Following a campaign that has been both turbulent and tranquil, the day is finally over. The voters can have had their say.
This was an election that didn’t have to happen. The Fixed Term Parliament Act provided for a date in 2020, a year that could have provided perfect retrospective vision.
Following the Brexit referendum last year, itself within a year of the previous general election, Theresa May could have had a clear run, with a majority to see her through the Brexit deal and towards her chosen retirement date. 2020 could have been an opportunity for the electorate to tell a government that it approves of the deal, or ask a new government to renegotiate.
This was a campaign in which the Prime Minister shunned the limelight, just as she had during the Brexit referendum. Not for her the high profile debate, more an immersion in door knocking and refusals, a more personalised and possibly perceived sort of rejection. Hiding away would surely not turn the polls sufficiently for this to be a close run thing – or would it?
So what have we learned about Theresa May? Certainly, the manifesto was full of vagueness, only to be fleshed out with details of the “dementia tax”. Instantly, the swing of votes from pensioners was palpable. All she had to fall back on was her “strong and stable” mantra.
Other events overtook. The first election terrorist attack took place in Manchester, the second on London Bridge and Borough. One of her reactions was to deploy the army around focal points of government.
Whatever the intention, these responses highlighted a perception of self-preservation. Perhaps more importantly, police cuts under the Home Secretary prior to Amber Rudd were sharply thrust into the arena. Even the cuts to armed forces by May’s right hand man when he was at the Ministry of Defence were brought to our attention.
As support has leached from the Conservatives, where has it gone?
In fact, the Conservatives achieved their highest share of the vote since 1992. It was more a case of vote distribution. May might have been wiser to wait until boundary changes had taken effect before a vanity election.
That something dramatic could happen became apparent with reports of a high turnout, despite inclement weather. Could it have been anything to do with millions of younger people receiving their statements of student debt over the last few weeks?
Those younger voters, hit by the £9,000 p.a. tuition fees number over 2 million, an average of around 4,000 per English constituency. Most Conservative losses came in urban constituencies with higher concentrations of young workers.
The biggest beneficiary has been Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn who is surrounded by Labour MPs, most of who have called him unelectable, either directly or indirectly. One wonders if he could form a government from his own party, even if Labour candidates had won a majority of seats.
Despite a manifesto that doesn’t add up, despite a history of liaising with terrorists, despite a Shadow Home Secretary who missed such open targets left behind at the Home Office, before stepping back on grounds of “ill health”, Corbyn’s disjointed team have closed the gap.
Instead of wealthy pensioners, frightened away by the dementia tax in blue, it seems that they could have drifted to the garden tax in red. If Theresa May is the deep blue sea, what does that make Corbyn? It is the sort of choice that confronted the USA, Clinton versus Trump where the underdog came out on top.
Corbyn’s messages on tuition fees and affordable housing are most likely to have resonated with the young.
Are there any other choices?
The second biggest party in opposition was the SNP. For their part, the Scottish voters have rejected independence. North of the border, they have their own battles. They also gained the 5th highest number of votes in 2015.
This time around, Scotland, coincidentally without tuition fees afforded an irony. Following their own complaints after the previous two general elections, Scotland has imposed a Conservative government on the rest of the county.
The fourth party in parliament, the Liberals, gained almost a million more votes than the SNP last time but 40 fewer seats. This time around, the polls show them with a slightly increased votes, perhaps surprisingly since they are arguably the most pro-EU party, 48 % of the electorate having voted to remain in 2015.
In practice, the Liberal share of the vote decreased marginally, from 7.9% to 7.4%. Perversely, this led to a 50% increase in the number of seats. The biggest casualty was Nick Clegg who, in forming a coalition in 2010, reneged on his pledge over tuition fees.
That brings us to the party that achieved the 3rd highest share of the vote in 2015 but without winning any seats, UKIP.
Of the manifestos, this is arguably the most impressive, every plan being priced. The unfortunate part is that the costings come at the very end, after some incoherent messages from some of the MEPs. Even more incoherent are the off piste ramblings of the party so-called leader, a potential executioner and water boarder. At least he has removed the cap that featured in his Stoke by election campaign, presumably so that he can be recognised on CCTV.
As for the other UKIP MEPs standing, it must be a shock not to be elected off a list, hence the desire to fly in the face of another referendum, that of proportional representation.
It can not be beyond doubt that May made miscalculations. She might have believed the polls, she might have had bad advice. She looks anything but strong and stable. It is an unwise leader who does not expect her own record to be exposed during a campaign with extensive media scrutiny.
That leaves us with what is reported as a minority government.
In practice, May has perversely benefited from increased support for Sinn Féin, up from 4 to 7 seats. Officially needing 326 seats to command a majority in the House of Commons, Sinn Féin’s refusal to take the oath of allegiance reduces this, where the DUP abstain, the Conservative government has an edge.
The alliance with the DUP effectively gives May a working majority, on most everyday business, of 14. Critically, by not obtaining the landslide that had been originally envisaged, the DUP hold a balance of power. It will not be lost on anybody that the pernicious attack on pensioners is against DUP manifesto commitments. May cannot force the dementia tax through.
On balance, the result provides for little major change. Brexit will be scrutinised but the two main parties are committed to support the will of the people expressed last June, at least in some form.
Democracy is the winner. We now have an opposition that has a mandate to oppose. The young have gained a voice. The old are protected by the DUP. We do not have an overpowering majority that would allow excess. The government should be stable, the electorate are strong.