Image Credit: BBC
This Christmas election always promised to be an interesting one. With the stakes far higher than two years ago, it was night which held the potential to change even the fundamental aspects of the UK’s political landscape. By the time the 10pm exit poll was announced it was clear that this was exactly what had happened. Whilst the Conservatives and the SNP allowed themselves some cautious smiles. For Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the poll indicated a long night ahead. While for the smaller parties, the numbers, as always in the first past the post system, revealed a more complex picture.
For the Conservatives, the night went better than they had dared hope for. In the run up to polling day, commentators reported differing levels of nervousness amongst candidates, and indeed conservative voters. As the night unfolded however, the exit poll proved to be more and more accurate, it showed a clear win for the Conservatives.
A breakdown of the numbers saw large gains made in many ‘leave’ constituencies. In contrast, concern over London losses in remain seats also proved accurate. Putney, held by Justine Greening until September earlier this year when she announced her departure from the party, was called for Labour in the early hours of the morning. Nonetheless, the surge in the North East traditional Labour heartlands made up for this. Boris Johnson has many reasons to celebrate, such as the historic Conservative win in the seat of Blyth Valley held by Labour since 1965, yet there is also a chance to reflect on the redrawing of the political map of the UK. On Sky News’s coverage, in an analysis on the difference of nights between May’s snap election in 2017 and last night’s results, John Bercow claimed that “identity politics championed this election”. Yet on the same panel Beth Rigby discussed how feedback was showing how Labour voters said they had voted for Boris not for the Conservatives. For the Prime Minister, the challenge will be the endeavour to keep these newly won blue collar voters in traditional Labour heartlands.
Labour suffered a disastrous night at the polls, losing 59 seats, despite having been in opposition for nine years already. It was a result which Jeremy Corbyn himself described as “very sad”. The Labour leader confirmed that he will not lead the party into the next election, yet will not resign until another leader is elected. While Mr Corbyn and many of his allies have blamed Brexit for the parties’ bad night many inside and outside party place the blame squarely on the shoulders of its leader. In the hours since the exit poll the stage has been set for what will likely be a long fight over the soul and future direction of the Labour party. A few notable losses in the night included Laura Pidcock, who had been touted as a possible replacement of Corbyn by those on the left of the party. As well as Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour MP who, if re-elected would have become the father of the house. While the next few months will be taken up reflecting on what went wrong, looking to the future the party has a difficult path to fight if it is to ever get back into power. The party failed to gain seats in Scotland, prior to 2010 a Labour heartland, whilst also finding majorities in its so called ‘Northern Wall’ dramatically slashed and even overturned in some seats.
The election was also disappointing for the Liberal Democrats, with an early bounce in the polls failing to last and translate into seats being won. Embarrassingly for the party even their leader, Jo Swinson lost her seat of Dunbartonshire East to the SNP, leaving the Liberal Democrats with just eleven seats. Mrs Swinson, the party’s first female leader, has resigned as leader since the results were announced. She called the results “hugely disappointing,” however the Liberal Democrats, unlike Labour did manage to increase their vote share. It rose from 7.4% to 11.5%. And while the party had hoped for a large mandate to pursue their policy to “stop Brexit,” the reality was that in many seats the Remain vote was split between multiple parties. Yet, for the most part the leave vote was concentrated behind the Conservatives.
Across the border, the night gave the SNP much to celebrate. The party won 48 seats, gaining thirteen constituencies from their 2017 outcome. In a large surge in vote share, of 13.2%, they were able to win Aberdeen South from the Conservatives. Yet, the biggest win of the night for the party was the win of the seat for Dunbartonshire East. It may have only been achieved with a small majority of 149, yet they were able to take the seat from Mrs Swinson. Naturally, this success raises questions over the future of the Union, with the SNP already stating their intention to pursue a second Independence Referendum. Nicola Sturgeon was clearly overjoyed with her party’s outcome. She expressed that this new mandate offered Scottish people a choice, as there was clearly a desire for Scottish people to have a say in their future. It remains far from certain that a second independence referendum, which requires Westminter’s consent, will be offered to Scotland, nor is set in stone that such a vote would play out in Sturgeon’s favour. Regardless of the eventual outcome, last night’s result has strengthened both the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s hand when the inevitable conflict with Number 10 arrives. The result will also raise concerns for the two main parties ahead of Scottish Parliament elections in 2021.
As the exit poll predicted, the Brexit Party failed to secure any seats in the Commons. Yet, it was not a totally bleak night for the new party. In Hartlepool, while the seat was held by Labour, in gaining 10,603 votes they enjoyed a 25.85% increase in vote share since 2017. The party’s leader and founder, Nigel Farage, was very vocal throughout the night. He voiced that in ideals, it was a positive night for the party as a second referendum, which he saw as devastating for the country, has essentially been voted out.
In Wales the swing from Labour to Conservative continued with the Tories winning six key seats from Labour. Meanwhile Plaid Cymru retained it’s four seats, the Liberal Democrats lost their only seat of Brecon and Radnorshire. The results in Wales show that the North of England is not the only place where Labour, once the only party which could win in the area, is in danger of being pushed into second place.
The Green Party may have only emerged with one seat, however as often is the case for minority parties, the numbers tell a far more complex story. In Corbyn’s seat of Islington North, they were able to double their vote share when gaining more votes than the Brexit Party. On Sky News, Caroline Lucas explained how their positive campaign allowed them to gain votes in leave and remain constituencies. Arguably, this was the aim of the Labour party that did not ring true in the results. A clear yet predictable success of the night re-election of Caroline Lucas, the Green’s only MP, with an increased vote share of 4.9%. In a live interview for Sky News, Bercow called her “model MP”, with an impressive attendance record in the Commons. Clearly, for the party she remains an essential source of support. In a target seat for the party, they also doubled their vote share in Bristol West. It remains evident that the party would benefit from proportional representation as the same results with this system would have gained them 17 seats. Yet, after the Conservatives have gained from the current system, a reform appears very unlikely.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the night was the historic results in Northern Ireland. For the first time ever the country elected more nationalists than unionists. The result is being seen as a return to the centre, with both Sinn Féin and the DUP seeing their vote share sharply drop. This change raises many questions, one of which is whether it will lead to the restoration of Stormont, the Northern Irish Assembly which has been suspended for almost two years.
At 66.7%, the turnout was down for this election from 2017. As coverage has often included rhetoric explaining how the stakes are higher than ever, this result seems curious, perhaps supporting the notion that voters really are sick of Brexit. Democracy has been a buzz word throughout the campaigns over the last six weeks. Alongside this however, has been a concern over the tone of political debate. The election has left us with one certainty; a Conservative majority. Yet, there were also many questions left unanswered. The future of the Labour party, leadership for the Liberal Democrats and the state of the union to name but a few. One thing’s for certain, British politics shows no sign of calming down anytime soon.