Let’s start with the good news, because frankly, there’s not much of it.
The Greens increased their vote share by more than any other party in yesterday’s election, and they won 200,000 more votes than the Brexit party. (They still have only one MP, but hey, this is the UK electoral system. What do you expect?)
Apart from that, the political landscape looks pretty grim this morning if you’re an anti-Brexit progressive with a distaste for lying charlatans.
In the words of an eve-of-poll op-ed in the New York Times by the British columnist Jenni Russell: ‘The old assumptions – that truth matters, that lies shame the liar, that in a democracy the press and the public must have a right to interrogate those who seek the top jobs – have all been swept aside by the Tories’ conviction that in an inattentive, dissatisfied, cacophonous world, victory will go to the most compelling entertainer, the most plausible and shameless deceiver, the leader who can drill home a repetitive and seductive incantation. Facts and details will be irrelevant so long as voters feel a politician is on their side.’
So welcome to the UK of the 2020s. The map has been redrawn; King Boris is master of all he surveys. There’s no point in denying the reality: he, and his overweening ambition, lack of principle, tousled hair and Trump-lite populism, have triumphed. He is the most successful Conservative politician since Margaret Thatcher, and for the same reason: he has persuaded working class voters that the Tories will represent them better than the Labour party.
The Labour coalition – urban university graduates with liberal social values, united with traditional blue-collar workers in the industrial and post-industrial Midlands, north-west and north-east – has well and truly fractured. A party led by Jeremy Corbyn (London), Diane Abbott (London), Emily Thornberry (London), and Keir Starmer (London) – only John McDonnell and Tom Watson sounded different – is not a party that can win support north of Watford.
Scotland is now in the grip of the SNP more tightly than ever – I expect Scottish independence to be the next big constitutional crisis as soon as Brexit fever subsides. In the pantheon of 2019 election winners, Nicola Sturgeon deserves her place beside Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
Farage? The man whose party won a desultory two per cent of the vote? Yes, because he has won what he has spent most of his adult life fighting for: the UK will leave the European Union. This time there really are no ifs, no buts. It is going to happen.
If you’re still hunting desperately for silver linings, you may like to consider the possibility that a Johnson-led government with an unassailable majority in the House of Commons – able happily to ignore the now irrelevant DUP and the now equally irrelevant Jacob Rees-Mogg – could, if it wished, sign up to a much softer Brexit than was politically attainable until yesterday. Is his sell-out on northern Ireland a portent of things to come? Watch this space …
Which brings us back to the Labour party. It has now lost four consecutive general elections – the last Labour leader to win one was Tony Blair in 2005. Mr Corbyn’s signal achievement is to have bequeathed his party even fewer seats than Michael Foot managed in 1983. He has been a disaster for Labour, and his supporters’ attempts to argue otherwise are contemptible. Whatever his personal qualities may be – and I have never been persuaded that he is as ‘nice’ as he is often made out to be – his leadership qualities were conspicuous only by their absence. When I remarked online last night, soon after the exit poll was published and the scale of the impending Labour defeat became clear, that I hoped at least some of his followers would be thinking of the people sleeping on the streets, the NHS workers struggling to keep going, and the families depending on food banks to feed their children, I was immediately told it was a ‘hateful’ thing to say.
No. What is hateful – and what fills me with anger – is that Labour betrayed the people who need it most. It embraced a style of student politics which alienates far more people than it attracts. It bathed in the easy satisfaction of talking only to its own supporters, and it paved the way for the triumph of the most unprincipled prime minister in living memory.
When Boris Johnson addressed the nation this morning, bathed in glory, he did so in front of the slogan ‘The People’s Government.’ So here’s a reminder: according to a study published last year, 97% of Conservative party members are white, 71% are male, and 44% are 65 or older.