May remains PM but faces tough task ahead
London - After a bruising election campaign Theresa May remained Britain’s prime minister but with fewer seats in parliament and only with the help of an alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
“What the country needs more than ever is certainty and having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty,” May said on June 9.
British voters delivered a hung parliament, reflecting the uncertainty that has governed the political scene since the Brexit vote last June. May ran an indifferent election campaign and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn made an unexpectedly strong challenge.
The final tally was 318 seats for the Conservatives (down 12), 262 for Labour (up 29), 35 for the Scottish National Party (down 21), 12 for the Liberal Democrats (up four), ten for the DUP (up two) and 13 seats shared among the Green Party, Plaid Cymru in Wales and Sinn Féin.
May’s deal with the DUP gives her a narrow parliamentary majority of 328 seats — just a two-seat cushion compared to her previous 17-seat majority, which she deemed insufficient to deliver Brexit.
“This is an election where every single vote counts and every single vote for me and Conservative candidates will be a vote that strengthens my hand in the negotiations for Brexit,” May told supporters in Bridgend, Wales, during the first week of campaigning.
It was a message that she repeated throughout the campaign, disparaging Corbyn’s leadership and asserting that only she could deliver the Brexit demanded by Britain.
“If I lose just six seats, I will lose this election and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with Europe,” May tweeted on May 20.
Although May remains prime minister, she is a vastly diminished figure and some Conservative MPs have called for her resignation. After a campaign that saw her pledge to reverse the fox hunting ban and perform a U-turn over proposed changes to social care, May saw her personal popularity plummet.
Security and counterterrorism were a major focus during the campaign after the Manchester and London attacks. Questions were raised about May’s more than six years as home secretary during which she presided over major cuts to Britain’s police and security forces.
Under Conservative Party rules, 15% of MPs — which translates into 48 seats — can trigger a leadership contest by calling for a vote of “no confidence.”
Even if May surmounts any leadership challenge, many analysts expect another election to be called before the end of the year, owing to the inherent unsustainability of a minority government.
Conservative former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who held on to her seat in Loughborough but with a significantly reduced majority, said “the buck stops at the top.”
“I think there’s real fury against the campaign… I think she [May] should stay for now but I think she won’t fight another election and I think eventually, whether it takes weeks or months, we will have to look at the leadership,” she told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Amid the historic chaos following the June 8 general election, other records were also broken. This will be the most ethnically diverse British parliament in history with a record 51 ethnic minority MPs in the new House of Commons, integration think-tank British Future said.
“The 2017 parliament will be the most diverse ever, with ten new ethnic minority MPs taking the total of non-white parliamentarians to 51. Thirty years on, that tells a positive story about integration since the breakthrough election of 1986,” British Future Director Sunder Katwala said.
Britain also elected a record 201 female MPs, with the previous record of 191 elected in 2015, a number that increased to 196 in by-elections.