Politics & press news Election Report Embassy 58
Tories take Westminster
Confounding diplomats and pollsters alike, the Conservative Party won the General Election with an outright majority.
While diplomats predicted the Tories to gain the most seats, only 7% predicted an outright win in a stunning comeback harking back to John Major's surprise election victory in 1992.
Ambassadors took to Twitter to congratulate David Cameron on his victory: “Congratulations to the UK on a vibrant election. We will work as closely as ever with new government on the global challenges we share,” said US Ambassador Matthew Barzun, suggesting the Special Relationship remains in tact.
European ambassadors thoughts ran to the 2017 in-out EU referendum in Europe, now guaranteed with a Conservative majority.
Responding to David Cameron’s pledge to govern “one nation and one United Kingdom” the High Commissioner for Cyprus and European Ambassador of the Year Euripides Evriviades tweeted: “& hopefully One Europe too”.
Part of Labour's poor performance is due to the surge of support for the SNP, now the third largest party with 56 seats, raising concerns about the future of the Union. The Conservatives’ promise to continue with their austerity programme will put them on a collision path with the SNP, who are likely to make big gains in next year’s Scottish elections, raising the spectre of another independence referendum.
Few predicted the heavy losses suffered by the Lib Dems, leading to the some of the party’s heavyweight MPs Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Simon Hughes losing their seats in a night of carnage.
But one senior diplomat did: “Promoting the Lib Dems as a party of coalition is a dangerous game,” he warned in a conversation with Embassy. “You only need to look where that got the Liberals [FDP] in Germany. This will finish them.”
With David Cameron safely returned to Downing Street, he was quick to announce top posts in his new Cabinet. Eurosceptical Philip Hammond stays on as Foreign Secretary and negotiating a "better deal" for Britain before the in-out EU referendum will be his responsibility. Theresa May, who was tipped to take over as Foreign Secretary, remains as Cameron's Home Secretary.
London Mayor Boris Johnson was also touted as a possible contender for foreign secretary. "He has had a lot of global exposure as Mayor," said one diplomat. However, combining a mayoral role with one of the Great Offices of State may have been seen as too much to handle, even for Johnson, who has said he would like a portfolio that includes business or transport. He may be up for the Business Secretary post left vacant by Lib Dem Vince Cable.
One diplomat suggested the incumbent Philip Hammond could be a placeholder until after the EU referendum in 2017, leaving the way open for Johnson after he steps down as Mayor in 2016.
Hammond has his work cut out for him, managing deep spending cuts expected for the Foreign Office and a challenging set of foreign policy issues.
The debate over EU membership will “consume the country” and weaken its position in Europe; the British public have lost their appetite for intervention and heavy cuts on defence, foreign affairs and possibly intelligence are likely to be a constraint, added Niblett, which will worry its key partner, the US.
Britain is likely to become more of a “niche player” in international affairs, using its networks and “hub-ness” to bring partners together on select global issues, said Niblett.
After a “neo Elizabethan” period of engaging with the emerging world, a new coalition foreign policy is likely to re-focus its attention on the US and the EU, although the relationships with its traditional partners have changed so the UK policy may appear “rootless” said Niblett.