A night of failure

My negative take on the results.

Sorry to be so negative the morning after the election, but here is my initial, sleepy reading of a largely unreadable result: it has been a miserable failure for pretty much everyone.

Labour failed to retain its majority and failed to emerge as the largest single party in this shiny, new, hung parliament of ours -- something some of the polls had suggested, and some Labour strategists had been hoping for, until only a few days ago.

The Liberal Democrats failed to translate their "surge" into seats and failed to "break the mould" of British politics -- more like a medium-sized dent. To win fewer seats than they did in 2005 is embarrassing.

And the Tories failed to win even a small majority, despite Gordon Brown's unpopularity, the worst recession in decades, the biggest financial crash in a hundred years, the expenses scandal, Lord Ashcroft's millions, Bigotgate, the various Labour leadership coups, and the fact that they were up against a party that had been in power for 13 long years. The dawn of Dave? Not quite. (Oh, and when Cameron says that Labour has "lost its mandate to govern our country", he is right. The problem for him is that he hasn't won a mandate to replace it. In the end, four and a half years of "modernising" leadership just wasn't enough . . .)

Another failure, perhaps the biggest failure of all, has been the democratic failure. It is a national disgrace that voters were turned away from polling stations, disenfranchised during the closest general election in 36 years. We have, in the words of the Electoral Commission chair, a voting system that is "Victorian" and "not fit for purpose". In various corners of the country, democracy failed on 6 May 2010. Will we ever again be able to send election monitors abroad with their heads held high?

UPDATE: Actually, it hasn't all been bad. Great to see success for Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion -- and the election of Britain's first Green MP. And I'm delighted to see the humiliating defeat for the neo-fascist Nick Griffin and the BNP in Barking. Perfect!

UPDATE 2: Here also are my predictions from last night, which, I think (!), still hold true:

* No party will gain an overall majority -- parliament will be hung. (Seeing as how I predicted a hung parliament nearly a year ago, it would be odd to pull back from that prediction now.)

* Ed Balls will retain his Morley and Outwood seat.

* Turnout will be higher than 70 per cent -- again, a prediction I made a while ago (on LBC, in an interview with Iain Dale!) and one I'm sticking with.

* The Conservatives will emerge as the largest single party.

* Labour will come second, not third in the popular vote. Its vote share and number of seats will exceed the 1983 totals.

* Gordon Brown will still be PM at 1pm on Friday.

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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