The polls closed across the UK last night, the fourth major election in five years. It was a campaign dominated by Brexit and the result clears the way for its next phase. Prime minister Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street with 363 MPs (the party’s best result since Thatcher), with two seats still to declare. A c80 seat majority. This morning the future of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, hangs in the balance, soon after the exit poll last night a long line of senior party figures squarely blamed Corbynism for the party’s biggest defeat in three decades. For now he appears keen to stay through transition of a new leader.
This was a devastating night for Labour and sure end to the Corbyn project. The significant loss for Labour in traditional heartlands in the north and midlands, Bishop Auckland, Blyth Valley, Redcar, Leigh, West Bromwich West and many others didn’t just result from Brexit, the party has lost connection with communities it had represented for decades.
Blyth Valley, a seat that 35 years ago was at the heart of the miners strikes, has been won by the party of Margaret Thatcher. It might sound dramatic, but today’s result is one of the most significant in modern British politics. The Conservatives, after nine years in government, after overseeing austerity (a monetary policy that proved nationally unpopular), after failing to deliver Brexit, has won a landslide victory.
In and of itself that would be noteworthy, but it is how they won that victory that is so important. While Brexit was certainly a key factor, there is more to it. This election was about identity on a national scale and the failure of parties to share a vision that resonated. This was in part down to clarity of message and how it was delivered but also down to what the actual messages were.
Ultimately, the electorate determines the issues that are important to them and while all the parties set out what they believed were the best visions for the future, only Johnson and Sturgeon truly hit the mark. It would be the peak of intellectual arrogance for parties to blame voters – that isn’t how democracy works. It was tried in 2016 following the Brexit referendum and the lessons were clearly not learnt.
What the Conservatives do with the majority they have achieved will define the party for generations. They now represent a more diverse group of the nation than they have in generations and that has the power to fundamentally change the nature of the party.
We have heard that Johnson will delay any significant reshuffle until February, a bigger restart after the 31 January Brexit date. This is now in their leisure to do so, but Brexit (part 1) will almost certainly happen on January 31. Parliament returns next week, a Queen’s Speech (19 December) now becomes an important moment – the first time in years that a legislative agenda has focus and a Commons majority to see it enacted.
Jeremy Corbyn has announced he would not lead Labour into the next election. After losing swath of seats in the party’s northern heartlands to the Conservatives, the current leadership of the party have been quick to blame the lack of clarity on Brexit, and a refusing to acknowledge any weaknesses on their manifesto or leader. Corbyn will try and stay in post long enough to oversee what is likely to be a bruising contest to pick his successor, with the result potentially not being resolved until the next party conference in September.
The Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson lost her parliamentary seat overnight and the party only managed 11 seats: there will be much soul searching over the coming days.
This is not the end for Labour, or the Liberal Democrats. Johnson has won his majority, the country’s first sizeable majority since Blair and now has the opportunity to make real change and show us who Johnson really is as a politician.
The Political + Public Affairs team will be analysing the long-term implications in the coming days and weeks but for now, we have a new parliament, new government and a changed new future lies ahead for British politics.