Let’s be clear, this is a momentous election result that will, for good or ill, define the future of this country and our politics.
To win a landslide after nine years in power, is a remarkable achievement for the Conservatives. It shows how successful Boris Johnson has been in repositioning his Party, achieving cut through to voters who have never previously dreamed of voting Tory.
The result is arguably a slightly perverse vindication of Cameron’s original political strategy to use a Brexit referendum to restore unity on the right, though this was never an outcome Cameron anticipated. Boris, and Dominic Cummings have always had a better understanding of the views of the British working class and this election is their long awaited reward.
In truth, most Conservatives, including the Prime Minister, are only just at the beginning of realising how significant this change of electoral base will be for how the Tory Party governs and who it must govern for. This “People’s Government” will be as different from the governments of Cameron or May than might normally have been delivered by a change in the party of power.
For Labour, this is a seminal moment too. Corbyn’s leadership is over, but the battle for the party’s future is just beginning. The Party has lost the confidence of working class Britain and it’s flirtation with radical socialism has been resoundingly rejected. However, Corbyn’s leadership has always been more about securing power internally, and even in the face of the worst defeat since historic lows of 1983 and 1935, the road to moderation and reconnection will be very challenging, especially in the absence of an obvious transformational leader.
There is no doubt now that Britain will leave the European Union by 31 January. The challenge ahead remains how to make an economic success of Brexit. A large majority will positively impact future negotiations, giving Boris both flexibility to pursue the sort of future relationship he wants to, but also strengthening his hand, leaving the EU in no doubt of his mandate.
For the UK, the size of the SNP’s victory poses a very real challenge to the future of the Union. Nicola Sturgeon is already busy redefining the result as a mandate for a second independence referendum, setting Scottish nationalism against Conservative unionism in the starkest terms. Boris has a big enough majority to deny Westminster approval for a referendum, but that will do nothing for democratic legitimacy north of the border.
Here’s what the results mean for each of the three major parties…
“A week is a long time in politics,” or so claimed former Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. For Conservative activists, the final week of the election campaign was always destined to be a roller coaster of emotions. The week began with the final YouGov mega poll of constituency level results, which suggested a significant narrowing of the gap between Labour and the Conservatives and the predicted Tory majority cut from 68 seats to 28. No wonder the nerves of Tory strategists at CCHQ had been fraying in recent days!
Alas, they needn’t have worried. As soon as Huw Edwards’ dulcet Welsh tones revealed the findings of the most eagerly anticipated exit poll in recent memory, all roads pointed to a thumping Conservative majority and the greatest since Mrs Thatcher’s famous victory in 1987.
So just how did Boris Johnson triumph, seemingly against all the odds?
For a politician notorious for struggling to stick to his script, Boris Johnson’s message discipline throughout the campaign was nothing short of remarkable. “Get Brexit done” was a brilliantly succinct and powerful campaign slogan, which crystalized the choice at this election and ruthlessly squeezed the Brexit Party vote against a divided and rudderless Remain alliance.
Moreover, the lessons of 2017 had clearly been learnt, with a much slicker Conservative ground game and social media operation paying handsome reward in swatches of marginal constituencies. Haunted by the specter of the car crash that was Theresa May’s 2017 Manifesto, Tory strategists sensibly played it safe by offering a slimmed down policy platform. With a strong mandate from the British people, it will fall to his aids to quickly flesh out a bold prospectus for government to convey a sense of purpose, so as to not squander his new found political capital. We can anticipate this thinking to be fleshed out in next week’s Queen’s Speech.
His mandate may also embolden the Prime Minister to cast his new Cabinet in his own image. No longer beholden to what’s left of the One Nation Wing of the party, or indeed the Spartans in the ERG, we may see some well deserved promotions for the likes of Lucy Frazer, Neil O’Brien and Rishi Sunak, who emerged as a future Conservative leader during the campaign.
Labour’s defeat means that Jeremy Corbyn will stand down from the leadership, but the central tenets of Corbynism; economic interventionism at home, non-interventionism abroad, social liberalism and transforming the Labour Party into a social movement, are likely to live on. In looking ahead, the make up of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will remain largely the same due to the fact that summer re-selections driven by the left of the party failed to precipitate wholesale changes. It was notable that although a small number of incumbent MPs were ‘triggered’, all won the subsequent re selection battles.
However, the successful union led and Momentum backed campaign to get preferred candidates selected for safe seats has garnered dozens of MPs. Though Labour have lost the 2019 General Election, the product of this increase will likely have an embedding effect on Corbyn’s ideas within the PLP, ensuring that a radical candidate’s name is on the ballot paper to elect a new Labour leader.
It is possible that a senior member of the Shadow Cabinet steps in to act as the interim leader of the party, with John McDonnell potentially set to assume the role in the absence of Tom Watson as the Deputy Leader. A leadership contest could occur in April, as per the traditional timetable for an election of this kind. Yet, there is talk in some corners that McDonnell could hold off until Party Conference in 2020, enabling him to promote leftist MPs into senior roles in the Shadow Cabinet giving them space to burnish their national credentials.
Leadership contenders from the left include Rebecca Long Bailey, Angela Rayner and McDonnell, whilst the Labour right may field Sir Keir Starmer , Emily Thornberry and Yvette Cooper. The next leader is likely to be a woman, with ‘soft left’ Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Birmingham MP Jess Phillips both possessing an outside chance of causing an upset.
The lesson that Labour should take away from this election is that mass membership and an ethos geared towards campaigning are simply irrelevant if the message is wrong.
This should have been a moment of opportunity for the Liberal Democrats but instead the party will be asking what went wrong. The conditions were the most favourable yet an election built on a leave/remain platform, the most wide ranging electoral pact in recent political history and a Labour party tearing itself apart. Instead 6 weeks later the leader has lost her seat and the party has an existential crisis on their hands what will they stand for after Brexit?
Ed Davey MP and Party President Sal Briton have become interim leaders over night and a new leadership election contest will start in the New Year. Ed Davey will certainly give it another go but Layla Moran, if she decides to stand, is the one to watch.
Yet again the British electoral system has cruelly taunted the Liberal Democrats. Although their national vote share increased to 11.5% and they secured an additional 1.3 million votes, in the world of first past the post this has only equated to 11 seats.
So, what does this mean for your business? Although I wouldn’t recommend going to Autumn conference this year you shouldn’t turn your back on the party just yet. Lib Dems are fierce campaigners and if your ambitions align then they can be great political allies minor parties might no longer hold the sway of power but their bark is definitely worse than their bite.
This article was contributed to by several of our Public Affairs team, a finalist for Public Affairs Agency of the Year at the recent PRCA Public Affairs Awards. If you’d like to discuss how this new government will affect you or to plan ahead for the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle please do get in touch for a chat with one of the team.
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January 21, 2021