In an interview with Hardnews, Professor Harsh V Pant shares his views about the British elections
England goes to vote tomorrow. In what is being regarded as a watershed election, the winner will negotiate the terms of Brexit. “Initially there was a demand for a strong and stable leader who would head the government in such times, and May was the ideal candidate. Now, however, there seem to be doubts over her credibility and whether she would be the right leader to negotiate the Brexit deal,” says Professor Harsh V Pant, at his office at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. Professor Pant teaches at the India Institute, King’s College London, and is widely regarded as a specialist in Indian and international foreign policy, issues of security and nuclear proliferation and South Asian politics.
“India would prefer a Conservative government, Labour has been historically seen as pro-Pakistan. The larger number of MPs and membership of the party comes from Pakistan and this might actually lead to the Britain piling up pressure on India. The Tories have always been more friendly to India, Cameron and now May have visited India, and have spoken about the need for a strong relationship with the country.”
“Europe is wobbly, America is no longer featuring as a global, team player and with the rise in terror incidents all over the world, May was confident that she would win. However, in the last month, things have not panned out the way they should have,” said Professor Pant. In the run-up to the election, the Conservative Party or the Tories already had a majority in parliament — a total tally of 336 seats-326 are needed for a majority. And when the call for elections was made on April 18, May hoped that the risk would yield higher dividends: a chance or possibility of 400 seats. According to Professor Pant, the Conservatives under David Cameron were little by little eating up the centrist space that held large swathes of the Labour vote, and the call for the election was a sign of power and authority. The Tories led Labour by over eighteen points. Now things are different, and a day before the election pre-poll surveys have narrowed May’s lead to just one point. What caused this fall? “May’s credibility has come under question and clubbed together with confusion in the Tory vote the gap is reducing. In all of this Labour has managed to retain their vote.” This despite his belief that Jeremy Corbyn does not inspire confidence.
“Theresa May’s decision to convert this into a presidential type election,” was according to Professor Pant, the beginning of the fall for the Conservatives. Labour began surging when there was no need or precedence for it: under Corbyn, the party was in shambles. The reason for this change is a shift in the demographics that are determining this election. While Professor Pant maintains that “England is large with the Tories, and this has always been largely true.” The ‘too left’ policies of Corbyn speak to a certain part of the youth. “If you look at it, to appeal to a larger section of the people Corbyn is now talking immigration and security differently,” which is the route that brought Tony Blair to power. “This election is fundamentally a confused election, and if Corbyn wins it will largely go against how elections have been won and lost in England.”
Terror has played an important part in the closing gap between the two main parties. After Manchester, the narratives changed and Labour surged. “Terrorism accentuates faultlines. When terror hits you on the streets you don’t want to be alone.” This feeling articulated, by Professor Harsh, hits another cause of the confusion, whether the youth want a ‘softer landing’ post-Brexit. “While there is no turning back the nature of the agreement post-Brexit, will be between the ‘softer’ or ‘harder’ variety.” The hardliners might find their way to the Conservatives. However, what must be seen is “How the Corbynist thought survives post the election, because his policies follow in a state of idealism, but not in actually governing.”
India has to closely watch this election, and its outcome will have an impact on the relations between the two nations. The election of Corbyn, which is unlikely, may not augur well for India. “India would prefer a Conservative government, Labour has been historically seen as pro-Pakistan. The larger number of MPs and membership of the party comes from Pakistan and this might actually lead to the Britain piling up pressure on India. The Tories have always been more friendly to India, Cameron and now May have visited India, and have spoken about the need for a strong relationship with the country.” Indians, according to Pant, have a larger representation in the Conservative party as well.
In all of this what is peculiar is that the chest thumping majority hoped by May could be a distant dream. The 400 plus seats that would have given her breathing room seems unlikely, however, this is true for Corbyn as well: in a hung house, or with neck to neck seat tallies the entire negotiation for Brexit could be muddled. In all of this according to Professor Harsh Pant, Scotland will hold the key, “The Scottish Nationalist Party, won a substantial number of seats last time, this time things don’t look the same. Labour is weak in Scotland, and with a weak SNP it is the Tories who have a higher chance gaining those seats.” June 8, will be an interesting day and in the words of the good professor, “It’s just too close to call.”