The Straits Times says

Picking up the pieces after UK election

Britain's Conservatives are swiftly acquiring a reputation for spectacularly misreading the public mind. Mr David Cameron led his nation into a hapless referendum on staying or leaving the European Union, a vote whose stunning and wholly unexpected result left British people looking like turkeys that had got the Christmas they had prayed for. Now, Prime Minister Theresa May has been weakened politically - perhaps fatally even - by the stunning results of the surprise election she called in a bid which seemed then as a sure bet to elevate her mandate and strengthen her negotiating hand with Brussels at the Brexit talks.

The June 8 vote must be recognised for what it is: the weakened credibility of the Tories, the rise of left-wing Labour, and a rebuke to austerity politics. The double-digit gain in vote share of Labour, led by Mr Jeremy Corbyn, is astounding. It also cannot escape notice that most of the seats yielded by the UK Independence Party went to Labour, despite Mrs May's hard line on Brexit.

Were it not for a slide in the seats taken by Labour's potential ally, the Scottish National Party, opposition advances would have been even more significant, making Mrs May's continuation in office untenable. As it turns out, she has chosen to soldier on. If there is no immediate challenge to her position, it is only because rival Tories have not yet worked out their strategy. Challenges to her leadership, there surely will be.

Meanwhile, Labour, sensing a second wind under Mr Corbyn, will seek to thwart her at every turn. There are also questions about the reliability of the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, on whose support her slender majority rests. Many Tories are opposed to a formal coalition with DUP. Hence, the stage is set for prolonged uncertainty, one that may not preclude even another poll to end the flux. Perhaps, like its Gallic cross-Channel neighbour, the nation will eventually opt for fresher and younger leaders, rather than the old boy herd currently on offer. Those who feel the British election result is an indictment of the political class, and its distance from public sentiments, may have a point.

Mrs May has an arduous task ahead. Brexit talks will begin on June 19 and Britain's future place in the European Union is once again facing questions. The drop in sterling underscores the uncertainty of the situation. Still, the markets, the British public, and their European partners would do well to recognise that neither side of the British political divide is calling for a rethink of Brexit. However, Scottish Tories, who care more deeply about a single market and Customs union than about immigration issues, have gained 12 seats. They will pressure Mrs May to soften her line on Europe. That could lay the ground for a friendlier separation from Europe and is perhaps the only silver lining in the current cloud.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2017, with the headline 'Picking up the pieces after UK election'. Print Edition | Subscribe