In June two of the great political forces of Britain clashed on the electoral battlefield. The Conservative party, encouraged by favourable polling and confident of being reinforced by former UKIP supporters, planned a ruthless and decisive rout of their opponents. The Labour Party were aware of their relative position of weakness but had quiet confidence in their organised and engaged conscript army. The battle lines were drawn and all commentators pointed to one of the most definitive general elections of modern times. The result was expected to be quick and decisive; it would all be over by Christmas (or more likely August…)
Of course, events did not quite work out that way. Following the uncertain election result, what was supposed to be a brief and decisive war of movement quickly broke down into a difficult war of attrition as both sides found themselves unable to break the political deadlock and gain any real momentum. Instead of the dawning of a new political era, as many had anticipated, the post general election political landscape became a no-man’s land between two parties entrenching themselves into positions they neither wanted nor were willing to risk losing.
For Theresa May, things could hardly have gone worse. As soon as she put her head above the parapet in the election campaign her poll rating suffered immediate casualties. Her personal authority disappeared almost overnight and the mandate she desperately had hoped would secure her Brexit strategy evaporated. She has no position of strength from which to launch any further attack and any defensive offering of concessions will further undermine her fragile position. The only real force holding her in position is the fear inside her party that no alternative has the popular appeal or personal authority to overthrow her without triggering another election. The eagerness to once again go over the top has severely diminished within the Conservative Party.
For their opponents on the other side of the barbed wire, things appear a little rosier. While Jeremy Corbyn was not able to plant his flag in Number Ten, he led the Labour Party to a historic swing and denied the Tories an outright majority. Far from the rout many had confidently predicted. However, this was not a decisive breakthrough and what ground the newly energised party did gain quickly formed into an exposed salient, deep into the territory of mainstream politics. The election proved Corbyn’s reputation as an effective campaigner and his well-drilled Momentum activists helped promote his popular policies on the ground. However, outside an election campaign Jeremy and his Momentum foot soldiers are not as effective and with each day the energy seeps out of his electoral surge. Unable to push further into enemy territory and under renewed scrutiny and criticism from the broadly centrist media, Corbyn is bogged down in the reality of his new political situation.
As we enter the summer recess and the guns really do fall silent, it’s easy to see why the aftermath of such a frenzied general election was ultimately anticlimactic. Both sides anticipated rapid manoeuvring to produce a more decisive result, but ultimately the reality of the circumstances left neither party with much strategic opportunity to break the deadlock. As both sides adjust to the newly formed battle lines the pressure on the Generals will continue to grow, as will the calls for decisive action.