Huge upset in British politics

Most pundits and pollsters were proved wrong on the British election and that includes your humbled columnist. The widely expected large or even landslide majority for the Conservatives turned into a hung parliament. The Conservatives lost a dozen seats and have to rely on an understanding with the ten-strong Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland for a bare majority in the Commons.

Few expected this astonishing defeat of the Conservatives in a snap election they chose to organise three years earlier than necessary and the surprising rise of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. Corbyn lost his gauche grumpiness to become, as many said, 'Monsieur Zen,' exuding calm and personable passion. His platform represented a decisive break with austerity politics and several bold offers were warmly received. A challenge to his leadership seems impossible and talk of a new centrist party is muted.

The election has been a tale of two of everything. We have seen the return of two party dominance with Labour and the Conservatives taking 85 percent of the vote between them while UKIP's voters went in two directions when it was widely thought that most would take a one way street to the Conservatives. 

The two dominant generations of the grey vote and the youth also behaved unexpectedly. The Tories seemed to take the votes of older people for granted and suddenly presented them with policies that worried many. When May beat the retreat, she added insult to injury by claiming that she had not changed anything.

And nor did the terror attacks during the campaign provide any widespread temptation to back the traditional party of law and order, as I suspected it would. Corbyn's record on terrorism and foreign policy seemed to phase few people. The fierce attacks of the tabloid newspapers on these issues were discounted by many and their power has been humbled.

Corbyn's savvy internet tactics and evangelical rallies boosted the youth and student vote as we saw, for instance, in the constituency of Canterbury - a university dominated town in the normally Conservative county of Kent but which chucked out the Tories for the first time in nearly a century.

It was also a tale of two unions. The SNP lost big time in Scotland, although they remain the single largest party. A Conservative surge in Scotland spearheaded by their formidable leader Ruth Davidson saved the Conservatives from even worse national results, and possibly averted a minority Labour government. It has probably also saved the union of the United Kingdom from Scottish independence for decades. 

The fate of the UK in the European Union is far less certain as negotiations begin in earnest in less than a fortnight. May's desire for a big majority to handle Brexit was rebuffed and debate about what that means is just starting for the many who did not think they needed to contemplate it. Britain has a weaker hand in the negotiations.

Parliament returns on Tuesday and the Queen's Speech - where the government sets out its legislative programme - takes place the following week. People will be watching carefully to see what influence the DUP exerts on policy promises. One can expect that Northern Ireland will benefit considerably and that part of the UK union will be safer.

The cabinet will be confirmed this weekend and a whole range of junior ministers will be appointed in the coming week. Kurds will be interested to see if the Middle East Minister and regular visitor to Iraq and Kurdistan, Tobias Ellwood, will continue in his post where he has served for three years. I do not expect any major change in foreign policy on the Kurdish question but note that DUP members have shown an interest in Kurdistan over several years.

The parliamentary select committees including those on foreign affairs and defence, which have issued important reports concerning the Kurds, will be formed by the middle of July but have little time to do much work before the summer break. 
The all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region is also back in operation and could focus on the issue of independence in the run up to the Kurdistani referendum on 25 September.

Gary Kent became the Director of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in 2007 but the group has been formally dissolved for the duration of the UK general election. He writes in a strictly personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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