Well, that was interesting.
I have to admit that I have found it intensely amusing and have been laughing since the exit poll came out last night. Is that unfair? I don’t think so. Rarely have we seen someone inflict on themselves such an unnecessary political wound and this really is the beginning of the end for May.
Look at the evidence. Theresa May called an election she had promised not to – not a good start. Why did she break her promise? Because she wanted a mandate for her personally and for her proposed hard Brexit. So she made the election all about her. As a result, there is nowhere to hide. The voters looked at what you had to offer Mrs May and said, nah. They had a look at your proposals, had a chance to see what you were really like; and they simply weren’t impressed.
To make matters worse, she pushed and pushed the slogan: “Strong and Stable” and has now bequeathed to us all a weak government and instability. The poetic justice of that is simply beautiful; and that will go with her to her grave. Basically, though, short of Cameron’s EU referendum, I don’t think I have seen such a political cock-up in recent history.
Corbyn played a blinder and was far far better than most people expected. But May was terrible. Scared, confused and flip-flopping all over the place. After that performance, she then finished her campaign by asking: who would secure the best future for our country in Europe? And the answer came back: “Not you”
The Resurgent Youth
The biggest story of the night, though, has to go to the young. This is why YouGov and some forecasters (including yours truly) had been saying it could be very close. If they came out in the same numbers as they did at the referendum, it would make it close – and they did.
I wasn’t certain that they would; but I suspected (and frankly hoped) that they might, based on what happened in Scotland. The 2014 referendum fired up political engagement and that then translated into increased turnout – especially amongst the young – in the 2015 election. The same thing happened with the EU Referendum and I have personally seen the high levels of engagement from people who had not previously got involved. I therefore hoped that they would keep involved for this election. And, boy, did they.
YouGov’s post election sruvey showed turnout rates of 57% for 18-19 age group, 59% for the 20-24 age group and 64% for the 25-29 year olds, which was approaching the national turnout level of 68.7%! This has been the big story – young people getting involved and voting for their future. And for the vast majority of them, they are very clear that they also want that future to be in Europe.
Where now for Brexit?
This election was supposed to be about Brexit and then it didn’t really feature; but it was called because the Government knows the next few years are going to produce bad news. The economy and the negotiations are going to be a source of pain as reality unfolds and May did not want to face the electorate straight after.
Is that overplaying it? No. There is no – and never has been – an economic case for Brexit. We are seeing every day the damage it is causing and it is just going to get worse. Even ardent Leavers don’t even pretend there is anymore – they either avoid the question or say it is a price worth paying.
So what now? May wanted a mandate for her blank-cheque Hard Brexit and she hasn’t got it. Not all in the Conservative party want to destroy the economy and our international reputation on this altar; and so there is no way now she can ram this through. So we need to start looking at options.
Negotiate by all means; but those negotiations are going to blow apart the remaining Leave fantasies. i.e. that we can have all of the benefits and none of the costs; they need us more than we need them; nations will be queuing up to do trade deals with us. All nonsense. Virtually every single thing that was said by Leave has turned out to be – or shortly will turn out to be – complete nonsense.
Most Leave voters did not vote to be worse off. They did not vote to hurt themselves and, if that is the only option available, then Remain is back in the discussion.
For all those who say “the people have spoken”, I would say that yes they have; and they’ve changed their mind. And that’s the general election! As we have demonstrated yesterday, an essential part of democracy is that people can change their mind; and people have. To now plough ahead on a reckless hard Brexit when we now have more information and people reconsidering is as arrogant as it is undemocratic.
So Brexit is more up in the air than ever before.
May is mortally wounded. The electoral appeal of Brexit has been damaged – and that’s before the bad news really starts to roll in. And the young people have shown that they have a voice and can change what is happening. That is not going away
There is not one single part of this story that is good for Leavers; and I would conclude that that high water mark for them and the dedicated Kippers has passed.
Populist fantasies are being destroyed in the furnace of harsh reality; and that is a good thing. The young have found their voice and that is an even better thing. Put those together and a future where we return to sensible discussions about what happens next rather than languishing in a nostalgic past is a real possibility.
And I, for one, would certainly welcome that.