After steadfastly promising that there would be no election before 2020 (as required by the fixed terms parliament act) Mrs May went to the people asking for a strengthened Brexit mandate. The UK has reached the end of the 2017 snap election period and voting is underway with the full result likely to emerge within 24 hours.
The argument that a strong domestic mandate would strengthen Mrs May’s hand with the EU during Brexit negotiations was always clearly bogus. The EU will deal with the de facto head of state of the UK irrespective of the party he or she represents and of the size of their parliamentary majority: that person represents the UK in the negotiations, no more or no less.
For an election claimed to be about Brexit, the ruling Tory party has said nothing of substance on the subject over the course of the election. There was a shift from the “a bad deal is worse than no deal” rhetoric with the government stating that a good deal would be needed to ensure the future of the National Health Service, but the claim was revived towards the end of the campaign. Whilst other party leaders challenged the assertion that no deal was better than a bad deal, the concept does not seem to have registered with the public.
Mrs May went into the election with a 20 point lead over labour on most polls. All show this to have been significantly eroded over the course of the election with estimates of the outcome ranging from a hung parliament to a Tory majority of 60+ seats. Few people trust opinion polls much these days after their failure to call the correct results for the last UK election, Brexit or the US presidential election.
The surprise of the UK campaign was that the strongly pro-EU LibDems saw next to no swing towards them in the polls. The party fared badly in the 2015 election, taking the blame for the perceived failings of the coalition of which they were the junior party whilst the senior party, the Conservatives, were returned to power with an absolute majority of 12. Despite this, the LibDems remain confident that they will increase their representation in the commons – perhaps voting for them will transpire to be a guilty secret that voters will not share with pollsters. Arguably, the 2017 election could be the most important election for decades as the Brexit process which will stem from it will shape the UK economy for many years to come.