Features Student Elections 2019

Breaking down the 2019 election: what next for the UK?

Our political landscape has been transformed with disorientating speed. The December election just passed can only be described as a political cataclysm. The tribal loyalties that underpinned our two-party system have been overturned; Boris Johnson has achieved nothing less than an electoral hat-trick.

How do we explain this? All the old certainties about voting patterns by class and region have been swept out from underneath us. Britain woke up to an 80-seat Conservative majority. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, fighting against an incumbent party that has been in power for 9 years, somehow managed to lose 59 seats. The gains Labour made in 2017 were overturned and then some.

Functionally, the biggest change will be stability. Britain hasn’t had a single-party government with a comfortable majority since 2010. This was a decade marked by intense political fluctuation. The Brexit question is somewhat decided, though by no means ‘done’. After the passing of the European Union Withdrawal Act last month with a majority of 124, we are indeed leaving the European Union. The political chances of a second referendum or of revoking Article 50 are now slimmer than slim.

What shape Brexit will take is still open to question; the prospect of a no-deal ‘cliff edge’ scenario has changed but not gone away. The government now has a year to sign a replacement trade deal with the European Union. A year is a very small time frame indeed.

The Labour party has been thrust into yet another ‘long, dark night of the soul’. The attention is now on the fate of the Corbyn project- will it keep its grip on power, or will Labour’s centrist faction now recover their old dominance? But the soul-searching goes (and must go) deeper than factionalism: why did Labour’s traditional working-class voters in the English north and midlands turn their back on the party?

The coalition that the party’s electoral fortunes have always been based on was ripped apart like wet tissue paper in the hands of a cunning blonde toddler. The night of the 12th December saw seat after seat turn blue, some that hadn’t done so for a century.

That is a very big deal. Seats like Rother Valley (Labour since 1918), Newcastle-under-Lyme (Labour since 1919- and which hadn’t returned a Tory MP since 1885) and Great Grimsby (Labour since 1945) all turned blue, one after the other. If Labour stands a chance of winning again it must ask itself deep questions about the nature of its electoral coalition.

Scotland’s constitutional question is now a ticking time bomb. The Tory landslide south of the border was matched by a Scottish Nationalist landslide up here. But of course the nature of both ‘mandates’ can also be called into question.

If you add up the percentage of votes for unionist parties in Scotland, you get 53.7%. That’s a damn sight better than the SNP and Greens’ combined 46%. But similarly, in the UK as a whole, adding up the votes for Remain parties gives you 50.3%, compared to the Leave parties’ combined 45.6%.

Nevertheless we are heading for a pretty hard Brexit.  Johnson’s high-stakes strategy paid off. He bet his premiership on uniting the Leave vote, wagering that the Remain vote would fail to unify.

What this election really proved was that after three and a half years of torturous wrangling, Leave is a stronger political identity than Remain.

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