On June 8th, the United Kingdom held a “snap election” called by Prime Minister Theresa May. A snap election is a previously unscheduled vote to make sure the government has the support of its people. When the election was over, PM May and her Conservative Party had won the largest number of seats in Parliament. However, many people called the outcome a “stunning loss” for May. That’s because although the Conservatives will probably remain in control of the government, they lost more than 30 seats to their rival, the Labour Party.
When Theresa May called for this election, the Conservative Party had a comfortable lead in the polls and in Parliament. She called this snap election to prove that her party had support for its policies, including plans to leave the European Union. During the campaign, however, May’s support started to slide, and many voters flocked to the views of the Labour Party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour Party gained 31 seats in the election. This gain took away the Conservative majority, leading to a so-called “hung Parliament.” In order to get the Queen’s permission to form a government, the Conservatives were forced to ally themselves with another party. At press time, they were still working out the terms of a partnership with Democratic Unionist Party members from Northern Ireland, a very socially conservative group.
Some Conservatives have called for Prime Minister May to step down. These critics say she made a huge mistake calling for the snap election in the first place, and that the party needs new leadership based on its poor showing in the election. But May has so far refused to give up her post.
This election came down to three crucial issues for British voters.
As in all elections, voters had many issues to consider when going to the polls. One of the biggest of these is the upcoming “Brexit.” Brexit is the nickname for the “British Exit” from the European Union. U.K. voters narrowly passed a referendum last summer that supported Brexit. Since then, however, voters have learned that this exit will likely cause financial problems for the United Kingdom. Some Conservatives have wanted the prime minister to try to arrange a “soft Brexit,” keeping ties to EU countries. Instead, they feel that May will go for a “hard Brexit,” isolating the U.K. from Europe even more.
Another important issue has been the economy. The Conservative Party thinks the best way to improve the U.K.’s financial picture is through “austerity measures”—to cut down on the country’s spending. Austerity often refers to economic policies that cut back on social programs. When the Conservatives laid out their plans, people were shocked to find major cuts in services, especially within the U.K.’s healthcare system. Some Conservatives refused to sign on to this plan, saying it would negatively affect older and poorer people. Others were turned off when May changed her mind about of some of these cuts. The Labour Party, which had opposed austerity measures from the beginning, ended up seeming stronger and more stable than the Conservatives.
Two recent terrorist attacks also influenced the election. The Conservative Party has often touted itself as being tougher on terrorism and crime than Labour. But many voters rethought this idea after experiencing two recent terror attacks—in Manchester and then in London—under May’s government.
Many political experts say that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was the biggest winner in the election, even though he did not get the most votes. His progressive positions were once thought to be too extreme for national politics. Corbyn is a longtime peace activist who was first elected to Parliament in 1983. He has often disagreed with the direction of the Labour Party, especially when it came to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Many were surprised in 2015 when Corbyn put his name forward as the new leader of Labour. Even after he won the election on the first ballot, some prominent party members refused to support him.
But during this campaign, Corbyn showed himself to be a great campaigner and a capable party leader. Many British voters were in agreement with his speeches against PM May’s austerity plans. He pointed out that the Conservative government had cut back on health services for the poor and elderly, and on police in a time of terrorism. After the election he said that people are tired of cuts in public spending, especially cuts in health services and schools. Corbyn’s messages managed to bring in many new young voters. This was helped by support from popular public figures such as musician JME and other members of the U.K.’s music scene.
While Theresa May is still the prime minister, Jeremy Corbyn might be the most important politician in the U.K. He will keep watch over May’s government and be able to criticize from a position of strength. And, if the Conservative coalition falls apart, Corbyn could call for yet another election in the fall. According to recent polls, Labour now has a shot at winning an election like this.