The British pollsters — and prime minister — have come up short once again. The surprisingly lackluster performance of the Conservatives in Britain's snap election yesterday has dealt a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May. Following David Cameron's Brexit debacle on June 23, 2016, this marks the second time in less than a year that an over-confident, Conservative Party leader has been wrongly convinced of the British electorate's readiness to support his or her political mandate.
The Conservatives lost a total of 12 seats (as of midday Friday) across the United Kingdom when just last month public opinion polls and local election results suggested they were on track to pick up numerous seats. Meanwhile, the Labour Party surged, winning 29 seats in areas where the party's lukewarm support for the Brexit played well.
The snap election, which Theresa May hoped would bolster her bargaining position in inchoate Brexit talks, surprised in many ways. One can almost hear the death knell ringing in Edinburgh as stalwarts of the Scottish independence movement, including the former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, lost their seats to unionist candidates. Anti-Brexit forces, too, had a successful night. The Liberal Democrats, who ran on a full-throated, pro-European platform, increased their representation in Parliament by clinching new seats in the Scottish Highlands.
These victories and defeats have minced and mixed the wishes of the British people. Though the electorate appears to still favor some form of Brexit, the results of Thursday's vote ultimately undermine May as she prepares to take on hardened EU negotiators in Brussels.
German Socialist party chief Martin Schulz, who used to serve as President of the European Parliament, tweeted a healthy dose of Schadenfreude on Friday: "Whoever makes politics a game, loses. After Cameron, May knows that, too."
Without unflagging fidelity to the Brexit choice, the United Kingdom will appear movable — and therefore weak — as it negotiates the details of its departure from the European Union by 2019. May has said that "no Brexit deal is better than a bad deal," but apparently a sizeable portion of Britain doesn't agree.
Winston Churchill, May's political and ideological predecessor, famously said of democracy that it is "the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried." Relying on the "people's will" to make complicated decisions is bound to bring surprises. But in the case of Brexit and the snap election, a vote was not required by law. Rather, the votes were a gamble by Cameron and May to bolster their own mandates. Indeed, Churchill tells that democracy should never be a question of if. But sometimes, it may be a matter of how much.
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Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.
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