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Was the general election the Brexit proxy war?

The results may only just be sinking in, but the effects of the general election last week are nothing less than tumultuous.

A gamble that will go down in history as one of the biggest political miscalculations in living memory on the back of a poorly thought-out manifesto has left the Conservative Party in tatters, and its majority decimated.

The result has serious ramifications for the entire business community and in construction people will begin to ponder what policies will be put forward, what will survive from the manifesto and what plans the government will dare to put to vote in parliament.

However, one striking aspect of the election was how the voting patterns belied the normal party split. From Copeland in the north to Hastings on the south coast, the election fractured traditional party lines.

As the results came in, Canterbury, Sunderland, Mansfield and then Kensington saw swings to both parties as the Ukip vote in particular collapsed.

The winds of change saw a Labour Party – on the back of a manifesto that contained the most left-wing policies in a generation – pick up swathes of votes in the home counties that were expected to have viewed Mr Corbyn as an anathema.

But the seats that changed hands only paint half the picture.

In Aberdeen South the Conservatives saw a 19 per cent rise in their vote. In Rotherham the Conservatives increased their share by 14 per cent. Bolsover, the home of that rare beast of the political world Dennis Skinner, saw a 16 per cent rise in the blue vote. 

In contrast, Wycombe saw a 15 per cent increase in Labour’s vote, East Worthing and Shoreham a 20 per cent rise, while St Alban’s gave the Lib Dems a 14 per cent lift in their share. These seats may not have changed hands but they turned safe seats into marginals overnight.

In broad terms, if you were to paint a picture of voting swings, then the South would be awash with red and the North a striking amount of blue.

There are of course a plethora of reasons for the voting swings: austerity, the threat of terrorist attacks, public services such as the NHS, the social care or ’dementia tax’ and the scrapping of tuition fees played their part.

However, what also looks apparent is that voters took their Brexit concerns to the ballot box, and fired a warning shot at both main parties over their prospective Brexit stances.

What this means (with the caveat that negotiations are yet to start on the UK’s departure from the EU) is that the Brexit question is far from settled.

The election last week feels simply like the latest salvo in the great debate over the UK’s political future.

In or out, soft or hard Brexit, open or closed: this is still to be decided. And with that comes further uncertainty, which will do little to calm the nerves of construction bosses – unless of course it means a better deal on EU workers. 

But the general public still doesn’t seem to be able to find consensus, and politicians may well want to ponder how to tackle that issue before we head back to the voting booth.

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