Maybe we should stop being surprised by surprises after the last two years, but there is something in human nature that hankers after explicable order. And so at 10pm last night, even as the exit poll dropped, people simply refused to believe what the numbers were telling them. It was only as the night wore on that people came to accept that Theresa May had committed one of British political history’s most startling acts of hubristic self-harm.
Having called the election to give the country ‘strong and stable’ leadership, Mrs May sits in Number 10 this afternoon planning her reshuffle the leader of a minority government, serving at the pleasure of Northern Ireland’s DUP.
She spent the campaign warning against a ‘coalition of chaos’ and ended it heading her own coalition of convenience.
The temptation is to look for sweeping arguments that explain the result but the conflicting movements across the country make that impossible. A nuanced set of factors, including increased turnout, a ‘Metropolitan backlash’, an anti-independence vote in Scotland, the collapse of UKIP, and a hugely underwhelming Tory campaign will have played a part.
We have seen the ‘Hard Brexit’ Conservatives winning seats in the Remain heartland of Scotland, while voters in ultra-Remain parts of London have flocked to Labour – a party committed to Brexit led by a lifelong Leaver. Pick the bones out of that.
While hard numbers on youth turnout won’t be available for at least week, early indications are that they turned out in unprecedented numbers – perhaps in-line with the overall average at around 70%. If that is true, and they have got a taste for it, then some of the fundamentals of British politics will be overturned and inter-generational issues will have to be tackled. Whatever the long-term impact it is clear that a mixture of the shock of Brexit, and the attraction of Jeremy Corbyn, finally motivated a group that is often derided for moaning but not voting.
The post-mortems will come think and fast but it is clear that the expensively assembled Tory team of election Galacticos, headed by Lynton Crosby and Jim Messina, will be heading to the airport pretty quickly. And knives are already out for May’s top advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, and no-friend-of-May George Osborne put it well in during his acerbic stint on ITV last night.
He told ITV News: “The manifesto which was drafted by her and about two other people was a total disaster and must go down now as one of the worst manifestos in history by a governing party. I say one of the worst, I can’t think of a worse one.”
Strikingly, however, almost no Conservative MPs have called for May’s departure with the focus on securing a Conservative Government first and foremost. And May herself literally refused to acknowledge the existence of the election at all in her appearance in Downing street at lunchtime. But quite how Mrs May pursues Brexit negotiations while our European partners are still sniggering behind their hands is unclear and in a more mature political culture than the UK’s there would be an unarguable case for convening a cross-party Brexit negotiating committee. But a May Government held hostage by the hard-line Brexiteers of her own party would surely never countenance it.
Meanwhile, over in North London the Islington Messiah walks among his adoring people rightly soaking up the adulation for a campaign well-run. The inconvenient truth that Labour lost with a similar number of seats as Gordon Brown in 2010 is washed away in the euphoric surprise. And to be fair to Mr Corbyn, he outperformed every expectation in almost all regards. But where does a Corbyn-led Labour Party find another 70-80 seats to win a decent majority? We may never find out as Corbyn and his supporters are going nowhere, for good or ill.
Some of the people at the top of the Labour Party will be very au fait with Trotsky’s ‘Permanent Revolution’. Well, it’s starting to look like the British public has suddenly got a taste for it too.