Election Notes - Part 1: The UK and 'Uncertainty'

As I toured Asia and Australia over the past month I was repeatedly greeted with a mix of fascination and bemusement at the current state of British politics and society. Time and again clients and audiences asked me to explain Brexit and the tumultuous UK General Election.

To outsiders it seems as if the normally politically stable and passive United Kingdom has of late become distinctly unstable and uncertain - one Australian national TV station reported the General Election result with the words "You thought things could not get any more crazy in the UK? Well, you were wrong!".

This precarious political dynamic has profound implications, for there is one word that the UK government and the markets did not want associated with Britain as it begins the daunting task of negotiating Brexit - 'Uncertainty'.

Many factors, some unique to 2017, were at play to help produce the shock election result – the Brexit dynamic, multiple recent terrorist attacks, the post-Independence referendum situation in Scotland, UKIP's dramatic fall, the May and Corbyn factors, etc. But the most intriguing of the key factors may be that Britains simply don't like voting too often!

The UK's so-called 'Civic Culture' - famously described in the 1963 political science study by Almond and Verba as "acceptance of the authority of the state" and "a belief in participation in civic duties" - might just have at its core an embrace of the fact that we are not consulted too frequently. Once an election has occurred it is left to the politicians to run the country for at least 4 or 5 years before bothering us again.

Teresa May's choice to ask the UK electorate to vote in a national plebiscite for the third time in as many years (two General Elections and the Brexit referendum) simply isn't the British way, and the electorate have punished her for inconveniencing them again with another vote ! 'Too much democracy' as one UK political commentator quipped to me this week.

This has put Theresa May in an unenviable and vulnerable position, and goes a long way to explain not just the forming of the "confidence and supply" minority government with the DUP but also most of the political developments seen since.

May cannot allow a situation where another election becomes the only way forward, as she knows she'll be personally punished for it by the UK electorate - the PM knows only too well that if Britain votes again in the next year or two it will likely herald a Labour government. Rather than burying Corbyn, May's choice to have a 2017 General Election has made him a viable national leader for the first time.

So instead Teresa May is investing all of her efforts into attempting to maintain her position as Prime Minister irrespective of its consequences for this vital 'uncertainty' dynamic - she now feels that there is no choice but to try and see out a full parliamentary term in this tenuous partnership with the DUP, whatever the cost, and hope that with time and a Brexit deal she can reinvigorate her political fortunes.

And that cost is already very high, with a £1 billion budget increase to Northern Ireland being promised by the PM just to secure DUP backing in the first key Commons votes on government policies announced in the Queen's Speech.

May's position meanwhile has only been further weakened by the fallout from the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, and a growing perception - whether fair or not - that poor people died because Conservative politicians (locally and nationally) simply didn't care about their welfare or safety.

The PM's decision not to meet survivors and those affected when she visited the site - after her refusal to take part in public debate during the Tory's disastrous election campaign - has only added more pressure and scrutiny of her leadership and her government. And as revelation after revelation regarding the fire becomes public the more this pressure is growing.

And the bulk of Brexit negotiations have not even begun yet.

Don't thus expect this uncertainty, and the associated mood and front-page headlines, to abate any time soon.