The last ten years have been a period of austerity in Government...
So the election is done and dusted. Two-thirds of us voted and some will be thrilled at the results and others disappointed. A Conservative majority of 80 will end the frustrations of a hung Parliament and put pressure on the Government to deliver what it promised. A bad defeat for the Labour party, leaving them with the lowest number of seats since the heydays of Tony Blur, will trigger soul searching and possibly a change of direction.
Jeremy Corbyn has already said he will not lead the party in the next election but the loss of 59 seats, including that of Dennis Skinner, the “Beast of Bolsover”, signals the need for a serious debate as to what sort of party Labour wants to be. Their manifesto clearly reflected the socialist aspirations of Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, not the social democratic orientation of many of their backbenchers. The households struggling with poverty and homelessness will expect Labour to be batting for them. The number of children whose only good food comes from their school dinners should concern every voter.
There is no doubt that the Conservative success has a lot to do with Brexit. Now there is a majority for delivering Brexit and we can expect Parliament to be debating Johnson’s Withdrawal Bill next week. The big issue is what comes next. Johnson has said he will negotiate a trade deal with the EU by the end of the transition period in December 2020. Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, says this time table is unrealistic. He remembers that it took seven years to negotiate a trade deal with Canada. It should not take us that long as our trade is already aligned with the EU but if Johnson is serious about his timetable we could still leave with no deal.
The election result has been good for the Scottish Nationalists who gained 13 seats. That will encourage Nicola Sturgeon, their leader, to press hard for another Independence referendum. 62% of Scots voted in the 2016 referendum to remain in the EU so a majority for leaving the UK is more likely now than in 2014 when 55% voted against it. Hostility to Johnson’s Brexit plans has also grown in Northern Ireland because of the customs border down the Irish Sea that are part of his deal with the EU. He denies it but his former allies, the DUP, and Whitehall civil servants both know it will be there.
The Liberal Democrats have been badly damaged in the election. Not only have they lost Jo Swinson, their leader but also such MPs as Chuka Umunna and Dr Sarah Wollaston who joined them from the other parties. Their 19 MPs in the later days of the last Parliament are now reduced to 11. Other independents such as Dominic Grieve also failed to be re-elected. We may now see a more right wing Conservative party because other Centrists such as Alistair Burt, Caroline Spelman, David Lidington, Sir Oliver Letwin and Jeremy Lefroy, have all stood down.
There were also a number of questions asked during the election about the trustworthiness of some of our leading politicians. We have to hope that those about whom these concerns were expressed have noted them and seek to prove them wrong. For us Christians the challenge is to pray for those who represent and govern us that they are worthy of our support and seek to serve us honestly and faithfully.