Things can only get better

Posted: June 9, 2017 in Politics


Wow, what a night. Well, that showed me…

That was my favourite election night yet – not that there’s a huge amount of competition. I’ve never been more delighted to have been wrong. I’m going to totally drop any sense of impartiality here – I keep getting my objective predictions wrong so what’s the point?

To clarify, though, I always had faith that Labour going to the left was the only way to maintain electoral respectability, and those of us who argued that for the last two years should feel vindicated in that. There is no way that Labour would have been able to take the fight to Theresa May in such a way to unsettle her, disrupt her controlled campaign and eventually discredit her in the eyes of large parts of the public if it had been coming from the sort of centrist perspective of Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall or Owen Smith as so many members of the commentariat wanted.

The liberal media and liberal political classes have been totally and utterly discredited on that. The alleged historian and former Labour MP Tristram Hunt claimed that if Jeremy Corbyn led Labour into an election, it would face a “1931-style wipeout”. More people have voted for Labour under a leftist leader than they did for Blair in the 2001 landslide, and only 700,000 short of the number of votes in 1997 – forget about FPTP, that’s a remarkable result. All the claims of how Labour could never succeed if it went further left, or how votes would pile up in safe seats, or how all UKIP voters were going to vote Tory (sorry) are now in the bin. This argument would have been more contested if Labour’s vote share went up but the seat number went down, as seemed possible before last night – as it happens, Labour gained over 30 seats.

Some figures are now apologising and backtracking, albeit through gritted teeth. Those who are sincere should be welcomed back into the fold. But it’s worth not forgetting what has happened before, because the chances are that certain individuals within the party, and most of the media around it, will jump on the first thing that goes wrong to try and oust Corbyn again. Ultimately it was never about incompetency or electorability for a lot of these people – it was about the danger of left-wing ideology actually being successful. All the comparisons with Michael Foot are dead.

And the great thing is that we are now on the verge of something bigger. The Tories have failed to get the majority most people expected. They now have to work with the Democratic Unionists, right-wing hard-liners in a very different political context. Theresa May will have lost a lot of support from within the party – now she is going to be the one facing rebellions, undermining and hopefully a lot more press scrutiny. The establishment were happy to let her carry on with a majority government but may be less enthused about having the Tory brand tarnished by association with the DUP. All of David Cameron’s hard work to make the party more appealing to liberals is being undone, and people haven’t forgotten the 1980s and 1990s.

The left can take a lot from this result, particularly self-confidence. But the public can take that too. I wonder how many voters will have looked at the results and thought there was no point of voting for Labour in a seat like Kensington or Canterbury or Enfield Southgate, because they weren’t going to win – the polls said so. The same goes for Scotland, where Labour, against expectations, have started recovering the seats lost to the SNP two years ago. Although it doesn’t change the number of anti-Tory seats in the Commons, every additional Labour seat adds legitimacy in the event of trying to form a coalition in a hung parliament, or potentially adding another seat to a majority.

Labour are thus tantalisingly close to cracking the Tories. But for the revival of the party in rural Scotland, the Tories would have been well short of what they needed (and English Votes for English Laws is now problematic for them), and there are plenty of further seats teetering on the brink. Labour candidates ran high-profile Tory MPs close like Amber Rudd, Stephen Crabb, Justine Greening and even Iain Duncan-Smith; these will now be extremely vulnerable in a second election within the next few months.

The Tories also have a further huge problem. May’s authority has been undermined, yes, but one of the reasons why she hasn’t resigned will be because there is no obvious successor. It was perhaps meant to be Rudd, but her seat is now so unsafe they can’t risk having a leader who might not be an MP very soon. A lot of people are talking about Boris Johnson, but even his seat doesn’t have a huge majority – just over 5,000 – and is he credible? Beyond that, you’re looking at right-wing suits like Sir Michael Fallon, Chris Grayling and David Davis, none of whom would appeal massively to the electorate, or a more modernising liberal figure like Greening or Sajid Javid – but is that what the membership wants? They have a total lack of talent there and whoever is up against Labour (presumably Corbyn) in the next election will find it extremely difficult to stem the tide.

This result completely changes the discussion in British politics – Labour have to be considered a viable option as a potential governing party, rather than just a few leftists who have found a platform to open the Overton window while the Tories go on with the serious business of running the country into the ground. All the momentum is with Labour and if there’s another general election before the year is out, you can probably expect them to have the largest number of seats.

This may be further helped by a slight recovery on the Liberal Democrats, who picked up a few seats last night and surprisingly held on to North Norfolk and Carshalton and Wallington, as well as Tim Farron’s Westmoreland and Lonsdale by a slim margin. Farron has probably just saved his job for now but it’s still a disappointing result. The problem they have is that as predicted they have made no recovery in the South West, once the closest thing they had to a heartland, because put simply their line on a second referendum on Brexit will not play in areas that voted Leave to begin with. Though this line may have played well enough in middle class suburban areas like Twickenham, Kingston and Bath, it’s pretty much dooming them in the rural areas of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Mid Wales where they used to hold many seats. And despite all the gains, they lost the two seats they were defending against Labour – Sheffield Hallam and Leeds North West – and went backwards in all the Labour-held seats they were trying to win back, including Cambridge and Bermondsey. They also lost Ceredigion to Plaid Cymru, who despite their decreased vote share and missed targets are up to their highest seat total from a general election since 2001.

It’s hard to see how the Lib Dems recover but they can still be useful to Labour if they can take a few more seats off the Tories, although as they slip further and further behind it’s going to be harder. The fact is, though, unlike in 1997, if Labour are going to beat the Tories they cannot expect any favours from them. They also can’t expect much from the SNP, who have folded to the Tories in rural Scotland. The nationalists seem as if they might have missed their moment for independence, as losing seats never looks great even if you’re coming from a position of immense strength, and may now face being squeezed further in future elections; several of their seats now sit on tiny majorities, including North East Fife, which they held by just two votes.

All in all, it was a fascinating set of results, finely poised and leaving plenty of interesting narratives for what everyone is now assuming will be another short parliament before another general election. It’s hard to see the Tory-DUP pact surviving, but the Tories might need it to – Theresa May will not take Labour for granted again. But the future is extremely bright for the left – the electorate were sharply divided by age, which means things will progressively come to us. Having unfortunately not had chance to get involved with campaigning during this election, I will make the effort over the next few years to get out there and try and win people over, and I encourage others to do the same. It’s time.

Election map 2017.png


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