9 Jun 2017

A surprise election with even more surprising results

That was the most tempestuous set of results in many many years.

The electorate fatally wounded the Prime Minister at a time when there isn’t really time for a leadership contest to find a successor because of the ticking clock of Brexit negotiations. Voters followed up their Brexit vote last year with a puzzling, avant garde encore.

At her count in Maidenhead, Theresa May’s voice quavered as she said the party would make sure there was “stability.” The leader who said she personified “stability,” now implicitly handing on the reins to someone else at some point in the future.

The referendum which was supposed to lance the issue of Europe, may now shape a new Conservative leadership contest. Forces on both sides are regrouping.

But was the Labour surge, the most votes the party has accumulated since 1997, a demand for watered down Brexit? The beneficiary of those votes, Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t even mention the EU negotiation, the biggest peacetime job of work a government’s been landed with, in his victory speech in Islington. For him this was a vote for anti-austerity measures and re-thinking the state.

Many of the Labour MPs who now come to Westminster had contempt for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership qualities and his manifesto. They didn’t put him on their leaflets and didn’t ask him to visit their seats. But they are now prisoners of his very different type of Labour. They thought he was squatting in a Labour Party they truly understood. He has reinvented it and his success at the polls, boosted by the shock factor, has cemented Labour policy in a part of the political spectrum they thought they could wrench it back from in the aftermath of a crushing defeat.

And as if there wasn’t enough drama, many in Scotland sent a rude hand gesture to the idea of a second independence referendum. Ruth Davidson led Tories to some victories there which have helped to make some sort of caretaker minority Tory government possible. She and her team had some testy encounters with Team May during the election, I am told, and relations nearly came to breaking point.

DUP MPs now stand ready to cut a deal to prop up a Tory minority government if the call comes.

Labour’s surge out-performed the Tory feeding on the UKIP carcass. Younger voters seem to have flooded to Jeremy Corbyn’s cause. Was it abstainers’ remorse? An afterquake from the EU referendum? A connection with a manifesto that made plentiful promises where Theresa May’s manifesto seemed to promise little.

One minister, now thrown out of Parliament, told me: “The manifesto changed everything. It confirmed Remainers’ worst fears about Theresa May. Perfect storm with students, Remainers and social care [victims].”

Politics has been thrown into turmoil by a massive turnout of motivated voters. But what was their demand and how can the MPs who gather next week in Westminster when parliament resumes make sense of it? A new chapter begins.

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