We round up some of the winners and losers from this historic election of 12 December 2019.
Winners – the Conservative Party
It doesn’t quite go without saying how extraordinary this victory is. Since John Major was destroyed at the polls by New Labour in 1997, there have been six general elections, which the Tories have fought under five different leaders. And in every single one of those elections, they have increased their share of the vote. There is no precedent for this. Even Margaret Thatcher saw her share decline in 1983 and again in ’87. The most successful political party in the history of democracy is reinventing itself yet again.
Winner – Alan Johnson
The highlight of ITV’s coverage was the sight of former home secretary Alan Johnson sitting next to Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum. It was still early, and we only really had the exit poll to go on, but that was enough for Johnson. ‘I feel really angry about this,’ he declared, and he pinned the blame on Corbyn. ‘Everyone knew he couldn’t lead the working class out of a paper bag.’ His message to Lansman and Momentum was similarly uncompromising: ‘I want them out of the party. I want Momentum gone. Go back to your student politics.’ If only there were some popular expression for a postman losing his temper and slaughtering those around him.
Winner: Opinion polls
It wasn’t initially clear who had ‘won’ the 2017 election, but there is no doubt who lost – as the Evening Standard splashed: ‘How the opinion polls got it wrong’. Coupled with missing the Tory majority in 2015 and (harshly) being perceived to have got the 2016 referendum wrong, it’s fair to say confidence in the polls was even lower than when, in 1979, Bob McKenzie could warn that ‘they should be required to carry across them the sort of thing that appears on a packet of cigarettes – “Beware!”’.
Since then, there’s been a swing towards accuracy, with relatively little margin of error. The polls did capture something of a Labour rise during the campaign but were consistent that it was not enough to prevent a Conservative majority. Pretty much every major poll got each party’s eventual percentage of the vote almost exactly right – not just UK-wide but in Scotland, Wales and London individually. And the old psephological wisdom that the leadership approval ratings are even better at predicting results than are voting intention polls proved accurate: Jeremy Corbyn’s record low figures were the central fact of the election. A landslide for the Survation-YouGov-IpsosMORI-Opinium coalition.
Actually, it soon became pretty clear in 2017 who had ‘won’ the election – the Democratic Unionist Party. They took ten of the eighteen Northern Irish seats for the first time, and the hung parliament effectively gave them the UK balance of power, making up for the loss of their ministerial offices with the suspension of Stormont. The long dreamed-of departure from the European Union (their founder had considered it to be a Romanist-Satanic conspiracy) was coming to fruition, and they would have a perhaps decisive say over its process, while taking credit for a huge influx of cash to their home province into the bargain.
Yet when they were given a chance to back a withdrawal bill specially tailored to meet their concerns over a customs border down the Irish Sea, they rediscovered the power of ‘No’. Out went Theresa May, in came Boris Johnson. Then came a new withdrawal deal far less favourable to the DUP than the previous one. And now an election in which they lost two seats – including that of their Westminster leader – and which saw more nationalist MPs returned than unionists. With the comfortable Conservative majority, the DUP are now marginal at best.
Losers – The Independent Group/Change UK etc
What a long, strange trip it hasn’t been. The Independent Group was founded in February this year and numbered eleven MPs at its peak. Then came the European Parliament election in May, when it got slightly more votes than the Farage-less rump of UKIP, but the same lack of any MEPs. And the whole project fell apart. Some – notably Chuka Umunna – left to join the Liberal Democrats, some rebranded themselves as Change UK, but their fate was the same whichever path they chose. The party (whose registered headquarters are in a building named Terminal House) now has no MPs at all, and none of those standing for the Lib Dems are in Parliament either. It could have amounted to more than this, but it felt like a rushed, ill prepared project, both in its formation and its splintering. Now it’s all over, and Anna Soubry – former Tory, latterly Change UK leader – sounded mightily relived: ‘On a personal level, I am very happy, thank you very much.’
Loser – Chris Williamson
You may remember that back in the days of Richard Nixon, his chief of staff Bob Haldeman was known as the President’s son-of-a-bitch. And his sidekick Chuck Colson used to boast of being the son-of-a-bitch’s son-of-a-bitch. Anyway, Chris Williamson occupied the Colson role in the Corbyn court. Except that he proved to be too toxic even for the Labour Party, and the NEC refused to let him stand again as the Labour candidate in Derby North. So he stood as an independent. And to the delight of many, he romped home sixth in a field of six, with just 635 votes and a lost deposit to his credit.
In related news, ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway stood as an independent in West Bromwich East and got 489 votes. And two days later, he released a video of himself, wearing a fine burgundy waistcoat and standing in front of a Christmas tree, as he announced the launch of a new party, the Workers Party of Britain – ‘for real Brexit and real Labour’. Because what the world needs now is another far-left sect.
Winner – Nicola Sturgeon
Not the SNP, despite its slight increase in vote-share, and disproportionate increase in MPs, but Sturgeon herself, whose stock has risen a little further. Indeed, as far as the national UK media are concerned, she is the SNP, and this election confirmed that impression in spades. She was all over the TV and radio, demanding to be included in every leaders’ debate – even though she was not actually standing in the election. For those with an attachment to democratic accountability, it felt a little uncomfortable, a bit like a party still being led from the House of Lords. And for those with an attachment to the United Kingdom, it was a source of regret that the prospect of Scottish independence was being raised yet again. But for Sturgeon herself, it’s all been a triumph.
Loser – voting reform
After three embarrassing failures, the first-past-the-post system returned to what was always meant to be its great strength: providing strong, majority government. It’s monstrously unfair, of course, to all but the two biggest of the UK parties, but at least there was nothing this time quite as unjust as 2015, when 3.9 million UKIP votes provided just one MP, while the SNP were picking up a seat for every 26,000 votes. The only change to the system we’re going to see in the near future is the redrawing of the boundaries.
Winner – Laura Kuenssberg
The BBC came in for more than its usual share of criticism this time, for being biased towards whichever party one didn’t support and whichever side one didn’t take in what we then used to call The Brexit Debate (RIP). And for the Corbynite left, much of the attack was focussed on the corporation’s political editor, who was, if her detractors were to be believed, merely a mouthpiece for Boris Johnson. We didn’t see it. She made mistakes, but it didn’t seem like bias. And we were impressed that she managed to maintain her dignity under severe provocation and personal abuse, not to say outright hatred.