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Phyrric Victories and Losses


I had intended to post this article last week, but unfortunately I was unable, due to many appointments that I was obliged to keep. I'm 'late to the party' with this comment, but I hope that you'll consider it anyway. Thank you for your patience.

An Historical Introduction

Phyrrus of Epirus (c.318 - 272 BC) was a classical Greek General who won a costly victory at the Battle of Asculum. This is now referred to as a "Phyrric Victory" since he was quoted (by Plutarch) as saying:

If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.

(Sorry for the hideous paraphrasing.)

Phyrric Victories and Losses

The General Election on the previous Thursday was labelled as what is referred to as a "snap election", since it was called by the Prime Minister at six weeks notice, which is a very short time as far as General Elections go. The result of the election was bizarre to say the least. To bring in Phyrrus' utterance is, I think, appropriate to describe what happened.

The Phyrric Victory

The outgoing Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May called the election on the pretext that the scheduled General Election would be called in five years time (that's the length of a fixed-term parliament). This, she opined, would cause a problem. The projected 'Brexit' (I hate that term) negotiations would be concluding and the EU (and UK) would be in a state of flux, since the Government may change and the EU wouldn't know which party they were dealing with.

This of course was a ruse. She called the election because she was riding high in the opinion polls, the leader of the Opposition, the Rt. Hon Jeremy Corbyn was considered 'unelectable' and she thought that the result would be "dead cert". As has been described in the media; a "coronation".

She gambled upon the result returning an increased majority for the governing party (The Conservative Party, a.k.a. "Tories"). The Opposition would be crushed, and she could eliminate the influence of her "hard-line Brexiteers" in her own party that had threatened her current slim majority. She could then pursue her own strategy for "Brexit" free of interference. Everything would be rosy in the garden.

It didn't quite work out like that.

Despite the pre-vote opinion polls predicting that exact result, the Exit Poll conducted as voters leave the poll, indicated that there was likely to be a hung parliament; where no single party has an overall majority. Everyone was sceptical of that prediction, including me. However, in the back of my mind was the sample size that the Exit Poll takes. Compared to other opinion polls, it's massive. Basic knowledge of statistics leads to the inference that there might be some validity to the prediction.

...and that's what happened. Those of us that went to sleep during the night woke up to the news that the Tories had indeed lost their majority and the main Opposition (Labour Party) had done wildly better than predicted. Thus was the Parliament hung, with no one in overall control.

Theresa May had gambled her slim majority in the 'sure' knowledge that her party would be returned with a "landslide" majority: A sure victory.

As I write, she is still the Prime Minister and the Tories are still the governing party (arcane UK electoral rules). She currently leads a minority Government that is desperately trying to prop itself up via negotiation with a party from the Protestant community from Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Currently, discussions aren't going well.

So, the Tories are still in Government, but you could describe the victory as classically Phyrric.

The Phyrric Defeat

Meanwhile, the Opposition Labour Party were expected to be "wiped out". Instead of losing MP's, they gained more 'seats' than either they, or the media expected. However, they weren't enough to get a majority and move into Government.

They have the "nearly" result. Celebrating over their much better result than everyone predicted; they suffered the Phyrric Loss (if such exists).

The Actual Result

The result of the Snap Election was:

  1. The Tories won. They're still in Government (Phyrric Victory).
  2. The Labour Party lost. They're still in Opposition (Phyrric Defeat).

The thing is that the Tories are glum-faced, acting as if they've lost and the Labour Party are celebrating, as if they've won. Given the recent series of plebiscites, where expected results have been turned on their heads, I wonder whether we've finally passed through he looking glass and I'd forgive you if you thought the same.

I have to hand it to Mr. Corbyn. Largely deserted and criticised by his own MP's he was undoubtedly subjected to a "hatchet job" (character assassination) by the right-wing popular media, he's pulled a blinder! To use a crude example from Poker, he got dealt a pair of eights and turned them into three queens. However, three queens can be beaten: That's what happened. Sparkling result though he achieved, he's still in opposition and the party can't implement its policies for an 'alternative vision' of the UK. He's the 'nearly man'.

At least now, the general populace regard him as a credible candidate for Prime Minister and his party can possibly be elected to Government. Given what he's had to endure in the preceding period, that's a significant achievement.

Blowing My Own Trumpet

Now a little self-aggrandisement. It's popularly believed that the reason the Labour Party got so many votes was that the UK youth turned out to vote in far greater numbers than in many of the previous votes. Some are even saying that they're responsible for the hung nature of the Parliament. I'm a little more sceptical, but there's no doubt that they did exercise their right in greater numbers than in recent times. This author has probably bored anyone that would listen in stressing that young people had to turn out if they wanted to be heard.

Admittedly, they didn't get the result that many of them wanted, but the effect was noticeable. I always added the caveat that they may not get things to happen overnight, but they undoubtedly had an effect. The Tories are having to revise their hitherto 'hard Brexit' policies and the Party of (largely) their choice has made progress that, frankly, no-one expected.

My message to them is therefore: 

You did have an effect. If you vote, politicians will pay attention. Don't be disheartened and stop now.

What Happens Now?

Well, the Government are weakened, the formal "Brexit" negotiations have begun with the EU and their policies are in some disarray. Meanwhile, the Opposition is riding high, seeking to get some amendments made to the direction of the UK. We've had three horrible, 'terrorist' outrages and an utter tragedy take place in West London. The truth is; I don't know, but I think that this is the last post I'll write on the subject of voting.


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