LONDON — It was an astonishing election by any estimation. A prime minister humiliated, a Labour leader dismissed as a no-hoper massively outperforming expectations,
Britain’s government and the nature of its upcoming exit from the European Union thrown into the air.
Here are some key takeaways from the U.K.’s June 8 election.
1. Return of two-party politics
The combined vote share of the two main parties, as it stood at 5:30 a.m. U.K. time with more than 620 seats declared, was 82.7 percent, up from 67.3 percent just two years ago and the highest in any general election since 1970.
Despite their misery at losing their majority, the
Conservatives, on 42.3 percent of the vote, polled better than they have done since 1983. Labour’s 40.4 percent is its best national performance since Tony Blair’s second general election in 2001.
There are several explanations for Britain’s dramatic return to dominance of the Conservatives and Labour.
UKIP collapsed. In recent elections, the anti-EU party was a recipient of the so-called protest vote, and a lightning rod in 2015 for voters concerned about immigration and the influence of Brussels. That year it took 12.7 percent of the vote, giving the Euroskeptic party, in terms of vote share at least, third place. But last year’s EU referendum turned UKIP’s unique selling point — its intention to get Britain out of the EU — into the mainstream policy goal of both the Conservatives and Labour. Millions of voters who had deserted traditional leading parties for UKIP “came home” in 2017.
UKIP collapsed. In recent elections, the anti-EU party was a recipient of the so-called protest vote, and a lightning rod in 2015 for voters concerned about immigration and the influence of Brussels | Adrian Dennis/AFP Via
Meanwhile, the collapse of the traditional third party, the Liberal Democrats, in 2015, after entering coalition government with the Tories and losing its longstanding protest vote, has not been reversed. In fact, the party appears likely to take an even lower national vote share this time after a campaign that bet the house on an ardently pro-EU stance. Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system means the party will likely take marginally more seats this time, but as a recipient of a major segment of the U.K. population’s vote — in 2010, 23 percent backed it — the party seems diminished, perhaps permanently so.
Add in the shine coming off the SNP’s offer of Scottish independence north of the border and left-wing Green supporters flirting with Corbyn, and you have a formula for two-party dominance.
2. Failure of political intelligence
Pollsters have not forgotten getting the 2015 election badly wrong. Most predicted the parties would be neck-and-neck throughout, only to see the Conservatives comfortably become the largest party. A subsequent inquest led to a range of new polling methods.
For most, it didn’t work out. The majority of polling companies gave the Conservatives a comfortable lead going into polling day. The actual result proved much closer to the result predicted by Survation and projections by an experimental model used by
YouGov called MRP — multi-level regression and post-stratification, for the nerds out there — which received considerable disdain for veering so far from the trend during the campaign. Both gave more credence than other polling companies to claims from young voters that this time, despite historical precedent, they would go out and vote. So it has proved.
But it is not just the pollsters who had it wrong. None of the Conservative and Labour MPs POLITICO spoke to in the final days of the campaign predicted this. Jim Messina, the election data guru who helped Barack Obama reach the White House and a member of May’s team,
declared on Twitter on May 31 after YouGov’s new modeling first projected a hung parliament that he was “laughing at yet another stupid YouGov poll.”
Newspapers and broadcasters also failed to pick up on the scale of the Labour surge coming down the track. Labour did however, dominate on social media channels. According to
Campaign magazine, it had a much higher level of engagement on Facebook — around 80,000 to 100,000 engagements daily in the last week of the campaign, compared 30,000 to 40,000 for the Conservatives.
Obviously you can’t tell who’s winning by looking at social media, but nor it seems can you tell by looking at most polls.
3. Brexit democratic revolution ain’t over
Turnout, as of 6 a.m., was 68.7 percent — the highest in a U.K. general election since Tony Blair’s landslide win in 1997. It seems likely the high figure can be attributed, in part, to many who voted in Britain’s EU referendum for the first time voting again.
It is also likely, though we will have to wait for detailed demographic information, that Corbyn’s popularity among young voters — as
demonstrated in all polls — motivated a higher youth turnout than normal. Just 43 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in 2015. Estimates of how many voted in the EU referendum vary, but it seems to have been far higher, perhaps as high as 70 percent. The vast majority backed Remain and may have felt like a vote for Corbyn — despite his embrace of Brexit — was a vote for revenge on the older generations, a large majority of whom back Brexit and the Conservatives.
It was those polling companies that did the least to down-weigh the voting intentions of young respondents that came closest to the actual vote share margins — the revenge of Britain’s youth.
4. Big beasts fallen
At every election, amid the cheers of the victors, Britain rings to the dying moans of many a big beast’s political life. 2017 was no exception.
Several Conservative ministers fell to the Labour surge. Cabinet Office Minister
Ben Gummer, an influential figure in May’s short-lived first administration, lost his Ipswich seat to Labour’s Sandy Martin. Health Minister Nicola Blackwood lost her strongly Remain-voting Oxford West seat to the pro-EU Liberal Democrats’ candidate Layla Moran. Labour’s hugely successful night in London saw Treasury Minister Jane Ellison lose her Battersea seat to Labour opponent Marsha de Cordova.
Elsewhere, the former Liberal Democrat leader, and one of parliament’s leading experts on the EU,
Nick Clegg, lost his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour. Clegg, whose support in the area plummeted after he took the Lib Dems into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, was run close in 2015 and lost the seat this time by more than 2,000 votes. He said the new parliament would preside over “a deeply, deeply divided and polarized nation” — most of all “between young and old.”
In Scotland, the SNP’s bad night was compounded by losing its former leader Alex Salmond from parliament, along with its Westminster leader Angus Robertson. Their Brexit spokesman, Stephen Gethins, clung on in Fife North East by just two votes.
5. Sweet revenge
“What are we doing losing Battersea!?” asked George Osborne, aghast.
His decision to join ITV’s election night coverage gave the country a hugely enjoyable study of a scorned man, vindicated. The former chancellor, the man who was once the smart betters’ choice for next prime minister, was sacked by Theresa May less than a year ago after he and David Cameron botched the EU referendum. She reportedly told him to “get to know the party better.”
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne | Leon Neal/Getty Images
Osborne, who advised against holding a referendum in the first place, and helped to mastermind the Tories’ successful 2015 campaign, must be tempted to suggest that instead May spend some time getting to know the country better.
Now the editor of the London Evening Standard, Osborne appeared on ITV’s panel with his former opponent, Labour’s ex-Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.
He didn’t pull his punches. On seeing the shock exit poll that projected a hung parliament, he made the early call of a “catastrophic” night for his party.
Later, in the early hours of the morning, he let rip at May and the team of advisers who ousted him. The Conservative manifesto 2017 “which was drafted by her and about two other people, was a total disaster and must go down now as one of the worst manifestos in history by a governing party.
“I say one of the worst, I can’t think of a worse one.”
A dish of revenge served cold for Theresa May’s breakfast.