Note, this was written on Saturday for the Yorker, but as it’s still not been published there I may as well throw it out now because I guarantee it will be out of date by the end of the week.
From the election of Donald Trump, to Brexit, to the great victory of Emmanuel Macron, it seems the West’s electorate’s greatest disdain is held for the predictions of the pundits. The 2017 election has certainly been no different in the shock of its result. We can welcome a high turnout; this is an election that like 1992 may well have proven that negative motivation encourages voting more than positive motivation. While we won’t have credible numbers for youth turnout until the publishing of the British Electoral Study if reports of a high turnout among young people are vindicated then we should welcome the news. The intergenerational social contract was under strain as the result of an aging population and an apathetic youth; David Cameron’s entire electoral strategy was centred on handouts to the grey vote while withdrawing support for the young. Now we may have more clout.
Labour can be pleased it avoided the crushing defeat that had been so long predicted, and which had been indicated by the results in Copeland and the May local elections. Now those Labour moderates who had always claimed to oppose Jeremy as a point of principle and not just because he was unpopular are scrambling to acclaim him. The Labour selectorate’s decision to elect him may well have been proven the right choice. Across Europe we’ve seen traditional social democratic parties atrophy while the radicals, from Podemos to SYRIZA to the Front Gauche, have been ascendant. Yet it is still a result only comparable to that achieved in 2010. While Labour made some advances in Scotland, it was eclipsed in many old strongholds by the Conservatives. Labour needs to recognise that without its former seats there it has almost no prospect of gaining a majority. Labour may have only been behind by 2.4% of the vote but they lag behind by 8.7% of seats, and that’s on relatively favourable boundaries. It’s long past time for the party to endorse electoral reform.
Though her remaining loyalists will shout that the Conservatives won the most votes and seats it is Theresa May who is the clear loser today. Out of a mix of laziness and sexism the papers instantaneously declared May as the new Thatcher, ignoring the fact her temperament is much more reflective of Brown. Her secrecy and lack of consultation with party colleagues no doubt led to CCHQ’s unpreparedness for the election and plainly unpopular manifesto commitments like the dementia tax. As a result of this I saw a number of Conservatives members flatly refusing to vote for the party in their own seat, and campaigning only for preferred individual candidates. The Tories walked into this election expecting a majority of 100 and came out with a minority government.
Thus Theresa May’s time as Prime Minister is limited. Conservative backbenchers are legendarily willing to commit regicide when facing a poor leader. The only question is who will next wear the crown? Whoever it is they are left the legacy of having run to the DUP for a deal. The public of Great Britain, who barely regard the politics of Northern Ireland as even a sideshow, are unlikely to take well to the extremely socially-conservative party. More than that their direct involvement in Westminster government right as power sharing is breaking down should worry us all. Such an unstable situation is unlikely to last, and we should all be preparing for another election in the near future.
As for the Lib Dems? Objectively it was a reasonably good night for us. We saw 4 gains taking us up to the 12 seats I had predicted and we go into the next election with a great deal more realistic targets than we entered this one with; Fife North East was lost by an infuriatingly tiny 2 votes and Richmond Park by only 45. With the collapse of UKIP and the Greens we are, as was traditionally the case, the only other party to achieve over a million votes and are clearly again the third national party. We managed to achieve this despite the fact the election was held much earlier than we might have liked, leaving us only two years to rebuild from the crushing electoral defeat of 2015.
Yet I and many activists come out of this campaign with something of a feeling of melancholy. Partly this was because of rather overambitious initial expectations but largely it was due to the loss of Sheffield Hallam and with it Nick Clegg. Just as, to use a Doctor Who analogy, everyone has their Doctor, people also have their leader, and Nick Clegg was my leader. That is true of many of my fellow activists. From that first leader’s debate in 2010 at which he spontaneously caused Cleggmania, to his heartfelt resignation speech that spurred tens of thousands to join the party, Clegg was the inspiration for an entire generation of liberals. He put party before country and took us into coalition when the economy was on a precipice, still managing to secure billions of pounds extra for education, taking millions of the lowest earners out of paying tax, securing same-sex marriage, a green investment bank, parity of esteem for mental health and so much more. For this he has taken his fair share of knocks and bruises, he has been vilified and mocked. Most tragically his loss was just as the Europe debate had reinvigorating him as a man with purpose and drive. I will remember him as the finest politician of his age and have no doubt the country will be worse off without him in public life.
There are some calls for the Lib Dems to enter into Coalition now. We have been clear that we will not. This election was not just a battle about managerial policy details, it was a clash of entire worldviews. The Liberals, Conservatives, and Labour are once again offering different, and incompatible, visions for the country. This is why we were clear during the campaign that there will be no deals. Any deal to prop up the Tories would be unworkable in any case; there was enough policy crossover with Cameron-Osborne liberal Conservatism to make a Coalition doable, though even then there was greater discord than most detractors appreciate. A deal with the authoritarian, illiberal, UKIP-esque Conservative Party of today would not only see us crushed again, this time we’d deserve it.