POLITICS

What's Next For UK Prime Minister Theresa May After Stunning Election Defeat

Snap election gamble backfired spectacularly on Conservative Party.

09/06/2017 11:10 BST | Updated 09/06/2017 11:54 BST

British Prime Minister Theresa May will attempt to cling to power by persuading one of the UK’s smaller political parties to back her in parliamentary votes, after her gamble of calling a snap election backfired spectacularly.

With 649 of the 650 results declared, May has won just 318 seats - nine short of the 326 magic number required for a majority.  The main opposition Labour Party, led by the proudly socialist Jeremy Corbyn, has won 261 seats - an increase of 29.  Of the larger minor parties, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 35 seats, the Liberal Democrats 14 and the DUP won 10.

By convention, May’s Conservative government will remain in office and has the first chance to form a new administration.

She has the option of either trying to create a formal coalition government with another party, as David Cameron did with the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg in 2010, or strike a looser but more unstable deal with one or more of the smaller parties.

It looks like she has chosen the second option. May hopes to govern by persuading the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs from Northern Ireland to back her in parliamentary votes.

The 318 Conservative MPs plus the 10 DUP MPs creates a majority of 328.

In return, the DUP is likely to argue against a so-called hard Brexit that would see the creation of a hard border with controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It will also be able to extract other concessions as the price for allowing May to stay in No.10 Downing Street.

Minority governments are historically unstable as each parliamentary vote is easily lost. The DUP will be able to hold the Conservative Party hostage on legislation if and when it chooses. 

During the campaign, May warned Corbyn would only become prime minister as part of a “coalition of chaos” with Labour Party being supported by smaller left wing parties.

But now May will be reliant on the very conservative DUP. Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley this morning told the BBC he was “really worried about the DUP having sway over this government”.

“They are climate change skeptics. They have faced accusations of bigotry and homophobia. Having them at the heart of government is worrying,” he said.

While the DUP could be willing to support the Conservative Party. Its leader, Arlene Foster, hinted she could expect May to step down as prime minister and be replaced by another Conservative. “It will be difficult for her to survive given that she was presumed at the start of the campaign, which seems an awfully long time ago, to come back with maybe a hundred, maybe more, in terms of her majority,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

PA Wire/PA Images
Jeremy Corbyn leaves Labour Party HQ in central London after he reiterated his call for Theresa May to resign as Prime Minister.

It is an election result that has stunned the British political class. When May called the election seven weeks ago, the Conservatives had an eye-watering 20-point lead in the polls. 

But May is widely seen to have run a lifeless campaign. Her manifesto launch was a disaster, with a flagship healthcare policy ditched just four days after it was announced.  Whereas Corbyn, boosted by his vocal and enthusiastic supporters, appeared to relish the mass rallies held across the country.

May looks to have survived the day, but it is unclear how long she can cling onto power.

One Conservative candidate told HuffPost UK during the campaign the prime minister had “totally fucked it up”. Anna Soubry, a former Conservative minister publicly blasted the “dreadful” campaign and suggest May “consider her position” as PM. Conservative MP Nigel Evans added “we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head”.

Despite winning fewer seats than May, Corbyn has emerged from the election in a stronger position than he has ever been in before. Just last year he survived an attempt by his MPs to oust him as party leader - most of whom believed he was leading them to a crushing election defeat.

Labour MP John Woodcock, one of Corbyn’s harshest critics, admitted he was stunned not only by Labour’s result but by his own re-election. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he told the BBC. 

Corbyn has said he wants to try and form a minority Labour government with the support of the left wing parties including the SNP and the Lib Dems should May fail to hold her deal with the DUP together.

May ran a campaign on the slogan of providing “strong and stable” leadership ahead of the Brexit negotiations, which begin in just eleven days time. Rather than stability, the British political class is now once again engulfed in chaos.

If neither May or Corbyn can form sustainable government, the UK could be heading for another general election in 2017.