General Election Hot take
A stunning result in the UK General Election as Jeremy Corbyn’s insurgent Labour party stalked down the most successful election winning machine in Western democracy and denied them a majority in parliament. To call it an upset is to understate just how remarkable this outcome is. The pollsters overstated the Tory vote from the start, convinced, after the industry’s disastrous 2015 election, that the way to make corrections for previous understatement of the Tory numbers was to add a few percentage points to any data they got. With a few exceptions, this is a humiliating moment for psephologists. However, the poll deficit Labour did manage to overcome, helping them move from a catastrophic defeat to denying the Tories a majority, is unparalleled in UK political history.
It is unlikely that Labour’s success, made possible by the mobilisation of relatively vast numbers on the doorstep and on social media, will prevent a Tory government being formed. The electoral arithmetic clearly favours a minority government with support from the hard-line DUP. Hard brexit has been rejected, along with Scottish independence. But any government formed would be pulled in one way by the dogmatic anti-EU elements in both her party and the Northern Irish junior partner whilst knowing that the only way to possibly increase vote share at the next election (whenever that might be) must motivate a softening of the UK’s position in negotiations. This will not be a stable government and the EU team will enjoy toying with it.
May sits in purgatory. Her failure is on par with Cameron’s EU referendum but he had the option of a quick exit. She has little option but to limp on, her credibility in tatters and with the challenge of trying to manoeuvre a government through a flaming swamp of slurry. To resign now is to plunge the UK into weeks of more uncertainty but her confidence in the commons is under serious question. She may wish to stay on but the Tory reputation for ruthlessness is well deserved and plots to remove her will have begun with potential replacements will already be making the necessary calls and calculations. Boris Johnson will lumber in to contention, his electoral magic being the key ingredient that May lacked. He would also be the most comfortable in switching from Brexit to Remain. David Davis offers much and is less divisive that the polarising Johnson. Others will likely step aside.
DUP support is likely to make the Tories even more unpopular with those under 50, given their religious fundamentalism, demand a hard Brexit and ugly views on social issues not to mention the effect it will have on local politics. They will own much of the damage and chaos of the next few months. Brexit negotiations will add further opportunity for humiliation. The referendum result was supposed to finally end the great schism in Conservatism between its capital base who overwhelmingly prefer to remain, and its isolationist activist base. This result will only bring those tensions more to the surface given the need for strict party discipline in parliament. Another election will follow within 12 months, possibly significantly earlier.
Corbyn, vindicated in the direction he has sought to take the party and in his ability of his team to run the most professional campaign seen by any party in decades, is significantly strengthened by this result. His coalition is not secure, but his ability to mobilise a high youth turnout gives him a base that will make Labour competitive regardless of when the next election is called. Corbynites are networked, generally young and unconcerned with the consensus narratives around their leader, their party and politics and economics in general. They do not use mainstream outlets for their news and opinions but share the emerging left digital media such as Evolve Politics and The Canary as well as the key figures such as Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Aaron Bastani and rapidly developing and diverse cast of journalists, satirists, grime artists and others.
Corbyn is strengthened but not invulnerable. He faces fights over control of the machinery of the party to enable his legacy to be truly long-lasting. The party’s rules still stand in the way of another left candidate making it to the ballot and decades of experience of the Labour right in getting its people to conference and on to the key bureaucratic bodies is a further line of resistance. That fight is still to be fought but the party membership is likely to swell further after this campaign, possibly dramatically. The involvement of new activists in the campaign is likely to translate to increased constituency activity which makes a difference to the type of candidate put up for election and the kinds of voices being heard in policy discussions. But if Corbynism is on the ascendant, then the neoliberalism of the Blair and Brown Labour party, is history.
Millennials have made their voice heard for the first time in UK politics. They have the energy, the network, the right arguments and all of the momentum. The Tories are holding a time-bomb, their right-wing coalition barely able to command the commons, the old EU obsession still chewing at them and a host of their major figures discredited or destroyed. Politics in the UK looks very different today.