A Tweet of May that Matters. First Reflections on a Hung Parliament after the UK Election

Tweets matter. Among the many moments in the month of May that Prime Minister Theresa May may regret, there exists one tweet.

On May 20, she declared:

Was this tweet “the shortest suicide note in history”? Can its message be undone? There surely would be nothing new in post-electoral deeds that deviate from pre-electoral words. Yet, the existence of the tweet adds to the humiliation that Theresa May is assumed to be facing right now.  In any case, the results that create a hung parliament would have seemed bad for May even without the tweet.

Hung parliament could result in Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. Unlikely, perhaps, but the mere possibility weakens Theresa May.

The results also weaken those who argue that a relatively radical left discourse means an electoral catastrophe.

Even if the Conservatives were able to keep Downing Street 10, Jeremy Corbin would probably join Bernie Sanders as a symbol for an electoral excitement that a mildly but clearly socialist rhetoric may cause. Especially among the young, a relevant aspect for debates on possible futures.

Could Theresa May, or whoever else might aim to become a Conservative Prime Minister, get help from Northern Ireland? Democratic Unionist Party’s Google search numbers must be huge right now.

With ten seats and the possibility to help the Conservatives create a majority, the DUP that was relatively unknown outside Northern Ireland (or at least in places like Finland), could claim a kingmaker role. This role might be brief, but it probably tastes sweet.

For those critical of strong executive powers, a hung parliament might sound nice.

The situation vaguely reminds me of the early days of the so-called six-pack coalition government in Finland in 2011. The government was hard to get together, and included strange bedfellows. Back then, I commented, only half tongue in cheek, that one nice thing about the six-pack government would be that it might not get much harm done – because it might not get much done at all.

In the context of Brexit, a lack of a strong government may obviously have some particular dimensions. In Brexit negotiations, there are special pressures for a strong executive. For the moment a new popular vote on Brexit seems unlikely, but there might be renewed calls for it.

More generally, of course, comparisons between countries with very different electoral systems, such as Finland and the UK, have many limits.

One further difference between the UK and many other countries is the lack of a written constitution. Perhaps constitutional scholars get the pleasure to analyse a constitutional crisis in a country with no constitutional text to analyse.

I look forward to my visit to the UK in a couple of days to explore more of these questions. I will be acting as external examiner for a PhD thesis at Birbeck College, University of London, and also participating at the British International Association’s meeting in Brighton. Let me know what I should observe in these fascinating times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s