How the 2017 general election ripped up the script for British politics

  • Date

    Thu 7 Jun 18

Photo of Professor John Bartle

How did the Conservatives lose their parliamentary majority in 2017? Where did UKIP go? What really happened in Scotland and what does it mean for Scottish independence? And just how complete is Labour’s move to the left?

These are just some of the questions discussed by Essex academics in the definitive new book on the 2017 General Election, None past the post: Britain at the polls, 2017, edited by Professor John Bartle from our Department of Government and Nicholas Allen, Reader in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The book features chapters by many leading authorities on British politics including Essex-based academics Professor Paul Whiteley, Professor Rob Johns, Dr Tom Quinn and Professor Bartle.

Book cover
"Elections are far easier to explain than predict. Future elections may well deliver equally surprising results." 
Professor John Bartle  Department of government

It offers an authoritative analysis of the political, economic and social developments that helped set the stage for one of the most surprising election results of recent times.

The book takes a sharp look at the Conservatives’ record in government, Theresa May’s fateful decision to call an early election, the ongoing problems faced by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party’s weakened grip on Scottish voters. It also addresses broader questions about the future of British politics against the backdrop of Brexit and ongoing austerity.  

In his own chapter, Professor Bartle looks at why the Conservatives lost their majority but still won. A softening in party loyalties, a leftward shift in policy mood, Brexit, a weakened economy, and a poor campaign from the Tories all played their part, according to Professor Bartle.   

He said: “Elections are far easier to explain than predict. Future elections may well deliver equally surprising results.” 

Professor Whiteley co-authors the chapter that charts the rise and fall of UKIP, from 2010 to 2017. He details how they successfully harnessed the key issue of immigration in previous elections and progressed at the expense of all three major parties - only to render themselves almost obsolete once they achieved their aim of taking Britain out of the EU.

Dr Quinn follows the Labour party from Jeremy Corbyn’s shock victory in the leadership election of 2015 to a general election campaign performance that helped deprive the Conservatives of their majority. 

Book cover
"With expectations low, Labour's narrow defeat felt like a moral victory for the activists that supported Corbyn and the left's control of the party is now complete."
Dr Tom Quinn Department of government

Dr Quinn said: “With expectations low, Labour’s narrow defeat felt like a moral victory for the activists that supported Corbyn and the left’s control of the party is now complete.”

Moving on to Scotland, Professor Johns argues the SNP losses and the Conservative gains do not mean support for Scottish independence is on the decline. Explaining how the big swings were actually from the SNP to Labour and from Labour to the Conservatives, Professor Johns suggests that there was a consolidation of the Unionist vote around the Conservatives. Unlike 2015, when a hung parliament was widely predicted, the SNP were thought unlikely to have a pivotal role in 2017. So, for some Scottish voters at least, this Westminster election – like many others – went back to being about Labour versus the Conservatives.

Reviewing the book, Professor Jane Green from the University of Manchester, said: “The authors tell the story of the 2017 general election in rich, compelling detail, charting the long-term precursors and the extraordinary and unexpected events that eventually led Jeremy Corbyn to defy expectations and Theresa May to lose her majority. The twists and turns of British politics and British voting behaviour are captured with the right balance, explanation and evidence to offer an illuminating, fascinating and accessible record of one of the most intriguing periods in British political history.”

The book also features contributions from Professors Sarah Birch, Rosie Campbell, Harold D.Clarke, John Curtice, Matthew Goodwin and Dr Meryl Kenny.

It is published by Manchester University Press and is available to pre-order now.