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Hung out to dry?

The hung parliament speaks of the long shadow of the financial crisis and shows that the new ‘mystery’ voters were seduced by Corbyn’s tax and spend agenda, writes Alec Marsh

When, ten or so years hence, Netflix finally gets around to charting the events of this decade in the seventh series of The Crown, they’ll save an episode for the ‘snap’ general election of 2017 – perhaps with a heavily made-up Keira Knightley in the role of Theresa May. They would be foolish to leave it out.

The thrilling story of an incumbent prime minister, with a 20 point lead in the polls, frittering away such a dominant position in a few short weeks to an opponent who is so obviously ill-suited to government will offer drama potential as well as a salutary tale for our times. (I’m sure there’s a fair few world leaders and ex-leaders, including David Cameron who will be saying, ‘I told you so’ today.)

That Mrs May is clearly ill-suited on one level to campaigning – whereas Jeremy Corbyn actually looked as though he was enjoying it – is one thing, but the U-turns, and reversals, most notably over the ‘Dementia tax’ will now be judged to have been her undoing. You also have to seriously question the wisdom of the decision to build a personality-led campaign around someone whose personality offers such limitations when it comes to actually connecting with the voters. In totality it all lends credibility to rumours that Mrs May is one of those leaders, like Gordon Brown, who does not listen to others or brook opposition.

But Mrs May did not ‘lose’ this election, so to speak, on her own: the voters, and more importantly the ‘mystery’ voters or ‘shy Corbynistas’ who have given Labour their 9.5 per cent increase in vote and 29 new seats, were very clearly seduced by Mr Corbyn’s economically eccentric programme.

My guess is that many of these are the very same people who turned out for the EU referendum in 2016 but who did not vote in 2015’s general election, and who helped fox pollsters in that vote just as they did in this one. These people are often not on the radar of pollsters or politicos.

Yet on Thursday voter turnout rose more than 2 per cent from 2015, to 68.7 per cent – close to returning  to the post war norms in British general elections above 70 per cent – so these people had their say. That these are politically less engaged individuals and typically younger, therefore with shorter political memories, will only make them all the more susceptible to Labour’s selection of youth-related giveaways such as on student fees and child care, which likewise attracts young parents and parents-to-be.

Whether you regard Labour’s programme as a modern day version of Eatanswill-writ large (the election-time ‘treating’ or bribing of supporters in the early 19th century that was famously satirised in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers was once rife) is largely down to your political outlook.

Either way, when these offerings were combined with Mr Corbyn’s grandfatherly charm and the long, dark shadow of the financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed it, they were enough to deliver this result of a hung parliament.

Mrs May says she has no intention of resigning. This will last until her next U-turn. If she hangs on – perhaps in coalition with the DUP – then her government will limp on but we can and should expect another election, probably in the autumn, if not before, and possibly after another walking sojourn in Snowdonia. In the meantime it’s hard to see how the government can negotiate with all sincerity on the terms of Brexit because the nation has not delivered the firm endorsement of her that she was asking for, which will only further arrest and distress the proceedings, all of which points to the necessity of another election.

So the Netflix ‘snap’ election Crown episode will almost certainly be a two-parter. For all concerned, let’s hope that the concluding episode has a more decisive outcome.

 

Alec Marsh is editor of Spear's