The result of the June 8th General Election will be seen as one of the biggest political miscalculations of modern times.
While the winner is unclear, the loser in this election is undoubtedly Theresa May.
Cast your mind back to April 18th and Theresa May was feted as a strategic genius. Someone who had calculated that she had a window ahead of Brexit negotiations to take on a Labour leader that was historically unpopular in opinion polls. In doing so she would give herself the breathing space of a big majority and a next General Election in 2022 rather than 2020 just after Brexit had, in theory, taken place.
Instead she has squandered David Cameron’s small majority and delivered a Hung Parliament in which the Conservatives, while the biggest party, has to forge an alliance with a minority party from Northern Ireland to form a Government. Moreover, while Theresa May will try to form a Government with DUP support how long she will survive remains to be seen.
The headline results are as follows:
⦁ Scotland – There has almost been a separate General Election campaign in Scotland with the Conservatives desperate to frame it as a decision on a second independence referendum and themselves as the only true unionist party. This has undoubtedly been effective and given them the biggest haul of seats (13) for decades with Ruth Davidson central and building on her reputation as one of the Conservative’s most impressive performers. The SNP has been pushed back from 56 seats in 2016 to 35 two years later. It isn’t just the Conservatives that have prospered at the SNP’s expense however. Labour has picked up an extra 6 seats, essential to any hope of a majority government in the future and the Liberal Democrats have taken an additional 3. It has been a terrible night for supporters of independence who while they will have recognised that the 2015 results were a highwater mark wouldn’t have been expecting to fall back quite this hard, or for Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson to have lost their seats.
⦁ Wales – Early polls in Wales had genuinely alarmed Labour and the fact that they have emerged from the contest without losing seats to the Conservatives, instead taking 3 off them, is remarkable. The Welsh Labour Party had sought to distance itself from Team Corbyn and run a Welsh campaign focusing on their own leader/First Minister and will feel vindicated by these results. Conversely Theresa May had spent a great deal of time in Wales and had targeted Leave voting areas such as Newport and Bridgend where Labour majorities were smaller than the UKIP vote share. In the end, it came to naught with Labour fending off these attacks and instead taking seats such as Gower, Cardiff North and Vale of Clwyd instead.
⦁ London – It is in the capital that we have seen some of the most remarkable results of the night. Conservative HQ had started to panic in the final week about London seats that had voted Remain and the results show that they were right to be worried. Labour snaffled Battersea, Croydon Central (toppling the Housing Minister as they did so) and Enfield Southgate (scene of 1997’s Portillo Moment). They also took the Conservatives close in a number of previously staunchly blue seats and amassed big majorities in seats like Ilford North that the Conservatives thought they would snatch themselves. The Liberal Democrats have also added to the pain by taking back seats lost in 2015 such as Twickenham (Vince Cable’s seat) and Kingston & Surbiton (Ed Davey returning) but will be disappointed to have lost Richmond Park to the Tories following their recent by-election success there.
⦁ South West – The South West, scene of some of the most important wins for David Cameron, has largely held firm from any Liberal Democrat resurgence but Labour has made inroads into Plymouth Sutton and has added all the Bristol seats and Stroud to their ledger this time around.
⦁ Midlands – The Conservative performance in the Leave-voting Midlands will be among some of their biggest disappointments. They made almost no inroads into patches of Labour vote in Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham and instead lost seats like Warwick & Leamington, High Peak and Peterborough instead. This was where the Conservatives needed to make inroads and instead they found themselves on the defensive.
⦁ North West – The tale in the North West, the area where Theresa May launched her campaign and where many target seats lay, can be encapsulated by the Bury seats. The Conservatives started the day hunting down the 2015 UKIP votes that would bridge the Labour lead in Bury South and ended up losing Bury North instead with Labour amassing a 4,375 majority. These were the seats where UKIP’s collapse was meant to deliver in places like Burnley, Lancaster & Fleetwood and Barrow but it didn’t happen. Instead the Conservatives saw Chester’s Labour majority of 93 in 2015 become almost 10,000 a mere two years later.
⦁ North East – The North East was where it looked like the BBC/ITV/Sky exit poll was weakest as early results showed a bigger switch of UKIP votes to Conservatives than they’d predicted. However apart from taking Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East from Labour their expected gains didn’t occur. Seats like Darlington they lost ground on or they just missed out in places like Bishop Auckland.
⦁ Yorkshire & Humber – Again this was a region that was expected to deliver a swathe of former Labour seats to the Conservative fold. However top targets like Halifax, Wakefield and Dewsbury remained out of reach and in some cases extended their majorities. Meanwhile seats like Great Grimsby, felt to be so at risk that Labour HQ staff in London were sent up to canvass in the days before, easily shrugged off the Conservative challenge. One of the most poignant moments was seeing Nick Clegg lose his Sheffield Hallam seat – the last of the Coalition “quad” has fallen.
⦁ South and East of England – Some of the biggest shocks have been with pockets of red appearing in the South and East of England. Apart from Brighton, Slough and Norwich this area has been barren for some time but yesterday’s votes have seen Ipswich, Canterbury (blue since the First World War), Reading East, Brighton Kemptown and Portsmouth South fall to the Labour Party.
⦁ Northern Ireland – The results here have seen both Sinn Fein and the DUP squeeze out the more moderate SDLP and UUP. The SDLP loses all three of its Westminster seats to Sinn Fein and the DUP, which also wins South Antrim from the UUP. The results here are critical because the Conservatives are used to working with the DUP and will need their support to pass a Queen’s Speech. Their 10 MPs will be critical, particularly as Sinn Fein will still not take up to their 7 seats in Westminster.
This has been an ugly, personal and Presidential campaign that sought, at its heart, to fame the decision as a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. It has been punctuated by incredible own goals (the Conservative manifesto) but also tragic events that have shocked the public and inevitably thrown electoral strategies into disarray at points.
More will unfold over the weekend but key points are:
⦁ UKIP’s Vote – The Conservative strategy was that with the Brexit negotiations about to begin they could use the collapse of UKIP support to unify the right of British politics and in doing so take on Labour in its Leave-voting heartlands. They would hold onto their southern and shire base and deliver a landslide by picking up swathes of seats in the Midlands, North West, Yorkshire and North East. Clearly this hasn’t happened and it appears to be because a sizeable chunk of UKIP voters have returned to the Labour fold rather than step across to the Conservative parties. In many of these target seats this has been enough to prevent any swing to Conservatives from eating up Labour majorities.
⦁ Remain Seats – The EU referendum showed a stark regional divide in the UK with London and elements of the South at odds with Leave voting regions to the north. The Conservative strategy was focused on attracting these northern seats with Hard Brexit rhetoric but it appears to have exposed a flank in certain spots in the South and London in particular. The collapse of Tory vote in some of these seats will surely be attributed to the Remain voters lack of appetite for Conservative Brexit trajectory and it is no surprise on reflection that areas like Battersea, with its 75% Remain vote, chose a different direction.
⦁ Youth Participation – The biggest moot point when discussing polling was how the various pollsters had modelled younger voter turnout. Those like YouGov that had very high rates were criticised and their results dismissed. It appears that they may well have been closer to the truth than those that modelled a 2015 turnout. Anecdotal evidence during election day suggested that seats with big student populations were seeing very busy polling stations and results in areas like Canterbury perhaps bear out their impact.
⦁ Indy Ref 2 - Perhaps most surprising has been that terrible results in England have been softened by impressive gains in Scotland where they have picked up 12 seats at the expense of the SNP. There was almost a different campaign taking place in Scotland with the SNP trying to make it about Brexit but the Conservatives dragging it back to Independence and tapping into a lack of appetite for another referendum so soon after the last. A key factor for the Conservatives now is that they are reliant on their Scottish MPs in the Commons yet they introduced English Votes for English Laws precisely to stop Scottish representatives having this influence.
⦁ Activist Base – If Jeremy Corbyn has done one thing it is grow the Labour membership and it showed in the ground operation where Conservative candidates were hopelessly outgunned. Where Conservatives relied on direct mail, paid-for social media and mainstream newspapers Labour was able to put, in some cases, hundreds of activists knocking on doors.
We are undoubtedly about to enter a period of significant uncertainty. Much will unfold in the coming days but of particular importance is:
⦁ Theresa May’s Fate – Pressure has immediately begun to mount on the Prime Minister to step down, both in the media and among vocal backbenchers. While she has suggested that the country needs stability at this point, how long she can maintain this position remains to be seen.
⦁ DUP Alliance – The Conservatives and DUP have been co-ordinating even in the last Parliament so they are used to each other and aligned on key areas. However, how this formalises in the next few days will be critical.
⦁ Cabinet Reshuffle – A number of figures have been rumoured to be up for the chop once Theresa May’s victory was secured – these including Philip Hammond, Sajid Javid, Liz Truss and Andrea Leadsom – but this critical hit to the authority of the Prime Minister will have a significant impact on her room for manoeuvre and on the timing of any reshuffle.
⦁ Labour Minority – Jeremy Corbyn and key lieutenants have been bullish in the early hours that Theresa May should resign and allow them to try and form an administration. They have stressed “no coalitions, no deals” and are proposing to put forward a Queen’s Speech and dare other parties to vote against it. Regardless, any suggestions that Corbyn would be weakened by this election and potentially removed have been put to bed. He is some way off the magic 326 mark but his authority has been bolstered markedly.