Mayday! The PoliticsHome memo unpicks election night 2017
Read our editor Kevin Schofield's essential guide to what's happening on Friday, 9 June.
Well, that wasn’t what was supposed to be in the script. When Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street on 18 April, she said there needed to be a general election “to secure the strong and stable leadership the country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond”. The suggestion that the snap poll was needed to bolster her hand in Brussels was of course baloney – she and her advisers saw the double-digit poll leads and thought they had an open goal. But after the worst election campaign by any party in living memory, she managed to trundle the ball past the post.
The Conservatives’ 17-seat majority – which May fully expected to inflate to three figures – has disappeared as the number of her MPs fell from 330 to 318. With Labour surging to a scarcely-believable 262, that means we are deep in hung parliament territory. Even with the help of the DUP, the Tories will only just be able to sneak over the magic 326 seats needed for a majority. That doesn’t sound terribly strong and stable to me.
So what does all this mean for the Prime Minister herself? She looked shell-shocked as she delivered her acceptance speech after retaining her Maidenhead seat, but dropped a couple of tantalising hints that she may not be long for Downing Street. Her voice cracking, she said the Conservative Party (not May herself it should be noted) will “ensure we fulfil our duty in ensuring that stability”. The exit poll numbers were barely out before George Osborne – brutally sacked by May last summer, remember – was dancing on her grave. “If she’s got a worse result than two years ago and is almost unable to form a government then I doubt she will survive in the long term as Conservative party leader,” he told ITV. Anna Soubry – no fan of the PM either – also piled in, telling the BBC that May should “consider her position”. Conservative MPs, notoriously unsentimental about leaders who let them down, are thinking along the same lines. Time appears to be running out for Theresa May.
JEZ HE DID
So while the Tories are plunged into a period of civil war, of blame and ugly recrimination, Jeremy Corbyn finds himself in his strongest ever position as Labour leader. MPs who hate his guts – I’m looking at you, John Woodcock and Neil Coyle – have their leader to thank for helping them boost their majorities when they seemed to be staring unemployment in the face. Yvette Cooper, who everyone at Westminster knew was very much on manoeuvres in recent months, had to pledge her loyalty to the boss in the early hours of this morning. She even sounded as though she may have meant it.
The bullish Labour boss is currently locked in talks with his closest advisers while examining the parliamentary arithmetic and assessing whether there is a way of getting him into No10. That still seems like a long shot – Labour are still 50 seats behind the Tories, after all – but it’s no longer the ridiculous notion it seemed just yesterday morning. Speaking at his declaration in Islington, the Labour boss called on May to resign after losing votes and the confidence of the British people. He said: “In the new parliament we will do everything we can to ensure that everything we’ve said in this campaign and everything that’s included in our manifesto is put before parliament so that this country can be a different and I believe fundamentally better place.” Jezza is going nowhere – and no longer in a bad way.
SALMOND AND STURGEON ARE FILLETED
If Theresa May has undoubtedly been the biggest loser of the night, she was given a decent run by Alex Salmond and the SNP. In one of the biggest shocks in an election which was chock-full of them, the former First Minister was beaten in Gordon by the Conservatives. After more than 30 years of being an elected politician, Salmond finds himself in the highly unusual position this morning of being unemployed. He’s not the only Nationalist to find himself in that position, right enough. On a night of carnage, the SNP lost no fewer than 19 MPs – including Westminster leader Angus Robertson. Nicola Sturgeon put a brave face on it by pointing out – rightly – that her party had still won the election in Scotland. But there’s no doubt that its momentum has gone into reverse and all talk of a second independence referendum will have to be parked for a long time to come. The Scottish Tory revival is now undeniable, with the party winning 13 seats, while Labour also defied the odds to get seven MPs elected. Where now for the independence project?
BREXIT MEANS …?
The Brexit negotiations, the Tories never tired of telling us in the election campaign, are due to start in just 10 days’ time. Who will be representing Britain at those talks is anyone’s guess now, but will the result mean that the UK’s whole strategy will need to be redrawn? Brexit Secretary David Davis dropped a tantalising hint that that was the case in the middle of the night, suggesting that the Government may have to ditch its plan to quit the single market. “That’s what we put in front of the people, we’ll see by tomorrow whether they’ve accepted that or not. That will be their decision.” Helpfully, EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has said this morning that Brexit talks might not now start as planned on 19 June. I hate to say PolHome told you so – but PolHome told you so two weeks ago.
So, farewell then Nick Clegg. The former Deputy PM lost to Labour in Sheffield Hallam in a result which will provide some pleasure on an otherwise grim night for Brexiters. The sight of their bete noir, the man who slammed the brakes on so many right-wing policies while he was in the coalition, being slung out on his ear will have raised a smile on many a Tory face. Clegg’s demise was a blow on a decidedly average night for the Lib Dems. Former Cabinet ministers – and knights of the realm -Vince Cable and Ed Davey were re-elected, and leader Tim Farron managed to hang on, but their total of 12 seats is just three more than they went into the election with. Still, they’ll probably get the chance to increase that total when the almost-inevitable second election takes place later in the year. Politics, bloody hell.
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