UK’s Hung Parliament: Conservatives Lose Majority; Labour’s Corbyn Delivers Stunning Rebuke of PM May
British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a major setback Thursday in an election that saw her Conservative Party lose its majority in Parliament less than two weeks before the country is scheduled to begin talks over exiting from the European Union. May called the snap election three years early, expecting to win a large mandate to negotiate with European leaders over the terms of the so-called Brexit. Instead, Conservatives were left without a clear majority and a hung Parliament. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who ran on a platform of “For the many, not the few,” said Thursday’s election results show voters are “turning their backs on austerity.” We’re joined by Paul Mason, columnist for The Guardian, and Mehdi Hasan, award-winning British journalist and broadcaster at Al Jazeera English. He is host of the Al Jazeera interview program “UpFront” and a columnist for The Intercept.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in the United Kingdom, where British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a major setback Thursday in a snap election that saw her Conservative Party lose its majority in Parliament less than two weeks before the country is scheduled to begin talks over exiting from the European Union. May called the snap election three years early, expecting to win a large mandate to negotiate with European leaders over the terms of the so-called Brexit. But Thursday’s election instead left the Conservatives without a clear majority and a hung Parliament. Minutes ago, Prime Minister May said from 10 Downing Street that her party would form a coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.
PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: What the country needs more than ever is certainty. And having secured the largest number of votes and the greatest number of seats in the general election, it is clear that only the Conservative and Unionist Party has the legitimacy and ability to provide that certainty by commanding a majority in the House of Commons.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had said the results are evidence May should step down. Corbyn ran on a platform of “For the many, not the few.” He said Thursday’s election results show voters are “turning their backs on austerity.”
JEREMY CORBYN: What’s happened is people have said they’ve had quite enough of austerity politics, they’ve had quite enough of cuts in public expenditure, underfunding our health service, underfunding our schools and our education service and not giving our young people the chance they deserve in our society.
AMY GOODMAN: In the late stages of the election campaign, Britain was hit by two militant attacks claimed by ISIS that killed 30 people in Manchester and London. The shift to focus onto security issues hurt May in part because she oversaw cuts to the number of police officers during her previous role as interior minister.
With the Conservative Party’s parliamentary majority wiped out, May is expected to turn to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to provide her with the number of seats required for a narrow working majority. She’s meeting with the queen this morning.
For more, we go to two guests. In Washington, D.C., we’re joined by Mehdi Hasan, an award-winning British journalist and broadcaster at Al Jazeera English. He’s host of the program UpFront and a columnist for The Intercept. He’s author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader and The Debt Delusion: Exposing Ten Tory Myths About Debts, Deficits and Spending Cuts. And from London, we’re joined by Paul Mason, a columnist for The Guardian, filmmaker based in London. His most recent book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! But we turn first to Washington, D.C., to Mehdi Hasan. Your take on what has just taken place in Britain?
MEHDI HASAN: I think it’s an absolute humiliation for the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May. Amy, she had a 25-point poll lead when this campaign began, and ends it with a hung Parliament, having lost seats in Parliament, up against a Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who’s increased Labour’s vote share by the biggest margin since, I think, 1945. So, it’s very bad news for her. She’s been prime minister for less than a year. How much longer she’ll survive, we don’t know, because the Tory Party doesn’t like losers. And the sharks are already smelling blood within her party and already circling. There will be an assault on her leadership, I’m sure, very soon.
And as for her government, I mean, Amy, you mentioned this coalition with the DUP, which my friend Owen Jones on Twitter this morning called the political wing of the 18th century—I mean, a deeply reactionary and bigoted party with ties to all sorts of paramilitaries. The irony of forming a coalition government with them, when she ran a campaign in which she repeated in every interview, in every speech, that she would bring about strong and stable government—and the last thing she has given the U.K. this morning is strong and stable government. It’s an embarrassment for her, and it’s probably the end of her political career.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Mason, you’re right there in London. The prime minister has just spoken from 10 Downing Street. Explain what’s taking place right now.
PAUL MASON: So, the prime minister, Theresa May, didn’t need to call this election. She called it. And instead of getting an extra majority that would help her get through her legislative program and this so-called hard break with Europe, the hard Brexit, she failed completely. She lost more seats than she gained. And she’s had to go for this alliance with this, you know, right-wing, religiously sectarian party.
And whether it’s stable or not, it removes one of her key negotiating positions. I mean, it’s a bit arcane for American viewers, but this party in Northern Ireland wants there to be no border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit. But to do that, you have to have a deal. Now, Theresa May’s negotiating position relies on the threat of walking away without a deal. So, as of right now, she can’t do that. It’s an inconsequential threat. And the negotiating partners in Europe, the other 27 countries, completely understand this. So she has completely weakened her own position.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it a done deal that she will form a coalition with this Northern Irish party, the Democratic—
PAUL MASON: Unionist Party.
AMY GOODMAN: —the Democratic Unionist Party? And explain exactly what this party is.
PAUL MASON: In Northern Ireland, you had 20 years of religious civil war, and nationalism versus—Irish nationalism versus unionism. They were on the unionist side, the side which sent in troops, a rather large number of troops, to suppress the nationalist rising. Now, their roots are in the constitutional aspect of that. But there are many people involved in that party now who have a background in the armed struggle on the British side, just as much as Sinn Féin, the Irish nationalist party, has a background in armed struggle on the other side. It is a deeply religious, conservative party. It is anti-abortion. It is anti-women’s rights. It’s anti-gay rights. It wants to close shops on Sunday. It would be well at home in a Donald Trump rally in a way that Theresa May would not be.
And it’s—remember, we have the remnants of religious rivalry here in many British cities where there are Irish communities. So to choose one side in the Northern Irish conflict and put them into government is going to play really badly, not just in one of our main trading partners, Southern Ireland, but also in British cities, like Liverpool and Glasgow. So it’s an act of desperation. And it’s an act of desperation born of total strategic failure of a kind that should really have this woman clearing her bags out of 10 Downing Street right now.
AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean—Mehdi Hasan, what does this mean for Brexit, for Britain leaving the European Union?
MEHDI HASAN: It means that—we were already flying blind when it came to Brexit. I mean, Theresa May and her government were famous for saying, “Brexit means Brexit,” when they asked—when they were asked what their strategy is. And now she goes into negotiations, I think, in 10, 11 days’ time with European partners, European governments, who basically know that she’s not this iron lady that she made herself out to be. She’s not the reborn Margaret Thatcher who’s going to kind of, you know, walk all over them, if she ever was going to. They know for sure now that she’s a kind of hollow, empty vessel, who talked a good game but couldn’t even win in an election in her own country against an opponent who was supposes to be this far less—far-left, terrorist-loving, unpopular Marxist. And the idea now that she’s going to go up against Merkel and Macron and come away with some kind of deal in which the Brits are victorious and the Europeans are the losers is absurd.
And I think this is the problem with the British debate and the British media coverage, is that, you know, we have a right-wing media in the U.K. which gives cover to rather mediocre and incompetent leaders. It happened with David Cameron, where he was treated as this great political genius. And look what happened with him. And now Theresa May, within a year of taking over—we were told she was the new Margaret Thatcher. There was talk that there was going to be Tory dominance of the U.K. for 20, 30, 40 years. And here we are now with the Tories unable to win a majority, with a—forced to form a coalition with this extremist party.
And just on the DUP, Amy, one quick point. It’s ironic that Amy—it’s ironic that Theresa May ran a campaign where she accused Jeremy Corbyn of effectively being allied with terrorists, a supporter of the IRA, of Hamas, of Hezbollah. She’s now going into coalition with a party which is still tied to loyalist paramilitary and terror groups in Northern Ireland. How ironic. How hypocritical, some might say.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about where does this leave Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Mason. The British Labour leader suggested the election results indicate a rejection of right-wing populist waves sweeping Europe today.
JEREMY CORBYN: The participation in this election by many who have not participated in elections before shows the determination to do something very differently in this country and take a different stance towards the rest of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Though the polls indicated that it was going to be a sweep for Theresa May, by late last night it looked like, well, it was possible that Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister. Talk about where he is now, the platform he ran on, Paul. And could he be prime minister very soon?
PAUL MASON: He could be prime minister this—in autumn, in the fall. When we started, six weeks ago, we were polling 24 percent, and the Conservatives were polling close to 50. The real result last night, we polled 40 percent, and the Conservatives polled 43. We added 3 million votes to 9 million we already had. What were those votes? Well, in the last election, two years ago, a quarter of young people under the age of 24 voted. Last night it was 72 percent. But it wasn’t just that. Corbyn mobilized the previously conservative-minded white working class. We think we were getting at least a third, maybe more, people switching from our equivalent of the alt-right to Corbyn, working-class families on extremely low incomes who—you know, all this terrorist scare stuff was targeted at them, but they saw Corbyn offering them something: hope, in general, and money, specifically, absolute pots of money taken from the rich, through wealth taxes and through income tax, and given to them.
And I think when your viewers ask themselves—you know, there’s this debate: Bernie would have won in America. Well, we don’t know whether that’s true, but we know how he could have won by observing what Corbyn did, because he rode a wave of enthusiasm, he created this epic sense of possibility that grew and grew. But you’ll have seen the pictures of the massive rallies he was addressing. Last night there were some streets in London where there were so many campaigners knocking on doors, it looked like some kind of disturbance. It was like there were so many people in the streets, people were opening their doors, saying, “Hey, what’s going on?” And they were saying, “We’re just campaigning for Jeremy.”
AMY GOODMAN: The popular British blogger Richard Seymour tweeted, “Imagine if Corbyn’s parliamentary colleagues’ hadn’t repeatedly knifed him in the back for two years. Imagine what this could be.” Do you agree with this, Paul Mason?
PAUL MASON: It’s not just that, because, of course, I think that two-thirds of the members of Parliament for Labour had a complete imagination bypass and failure. They didn’t understand that this was possible. And they only thought—you know, quite genuinely and quite rationally, for them—that left-wing politics means isolation and the shrinkage of your vote. We’ve proven now that that’s not true. So, I’m in favor of letting bygones be bygones, and I want to actually try and engage them in a constructive synthesis of what they believe and the way they want to work and the way that we, Corbyn supporters and the momentum movement, want to work.
To give a concrete example, we sent teams of campaigners, and some of them trained by people from the Sanders campaign who came over here—we sent them to two constituencies, two voting areas, that the party HQ said could not be won. And they tried to turn them away. They said, “Go to places that we need to win, not these crazy places.” We won both of them. In other words, we, I think, are able to now inspire our colleagues on the center and right of the Labour Party, and as I think the Democrats—you know, the left of the Democrats are going to have to engage their centrist colleagues, in action, by showing that it can be done.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Mehdi Hasan, you’re a British journalist, but you’re based now in Washington, D.C. Do you see parallels to what’s taken place in Britain—Theresa May one of the first world leaders to come to the United States to meet with Trump—to politics here?
MEHDI HASAN: Well, on the Trump—on the Trump angle, it’s interesting that he so heavily endorsed Marine Le Pen, and she got destroyed, and he so cozied up with Theresa May, and she’s not done very well. So, you know, there’s a—there’s a Trump luck.
In terms of the actual—I think Paul is right to talk about the epic sense of possibility on both sides of the Atlantic. And Bernie Sanders this morning has praised Jeremy Corbyn, and rightly so, although Bernie and the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party is facing far more resistance internally from the centrists—and we saw that in the race for the DNC—than Jeremy Corbyn is. And I think Paul is right to say, you know, bygones be bygones. If you go on social media right now, you’ll see lots of former Blair supporters and centrist Labour MPs saying, “You know what? We got it wrong. We underestimated Jeremy Corbyn. We’re amazed by this result.” And, you know, his former rival, Owen Smith, who ran against Jeremy Corbyn just last year for the leadership, says, “I want to give him a hug. There’s something about this guy that we need to bottle.”
So, you know, there is going to start being a reshifting of the landscape here, I think, which is quite important. And, you know, Jeremy Corbyn ran on a platform of renationalizing railways, raising the minimum wage, taxing the rich—got 40 percent of the vote. That’s a bigger share of the vote, Amy, than the last three Labour leaders in the last three Labour elections got. That’s a pretty amazing achievement.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there for now, but of course we’ll continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Mehdi Hasan, we’re asking you to stay with us, as you’ll be joining us for the Comey roundtable, the explosive testimony in the Senate yesterday. Mehdi Hasan is a British journalist with Al Jazeera English and The Intercept. Paul Mason, joining us from Britain, from London, a columnist for The Guardian and a filmmaker, as well.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, what James Comey said yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Stay with us.