With Teresa May heading to the Queen to form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) it follows one of the worst election campaigns ever seen from the UK Conservatives.
This was a campaign where the Conservatives blew a 20% lead at the start of the campaign and wound up losing their majority.
It has been another example illustrating that without the influences of run-off voting systems or proportional voting systems (aka France and Holland); yet another leading campaign has run into a cocktail for political disaster, complacency, expectation management failure and authenticity deficit disorder.
The fundamental premise of this campaign, from the framing right through to execution, was that the Conservatives couldn’t lose. When they realised they could lose, the scare campaign was ramped up. Yet this was far too little and late to stem the bleeding.
However, whilst Corbyn has picked up a bit over 30 seats, he is still well short of a majority in the House of Commons. Despite increasing Labour’s vote share and adding millions of extra votes to the Labour tally, there is still a fundamental weakness in the Labour vote; a fundamental inability to take out marginal tory seats and to capitalise on the poor campaign of the Scottish Nationalists. In summary, the Labour vote was coming off a low base.
This election saw a pitch for a 'strong and stable' government fall flat.
The anti-establishment nature of the referendum campaign has scrambled the foundations of British politics. May was intitially a ‘remainer’ now advocating for a tough line on Brexit (or ‘hard brexit’ as many describe it). Jeremy Corbyn is an acolyte of Tony Benn, the leader of the hard left-wing of the Labour Party through the 1970s and 1980s and Michael Foot, the author of the manifesto which became known as the ‘Longest Suicide Note in History’. Corbyn was an early supporter of a Brexit, then campaigned in the referendum for ‘remain’ and now supports a Brexit once again.
On the backdrop of this scrambling was a Conservative campaign that refused to engage in TV debates, ran a campaign that wasn’t based on connecting with the mainstream and often appeared aloof. This was followed by a manifesto which attacked the Conservative base voters (see social care funding, ending the pension ‘triple lock’ and the famous ‘dementia tax’) that was never going to be rewarded.
Labour’s gains are also even more interesting, considering that the Corbyn campaign was often attacked for not doing enough to win back marginal seats.
Britain has seen a referendum campaign end their membership of the European Union and effectively seen the end of ‘New Labour’ all in the space of two years. Yet, what is again being missed in the majority of post-mortem conversations is that the trend is global and there are lessons for the future. But what is 'the trend'?
There is a global trend (and there has been for at least seven years) amongst western electorates, which don’t have proportional election systems, to now back to the ‘anti-politician’ politician regardless of political philosophical divides. The 'anti-politician' often taps into a resentment of existing institutions. Also known as 'anti-establishment' politics. In electorates where authenticity has been a perceived problem, the ‘standard’ campaign based on presentation, photo opportunities and three word clichés are not working (note ‘Strong and Stable’ and ‘Jobs and Growth’)
This is also prefaced on the fact that the ‘anti-establishment’ politician needs to rise inside the framework of establishment parties. This can be seen most recently with a Donald Trump Republican presidency. This is not as easy nor as random as it may seem.
For example, Jill Stein can’t mobilise a Sanders-style movement in the American left. Likewise, Hanson and Bernardi won’t be able to lead parties of government in the Australian mainstream system and the best that New Zealand First and Winston Peters can hope for is a role as a ‘support party’ (again) to a National Party government.
It is very important to also note that there is a difference between ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘populism’. The concept of politicians using budget measures to ‘buy’ support well and truly pre-dates the rise of the ‘anti-establishment’ concept.
In the United States, we witnessed Hilary Clinton be attacked on two flanks - one from the philosophical left and one from the philosophical right. In the Democratic Primaries she lost 22 states to Bernie Sanders; a Corbyn-esque, dedicated Socialist independent Senator from Vermont who energised a base and built an engaged movement. Not unlike the ‘momentum’ movement behind Corbyn.
Despite Clinton surviving the challenge on her left, she failed to stave off Trump, perceived to be on her right, who perfected the anti-politician image, turned out his voters; but more importantly her campaign failed to bring out the voters mobilised by first Obama, then Sanders; Millennials, Latinos and African-Americans. Her turnout fell dramatically which allowed Trump to win.
In this new political reality, however, Clinton was a career political professional attempting to fend off two anti-politician campaigns that were always going to cannibalise her vote regardless of which traditional philosophical divide they may have been perceived to represent.
In Australia, Barnaby Joyce will get some enjoyment to see that the electorate has finally caught up with him. He has been prosecuting this argument well before the rise of the ‘anti-establishment’ politician around the world. Australia is full of politicians trying to bring this together; between Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi, Bob Katter and Derryn Hinch; they all don’t get anywhere near the standard of Barnaby Joyce and his ability to do this, despite being the junior Coalition partner in an unpopular government.
However, if Anthony Albanese wins the leadership of the Labor Party in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull would almost be electorally unable to win. Albanese has figured out how to master this on the left in the Australian context, without the status of trying to do this from inside a minor party.
If the Coalition doesn't recognise and get across this anti-politician trend with effective strategies, they won’t win in 2019. If the Nationals in New Zealand don’t see the events of the UK and US as something that can manifest itself in New Zealand too, they will see a much larger New Zealand First and a more powerful Winston Peters.
Welcome to the mainstream where the anti-politician rules.