The SNP and Conservatives are losing seats, Labour is winning seats. The Tories will likely form a coalition government with DUP from Northern Ireland, but May will go into Brexit negotiations weakened. I am waiting for the overthrowers in the Tory ranks, though I suspect they have not nurtured a real political talent in their own ranks (Boris Johnson, seriously?). With 29 seat gains, the Labour backbenchers will have a hard time unseating Corbyn and I suspect a longer campaign would have given him an outright majority given May’s unpopularity and disastrous campaign.
But politics is after all also about emotions. Collins (2017) analyzed campaign photos of Donald Trump on the election night. Everyone in his family and political circle is visibly elated and looking forward to the presidency, except Trump. Trump was looking serious, and actually was sad for leaving behind his business empire. He visibly had fun while giving his half-sentences and audience-irritating statements on the campaign rallies, but was sad that he now had to take the reins of a very powerful political office, where he could no longer keep things as secret as in his business empire.
For the seasoned politician Theresa May the insight is precisely the opposite. She was banking on snap elections to increase her majority in the House, and the polls were telling her a 20-25 point landslide against the Labour Party, which she hoped was thoroughly discredited by a left-wing leader, who did not fit the ruling opinion of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire. Naturally, the strategy did not work out for her, and her own personal incompetence at the campaign brought about her downfall based on: (1) disingenuity about cuts to the social care and pension budget (hitting her old voter base), (2) disingenuity with a hard Brexit being better for Britain (“no deal is better than a bad deal”), (3) refusal to participate in the leader TV debate, (4) the repetition of empty platitude without positive messaging (in contrast, to the social justice plank of Jeremy Corbyn).
If we only read May’s press statements, she says that she wants to have a period of political stability in Britain and that would require a coalition government with the DUP (unionists in Northern Ireland), many of which favored terror campaigns against Irish nationalists in the past. That is not really a harbinger of stability. Given the Tories lost more seats than the DUP has in total, the governing majority for May is also less than it is pre-election. This is everything but stability, which shows again that we can’t trust anything that comes out of her mouth.
So let’s turn to her face.
Source: Sky News
The first remark is that May is not a very good actor, and she does not hide her feeling of sadness. She looks down. Her mouth is pulled down on the sides. There is perhaps some embarrassment. She is not pleased about the election result, having clearly failed in her gamble to generate a bigger majority in parliament. Not even the pro-Conservative right-wing papers deny it, and say it as is:
In the next photo, May is looking up, but the expression is very grave. Examining other photos of her, she usually does not have a double chin, and this suggests that her head is tilted forward permanently on that election night, at least in front of the cameras. Again the lips are together and tilted downward on the sides. Even though she has enough votes to form another government, what matters in politics are also the overall impressions or the optics, and they look bad for her. She might continue to govern but with a lack of credibility. Whatever Brexit deal she will want to put together, what will haunt her is the lack of legitimacy that she has, having gone to the voters and not receiving a majority for her party.
May’s sadness stands in contrast to Corbyn’s relief and happiness. In the next photo, he is posing next to another Labour candidate, he pointing at her and she pointing at him.
In this photo, he is smiling, and facing a cheering audience. The smile is genuine, because the eye lid is folding as well. He is quite exhilarated after gaining 29 seats for his party.
What is remarkable is that the overall power constellation is not really changing, as May remains PM, while Corbyn will likely remain opposition leader. There is still a 57 seat margin between Conservative and Labour, and so Conservative has the best claim to power. After people no longer have reason to support UKIP after Brexit, the LDP (the only pro-EU party) not having recovered from their coalition experience with the Tories, and the SNP losing seats after continued insistence on a new independence referendum (which scared many Scots people), the vote share for Conservative and Labour has increased to old levels, suggesting a consolidation of the established party system.
What matters above all else is not just the facts on the ground but the optics. May wanted the increase in seats, but was not able to get it. The Labour leadership suggests that the hung parliament creates an opportunity for the Labour Party to run the government and replace the Conservative government, though if the DUP backs the Conservatives, then this constellation is very unlikely. An anti-Tory block in parliament would have to consist of all the other political parties, including Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and LibDems, which will be very difficult.