Whether today’s election result has come as a total surprise, or whether you’ve spent the past seven weeks quietly wondering if ‘anything is possible’ might not have been the key lesson to be learned from the EU referendum and the US election, the fact that no party has secured an overall majority as a result of our collective decision-making will undoubtedly have a substantial impact on the way politics is conducted in Britain for the foreseeable future.
The direction of travel in terms of social policy – and consequently the implications of a new government for local communities around the country – remains to be seen. But there are a few observations we can make on the basis of the way in which events unfolded overnight.
Listening and Accountability
Pursuing a hard Brexit has been frequently alluded to by politicians as a matter of obedience to the will of the people: ‘the people have spoken’ we are told, and politicians therefore must act accordingly. What today’s result reminds us though, is that the people had not in fact spoken, they had voted in a referendum, an important but far less nuanced way of expressing one’s hopes, concerns and priorities for the nation. As the redistribution of former UKIP votes in this election suggests, people voted to leave the EU for a variety of reasons, some of which had more to do with public services and stagnant wages at home than xenophobic attitudes or trade deals abroad.
One might argue that the impetus for this election was a desire to be liberated from the need to listen to others, a liberation to be effected by reducing the potential for opposition politicians to interfere with Brexit negotiations. This is a very understandable ambition when entering into a set of complex and difficult negotiations, and was argued for on the basis of it being in the country’s best interests. The message that seems to have been sent by voters, however, is that they do want to be listened to (turnout was up more than 2% on 2015) and that accountability does matter
The election campaign, as we know, was fought by the Conservatives on an appeal to stability, and it is certainly true that businesses, currencies, and indeed most people, perform better in a context characterised by reasonable levels of certainty about the things that matter most. But could the likely fragility of whatever government emerges in fact be a gift to our democracy, and to our wellbeing and cohesion as a society?
Our diverse – and in some senses divergent – society in which people’s ‘best interests’ include both common and conflicting goals, might arguably be very well served by a Parliament in which listening, consensus-building, and the thorough appraisal of policy implications from a variety of perspectives are necessities.
Our politics will need to become more deliberative and more collaborative. Both Conservative and Labour MPs will need to find new ways of working together in support of their leaders, and allow the results to reshape and refine their vision, priorities and approaches.
As we, and our politicians, look ahead, perhaps there is wisdom for our times to be drawn from the oft-quoted African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’