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Well, that was a bit of a cock-up

I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart .

Listening to Teresa May on the steps of Downing Street the day after the General Election, it occurred to me that she could probably have given spin-doctor-extraordinaire Alastair Campbell a run for his money.

Had you slept through every single news bulletin since the 10 o’clock news the night before you could have been forgiven for thinking that she had, indeed, won the thumping great majority that she so fervently wished for instead of frittering away all David Cameron’s hard-won majority on a bunch of ill-conceived policies and a campaign of doom and gloom.

I travelled back from the West Country a fortnight ago, sitting behind Lord Paddy Ashdown on the train and overheard him telling his companion that he through the Tories would still get in, but with a far fewer number of seats. To be honest, I reckon the only people who really thought that the Conservatives would get a thumping great majority in last week’s general Election were Teresa May herself and her two dearly departed advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.

Mind you, Jeremy Corbyn is spinning the election result as though he had actually won it; as is Tim Farron who, while he may have doubled the number of seats held by the LibDems in Parliament, is still 45 short of Nick Clegg’s total of 57 in the 2010 election – the last time we had a hung Parliament. Interestingly, the only leaders that seem to have a proper grasp on how well or not they did are Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson; the latter, to my mind, played a blinder.

Corbyn may be cock-a-hoop about his 262 seats, but they are only four shy of the number Labour had when they LOST under Gordon Brown. In 2010, Labour got 258 seats, the Tories 306 – less than the 318 they got on Thursday. Even in 2015, the Tories only squeaked through with an overall majority of 5 seats – a fact that gets conveniently forgotten when talking about the Tory landside of 2015.  

Political stats geeks like me could go on for days dissecting the results but the simple fact is that we are now in a more unstable position than we were before the election was called. The Tories do not have a strong mandate to go through the Brexit negotiations with; the DUP aren’t going into coalition with the Tories, having learned the lesson of the LibDems perhaps, and will instead add support where they feel it is in their interests to do so.

Corbyn did as well as he did because, a) the Labour machine mobilised to get younger voters out in their droves, b) 30-50 year olds were fed-up of the line about the need for austerity with no sign of it having worked at all and also, quite frankly, shit-scared about the future of our schools and social care and c) Corbyn himself took heed of his critics and adjusted his stance of the last 30 years, recognising that principles are all very well, but politics at the top level is all about compromise. If Mrs May wants any chance of staying in position beyond next week, she’d better take note.

Looking on the bright side though, the chances of the election-killing social care reforms, the end of the triple-lock on pensions and the rapid expansions of grammar schools will probably now not happen. Neither will the hard-Brexit that May – a former Remainer apparently – was so keen on get steam rollered through.

We may well end up with a soft-Brexit, retaining access to the single market, or we may not. The only certainty is that Brexit probably got harder rather than easier.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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