With the results in from yesterday’s election in the United Kingdom, it appears that Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy of calling for an early snap election to garner a “stronger mandate” to move the country forward with Brexit has failed. Prime Minister May’s gamble backfired, as did that of her predecessor, Prime Minister David Cameron, who miscalculated the public sentiment on the Brexit referendum. The allure of the low-hanging fruit has now tripped up the last two prime ministers. With a house divided, much like in the U.S., predicting the mood of the public appears to be a failing strategy.
Pundits this morning are using the term “youthquake” to describe the surge in voter turnout among the youth vote. An exit poll conducted by New Musical Express (NME) showed that voter turnout for those 18–34 rose to 56%, a 12-point increase compared to the 2015 general election. The poll also suggested that almost two-thirds of young voters (ages 18–24) supported the Labour Party, citing Brexit as their main concern.
While the Conservatives are still the largest party, no one group has a majority and there will be no governing mandate. Britons today find themselves, like their friends across the pond, “deeply split – by region, by class and by generation.” Throw in the difficulties of navigating an exit from the European Union, and the uncertainty soars to levels not seen in recent history. Last night, with the early exit polls suggesting that May’s Conservative Party was in for a long night, the British pound experienced a free fall, with sterling dropping 1.5% to $1.27.
As noted, Prime Minister May called this very election three years earlier than required by law in hopes of strengthening her hand in the negotiations to take Britain out of the European Union. Now, with government representation far from the promised “strong and stable,” Brexit negotiations with the European Union stand more uncertain than ever. If anything, yesterday’s election shows that Brits are not willing to accept May’s now-defunct plans for a “hard Brexit.” The future of the negotiations remains to be seen, but with the structure of British leadership on unpredictable terrain, swift policy decisions seem unlikely. As the conservatives scramble to assemble a minority administration, is a stalemate on the issue that largely determines the economic and social prosperity of the UK for years to come?
Prime Minister May is learning the hard way what overconfidence can bring. Expecting the same Brexit voters to come out and support her in this general election without considering either the unrest of young voters or the rallying potential of Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn was equal parts bold and devastating. Her miscalculation, as Cameron’s before, will have rippling effects that will be felt around the globe for weeks, months, and years to come.
Originally published on LinkedIn