be able to reshuffle her Cabinet in whatever way she chooses and re-align the party further in her own image, as well as facing little opposition in pursuing her domestic agenda. A large majority would also allow her to form the groundwork to establish Conservative governments for years to come.
Clearly the range of potential results set out above will have an impact not just on politics domestically, but the Brexit process as well. The Conservatives have had a difficult campaign, having seen their lead in the polls gradually reduced, and many in the party not even wanting this election in the first place. If the Prime Minister’s majority is not substantially increased there will be those either openly or in the shadows ready to pounce. In which case the chaotic, messy and unpredictable nature of British politics will continue to rumble on.