The biggest Conservative win since 1987—and everything else we already know from the results mapby Prospect Team / December 13, 2019 / Leave a comment
Good morning from the heart of Westminster, where the Conservatives will be returning to government with their largest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 landslide.
It’s been a grim night for Labour activists across England, Wales and Scotland, with the party returning only 203 MPs. The SNP has taken 48 seats in Scotland, with Labour set to hold only Edinburgh South. The party have fared slightly better in Wales, but Conservative target seats including the Vale of Clwyd and Clwyd South have indeed turned blue overnight.
What has been referred to by some as Labour’s “Red Wall” has also suffered. Former mining towns, including Blyth Valley early on in the night, have been taken by the Conservatives. Labour’s Laura Pidcock, who had been tipped as a potential leadership contender, lost her seat in North West Durham.
Nor was her loss the only “Portillo moment.” Despite an increase in vote share for the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire in what was an especially hard blow for Remainers who were hoping that her party might be “kingmakers” in a hung parliament.
That dream, for those who held it, died with the exit poll. So, what exactly happened? While commentators are talking of working-class communities now turning to the Conservatives, the reality is likely to be more complex, with demographic changes also responsible for the disintegration of the so-called “Red Wall.” In truth, it will take time—and further research, including the British Election Study’s analysis—to ascertain precisely what form of re-alignment has taken place across Britain.
For some activists from the two main parties, however, the result is not a total surprise. After a flawed 2017 campaign from the Conservatives, insiders this week have been stressing a return to message strength, with a relatively well-liked leader. Conversely, what some Labour organisers warned was an uneven ground game showed that Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity was a problem for many voters.
So, what comes next? While some—both within and outside the party—are calling for Corbyn to resign immediately, a change of Labour leadership will likely take place over a longer timescale. Potential runners and riders include Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry Clive Lewis, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner. (Nor were they the only ones who had a distinctly “rallying the base” tone to their victory speeches.)
For activists on the party’s left who believe that the People’s Vote campaign—and a lack of public understanding when it comes to Labour’s Brexit line—damaged their credibility, the priority will be to select a leader who can not only carry on the spirit of Corbynism but also appeal to Leavers. Some on the party’s right, meanwhile, hope the national visibility of other candidates like Jess Phillips can overcome the membership’s firmly-embedded leftward leanings.
The more immediate and pressing question for the country, however, is what precisely Boris Johnson will do with his majority. As Prospect editor Tom Clark wrote after last night’s exit poll, the result will have ramifications beyond Conservative policy, including—as Steve Peers has analysed—on Brexit.
What sort of program Johnson elects to pursue domestically, however, will be partially determined by his new voter base. As Economist writer and Prospect contributor Duncan Weldon notes, a dependence on seats which skew economically left could encourage the hefty public spending program the Prime Minister has already hinted at. Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley has meanwhile called the results “a very bad night for the climate” (despite the party increasing its vote share, they still only have one MP). We’ll be bringing you all the coverage of the key issues, from climate to trade, over the coming days and weeks.
It should be noted, in closing, that a good night for the Conservatives has been a poor one for the Conservative and Unionist Party. In Northern Ireland, there have been swings away from both Sinn Féin and the DUP, with the latter losing Belfast North to the former, as well as Belfast South to the SDLP. Foyle also changed hands, with victor Colum Eastwood hailing an “SDLP revival.” There have already been suggestions that the results will force the DUP to compromise on an Irish language act which has been a major barrier to a new power-sharing agreement. In Scotland, meanwhile, a fresh Independence referendum will be the first thing on the SNP’s agenda.