When Theresa May announced a snap General Election in April, she was confident she would win and secure an increased majority to ensure the Conservatives remained in office for a further 5 years and provide the backing required to effectively negotiate the Brexit talks with Europe. With the Conservatives 20 points ahead in the opinion polls, a landslide victory looked a dead certainty. But what then followed was one of the most dramatic collapses in British political history and another election, a fourth British poll in just over 2 years is increasingly likely.
The Prime Minister has some serious problems to be overcome, the first being the dramatic instability of British politics. The result revealed a much divided country, between outward and inward facing voters, the young and old, cosmopolitan cities and the rest, nationalists and unionists. Theresa May has led the Tories in a more statist, illiberal direction, with stricter corporate regulation and tighter immigration restrictions. Labour has morphed into a hard-left socialist party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who in contrast to Mrs May now looks unassailable as leader.
The second problem is the economy which is facing tough times in a way few have yet to acknowledge. In 2016 the economy defied the Brexit referendum to grow at the fastest pace amongst the G7 but in the first quarter of 2017 it has become the slowest. Although unemployment is at its lowest in decades, inflation is at a 3 year high and rising with real wages falling. Tax revenues and economic growth are likely to suffer as inward investment falls and net migration of skilled Europeans tails off.
Britain now faces one of the most important periods of negotiation ever attempted in peacetime. The Brexit process involves dismantling an economic and political arrangement that has been developed over half a century, linking Britain to the continent which makes up over 50% of its exports, where half its migrants arrive from and which has contributed to maintaining peace in Europe as well as further afield.
Britain is not the only country reeling from electoral shock. Other countries have led to the emergence of new leaders, Trump in America and Macron in France, whereas Britain’s rumbling revolt has left no one in charge. Corbyn’s grip on Labour has been strengthened, but the party is far from winning a majority and the Tories, despite remaining the largest parliamentary party now have a leader whose future is in doubt with no obvious successor in sight.