This Side of the Pond – June 15

By Sarah Pridgeon

The politically inclined among you are probably expecting me to explain what on earth is going on across the pond in the wake of yet another extraordinary day of voting in the western world. First Brexit, then the most peculiar presidential election I can remember, then a surprising win in France and now a general election in the UK that was about as far from the predictions as seems possible.

Sadly, I’m not sure I can make head or tail of why the shocks keep coming – I’m not convinced that anyone can. At time of writing, we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting to hear if we’ll have a government to run things at all.

A couple of months ago, you may recall that Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election. It wasn’t actually necessary to hold a vote – thanks to looser rules than the U.S. on how often we elect our government, she had a couple of years yet before the lawmakers started squawking – but she felt it was as good a time as any and a better time than most.

Her goal was to win in a landslide, which in turn would make it easier for her party, the Conservatives, to negotiate Britain’s way out of the European Union. Doing that is going to be a lot like navigating the Labyrinth of Greek legend, I’m told, so the more politicians trudging alongside her with yarns of thread at the ready, the more likely she is to find the exit sign.

Or, in more practical terms, the fewer people sticking their feet in the mud every time she wants to get a vote through during the negotiations, the easier her job will be. Bearing in mind that one of the three major parties had essentially imploded and the other was on shaky ground, it seemed like a workable idea, at least in conventional terms.

Perhaps somebody should have mentioned to poor Ms. May that conventional thinking isn’t doing very well in international politics right now. If there’s something in the water, it’s surely in the oceans themselves, because none of us seem to be voting for whom the experts says we’re going to vote for.

It was an election that didn’t follow the rules. Put it this way: shock results aside, what’s getting a lot of the attention is that May herself stood against a competitor with a bucket on his head. His name is Lord Buckethead, obviously.

His manifesto includes that, “a referendum should be held about whether there should be a second referendum” on Brexit; nationalization of Adele; and, “a moratorium until 2022 on whether Birmingham should be converted into a star base”. He didn’t win, but he did look superb stood next to the PM in his black outfit with his face concealed by a shiny black bucket that was a couple of feet tall all by itself.

Fast forward through a speedy election campaign that included all the usual egg throwing, curled lips and annoyance and we reach the big day of the vote. Somehow, during that time period, the Conservatives watched as their lead in the polls slipped gently through their fingers.

Why? A lot of people were seduced by the Labour Party promising the moon on a stick with few explanations as to how they intended to pay for it. As an example, they pledged not only to pay all college fees, but that they would pay every student’s debt for them. Tempting, but I can’t help wondering what it would have done to tax rates.

Also peppering the pot may have been the stunningly awful campaign run by the Conservatives, complete with a refusal from the prime minister to bother participating in the televised debate. I am told she threw together a manifesto and released it without consulting her cabinet members, leaving their jaws flapping uselessly when they were asked questions about it.

There’s also the fact that the Labour Party convinced the college-age voters who are usually too busy toilet papering their dorms to actually turn up on the day. The end result was a hung parliament, which is exactly the opposite of what May was trying to achieve.

In other words, we work with a “first past the post” system and nobody got past the post. May’s team got more votes than anyone else, but not enough to have a majority in the House of Commons.

Which means they need to broker a deal with another party to create that majority – any party will do, as long as it gets them past the post and they’re willing to join forces with the Conservatives. The last time this happened, it was the Liberal Democrats – the party that has since collapsed in on itself.

This time, May seems to have chosen the Democratic Unionist Party, a highly socially conservative group of just ten politicians from Northern Ireland. Apparently, it won’t be a true coalition but a “confidence and supply” agreement whereby the little group promises to back the big group on key votes in return for… well, we don’t really know.

Meanwhile, the EU is tapping its toes, waiting for Britain to sort out its mess, and its chief negotiator has pointed out that we’d better hurry up because, “I can’t negotiate with myself”.

How do we get ourselves out of yet another sticky situation? It’s hard to tell, because the simple fact is that the UK government today is in a worse position than it was a week ago. Though May shows no signs of resigning, she has been described as a “dead woman walking” and has had to apologize to the MPs who lost their seats thanks to her crummy campaign and jettison a couple of her closest advisors.

Yes, there’s definitely something in the water that’s shaking traditional politics to its core, and little sign of things calming down. This was another election I wasn’t able to vote in but, all things considered, I think Lord Buckethead might have been the safest option on the ballot sheet.