The result of the UK General Election has plunged the country, for the second time in less than a year, into national political chaos and a crisis of government.
The result places enormous pressures on the delivery of government, the start of the UK-EU Brexit negotiations, the authority of the prime minister and the process of policy-making.
Perhaps the most profound message from the electorate, given the extraordinary results across all countries and regions of the UK is the disconnection between policy and the citizen. This is a very complex issue for all political parties and for the structures of government. To fully understand the implications for the political landscape and for the process of policy-making and local communities in the UK will require rethinking of how to engage communities that feel disenfranchised from the delivery of policies that impact people’s lives.
These pressures have the potential to lead to another general election in 2017, horse-trading between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, and considerable uncertainty that the new government will be able to pass a meaningful programme of domestic policy through the House of Commons.
Prior to the election, Northern Ireland was on the verge of a prolonged period of direct rule from Westminster. In recent months, Theresa May’s government and the civil service were involved in brokering new power sharing talks for a new Northern Ireland administration at Stormont and providing new impetus for the Northern Ireland assembly.
Paradoxically, the election result strengthens the union of the United Kingdom, at least in the short-term. Any prospect of a second independence referendum is now pushed to the margins of political discourse for the foreseeable future.
Disconnected: Policy and the citizen
The result of two national plebiscites held a year apart – the EU referendum of 2016 and the general election of June 2017 – have provided a core response from the electorate, irrespective of the way people voted in the referendum or the party they supported in the election.
In essence, the message from voters is: politicians and the policy-making process is too disconnected from communities affected by political decisions and policies enacted by parliament. There is evidence, across the political and electoral map of the UK that people believe they have been talked down to by politicians, that they have been taken for granted at elections and that their opinions have little influence on policy-making.
For the process of government, in the UK and elsewhere, this represents a crisis of confidence.
The result of the UK general election is profoundly challenging for the British civil service. Senior civil servants within the Cabinet Office and key departments throughout Whitehall. The civil service has operated for more than a century on the premise that the governing party, in each parliament, provides the civil service with clear direction and instructions on individual policy areas.
Since the 2016 EU referendum, the civil service has been under significant pressure to deliver policy formulation and diplomatic positioning to reflect the ambitions of the government for frictionless free trade, control of immigration and the protection of key business sectors such as financial services, farming and car manufacturing.