Election Reflection

The Story of the Night

Haydn Roberts reports from the count in Hounslow as 2019’s general election results come in.

Six weeks of campaigning culminated on Thursday night as Britain went to the polls for its third general election in four years (2015, 2017, 2019) – but this one was considered the most unpredictable yet. Any avid listeners to the BBCs Electioncast will have chucked at the quote from Andrew Marr used in their theme music “if any one tells you they know what’s going to happen in this election, cock an eyebrow, smile politely… and turn your back!”. Although many pundits, although they may have been reluctant to state it openly, thought a Conservative majority was the most likely option, even they did not expect what we had by the conclusion.

The first signs that something was amiss came at 10pm sharp with the release of an exit poll. It predicted a Conservative majority with 368 seats going to the Tories, Labour were predicted to fall to 191, the Lib Dems who went in to the election with a huge spring in their step were predicted 13, a gain of merely one seat. The SNP were predicted a landslide of 55 seats (out of a total of 59 in Scotland). If this were to be accurate – it would indicate a stunning result for the Conservatives with a majority of over 86 and Labour plummeting to their worst result since under Michael Foot. If accurate this would re-draw the political map. Of course, all the pundits and politicians said, this is merely an exit poll. It’s a sample. Just an indicator of the rough direction we might be heading in. Nobody wanted to lay out all their cards on this survey, at least not publicly, but everyone was aware (painfully or joyfully depending on your side of the argument) that the exit polls over the last few years have been remarkably accurate. That said, John Curtice, Laura Kunessberg, John McDonnell and others all said it was far too early to call the result now – we’d have to see the results come in to see if it was accurate. But when Blyth Valley declared and went Conservative the signs of a shock result were beginning to shine through, this seat had been Labour since 1950. It would set the tone for the night.

 Just before half past one in the morning the Conservatives target demographic working class, rugby league supporting, leave voting ‘Workington Man’ was about to have their say.Workington, a Labour stronghold since 1979, went to the Conservatives. And with that, the fate of the night appeared sealed.

From here on the results confirmed what had become inevitable. Labour’s red wall turned blue. Redcar, Darlington, Leigh, Bolsover amongst others all turned Conservative. All of this meant that by the time Jeremy Corbyn had been re-elected in his seat of Islington North, it became clear that this would be his last election – “I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign”. Boris Johnson meanwhile retained his seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip (the challenge from Lord Buckethead would, sadly, never materialise). North of border we were witnessing an SNP victory that, while not as big as originally predicted, saw them cement their place as Scotland’s main party winning, in the end, 48 out of 59 seats – including that of Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson by 149 votes.

That, in some ways summed up Ms Swinson’s campaign – she was given a massively hard time by the public, her record in the coalition was attacked, she was mocked for saying she was a serious candidate for prime minister and her parties policy of revoke was never bought into by the electorate. Overall, although not disastrous, the Liberal Democrats will be gutted with their performance as they finished the night on 11 seats – a net loss of one. While they came close, the key seats with the big scalps that they needed to claim to truly have a successful night (Surrey Heath, Esher and Walton etc) failed to deliver.

At 05:06am the result is formally confirmed. The Conservative party crossed the 326-mark needed for a majority in Parliament. By the time all constituencies declared we had a parliament that looks like this:

CON 365
LAB 203
SNP 48
LD 11
OTH 15
Conservative Majority 80

Now What?

Today marks the first day of the new Conservative led government, and although life may have been made easier for Boris Johnson by gaining a majority – and a large one at that – it would be foolish to underestimate the enormity of the task before him, and he will be seeking to move quickly to get on with it. Indeed, the with polls closed barely two hours, but with the result looking like a Conservative majority the rough timetable for this parliament began to take shape:

              Parliament itself, however, will not be formally opened until Thursday when the Queen sets out the government’s legislative agenda, but there will still be goings on in the chamber. Today, MPs are around Westminster getting various affairs in order and, for the new ones at least, being trained up in order to be ready for the rest of the week. On Tuesday proceedings kick off, as Lindsay Hoyle will be officially elected as speaker and will take up his position. From then on, his first job will be to swear in all 650MPs one by one. A process that they set aside two to three days for. On Thursday, as mentioned, we have the state opening of parliament so expect processions and robes followed by the Queen’s speech. A couple of hours after that has been done, MPs will debate its contents, something that will likely spill over into Friday. Once that debate is complete, MPs will vote on whether or not to approve the it – with a majority of 80, it will almost certainly pass.

              Friday, however, could also contain the first piece of legislation as Boris Johnson is expected to bring the Withdrawl Agreement Bill for its second reading , and although that will not be the end of the matter, it would be more likely to be passed by the Christmas recess if he could get that done this week.

Once this week concludes, parliament shall be back in full swing (until its goes for recess). And its pretty clear that Brexit will be the priority. Mr Johnson has a series of promises that he made and will be expected to stick to. The first is the promise of Brexit being done by 31st January – with a majority in parliament and the first piece of related legislation expected this week, that is now almost certain to happen. But what is going to be more challenging is the trade deal that he says will be done by the end of next year. Bear in mind, a trade deal with Canada took seven years to negotiate, and although it was pointed out in the campaign that it only took that long because they were starting from scratch, to many the idea of this one taking just over one year is borderline farcical – not least because its doing the opposite of what a trade deal is meant to do. The point of trade deals is to bring countries closer together, but this one will be designed to move us apart from Europe and the technical complexities of that could be profound. Mr Johnson though is adamant that it will happen, but in just over a years time, we could be in the heat of more deadlock and debate.

This has wider ramifications for the other manifesto pledges mostly surrounding the NHS, social care and climate change. Economic growth has been sluggish for years, wages have in, real terms, virtually stagnated. The promised solution to this: get Brexit done, meaning more economic certainty and then investment as a result of that can begin to tackle these issues. But most economists say that Brexit, with a deal or not, will have a profoundly negative impact on the economy and that promised investment will be unlikely to materialise as it will be needed to plug the gap from the exit from the EU.

The government will say that those economists are being unrealistic, that the economy will be unleashed once we’re out of the EU and that a trade deal will be done by the end of 2020. We must hope they’re correct, but exactly where we’ll be in just over a years’ time could see a no-deal Brexit back on the table, something that would affect the governments ability to provide the tens of thousands of new nurses promised, to fix the social care system, to invest in renewable energy and hit climate targets.

What could influence the governments direction in both shorter and longer terms, could be the state of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn has said he will not lead the party to another election and the likely leadership candidates are already positioning themselves – although some have said its hard to see why, as being able to recover the ground lost at this election seems like a very difficult task indeed, one that could take more than one leader to come and go.

A source within the Labour party told me before the election that they thought the Conservatives would win big. They were correct. They also told me that from this, Corbyn would have to go (he has said he will) and a vicious and bloody battle would ensue for the very heart and soul of the party and, from their point of view, if those on the side of Corbynism won, any moderates left in the party would abandon all hope and leave in their droves. Many will be hoping that prediction will be less accurate.

But the runners and riders are already making their voices heard, although no formal declarations have been made. Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan who was one of a group who resigned from Corbyn’s front bench after the Brexit referendum, has said she’s considering it. Sir Kier Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is a likely candidate and, at the moment, bookies favourite to win. He will most likely be the centrist candidate. Rebecca Long-Bailey is one of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner-circle and could find herself as those fighting for Corbynism to live on, as could Emily Thornberry the current shadow foreign secretary. One person who would likely be against that would be Jess Phillips, who has been an outspoken critic of Mr Corbyn’s record on bullying, harassment and anti-semitism. Other candidates may yet emerge. But even if they do, a date to elect the new leader isn’t set and Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t technically resigned yet saying its up to Labour’s National Executive Committee. Some will want this resolved quickly, but it has the capacity to drag on for a while.

The Liberal Democrats are in the hunt for a new leader too. Arguably, this is a little less expected than with Labour, as Jo Swinson losing her seat was a massive shock. While the party gets its head together, Sir Ed Davey and Baroness Sal Brinton will be acting co-leaders.

Arguably though, the bigger issue for the government is the very future of the UK itself. Constitutionally, some would argue we’re closer to the breakup of the UK than ever before. Boris Johnson’s exit deal puts a border down the Irish sea – something that has been read by some as a sign that, in the long term at least, the prospect of a reunified Ireland is edging closer, if government at Stormont cannot be restored soon, this may be seen as a further sign. Even in Wales, the prospect of Welsh independence is back in public discussion. But what could be more imminent is Scotland’s departure from the UK. Winning a near landslide in Scottish seats, the SNP will see their case for independence bolstered yet again. And although the Prime Minister says he has no intention of allowing another referendum on the issue, the SNP will be seeking to turn the screw in whichever way possible to make him change his mind.

But for all the election results, the predictions of Boris Johnson’s next moves, the promise of Brexit being done by the end of January and then a trade deal done by the end of 2020, the leadership contests to come, the changing of the guard in Westminster, the possibility of an independent Scotland and everything else to take in to consideration… if anybody tells you they know how all of this will pan out “cock and eyebrow, smile politely… and turn your back!”.