The magnitude of this general election result can hardly be overstated. Although the campaign seemed dull, shallow and nasty while it went on, it has ended in something historic. Until just two days ago, Brexit was uncertain. Had there been another hung Parliament or even (Heaven forbid) a Labour-SNP minority government, it might well have been lost altogether. Now Brexit is unstoppable.
It was certainly an odd campaign, unlike any general election in the past, and failed to reflect its historic importance. The reason for this, I think, is that the public regarded it more like an interval in the apparently endless Brexit debate, in which they were being asked to break the parliamentary deadlock, which is exactly what the voters have done.
Even strong Tory supporters told me in London earlier this week that they were fearful about the result and, for the first time they could remember, had absolutely no idea which way the election would go. Labour supporters told me that the Tories’ hope of winning over Labour “Leave” voters in the midland and the north was just a dream.
My Tory friends were wrong to be fearful; my Labour friends were wrong about the intentions of the party’s Leavers. The election was often presented as a question of trust. It was assumed that Boris Johnson was the one who couldn’t be trusted, but it was Labour who lost voters’ trust.
Johnson appeared to sense how remarkable his victory had been when he thanked the thousands of working-class people who had voted Conservative for the first time in their life. He virtually acknowledged that they had “loaned” him their vote and might well take it back if he betrayed their trust.
This puts pressure on him and his party, not only to “get Brexit done”, but to address the needs of these new working-class Tories over public services such as healthcare, education, housing and policing. These voters lost faith in the ability of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to meet their domestic needs.
So it is largely true, as senior Labour figures have insisted, that this historic change in party allegiance would not have taken place without Brexit; but the voters wouldn’t have made the leap unless they had given up all hope in Labour’s ability to achieve power under Corbyn.
Labour, in its forthcoming policy review, will be deluding itself if it attributes its losses wholly to Brexit and persists with John McDonnell’s crypto-Marxist agenda. The radical Momentum movement may have brought energy to the party’s grassroots, but it has forced Labour to make the public electoral offers they have now firmly rejected twice.
Unless Labour can find a leader whom the public can trust, which means taking it back to the centre ground on which Tony Blair won three general elections, they are doomed. It is dispiriting to those of us who genuinely believe in a rotating two-party democratic system to see Corbyn promising to lead this debate about the party’s future. He is the problem, not part of the solution.
He will go down in history, quite rightly, as the most unpopular Labour leader of all time, a man with confused political beliefs and a man whose vacillation allowed the vile subject of anti-Semitism to enter British politics. The sooner he leaves the stage the better. Momentum must carry the blame for making him leader and thereby almost destroying Labour as a credible party of government.
The party’s so-called “centrists” also deserve some blame for continuing to support Corbyn while knowing he was a disaster. It will be harder than ever for Labour to recover if Johnson is sincere about his commitment to “One Nation” Toryism – which he now has the power to deliver if he chooses to do so. That would move the Tory party onto the centre ground once occupied by Labour.
I have never believed that Johnson is as right-wing as he has been depicted. He adopted that pose to tough out a solution on Brexit by bringing the party’s hard Brexiteers on-side. His majority means that he is no longer beholden to them. He may reshape his Cabinet to allow more progressive voices to be heard.
For all his manifest personal weaknesses, Boris is a formidable politician with the vivid personality, the strong will and the sharp brain that Theresa May lacked. He has now won two elections, against the odds, as London Mayor, secured his party leadership convincingly, and has now achieved the biggest Tory victory since Margaret Thatcher over 30 years ago. He has also marginalised Nigel Farage.
These are remarkable achievements – and an astonishing Superman-style recovery from the position he was in when he took office, when maverick Remainer MPs, supported by a maverick Remainer Speaker in John Bercow, took control of the House of Commons agenda and denied the government the power to govern.
Parliamentary democracy will be all the better for the absence of those self-opinionated “wreckers” who defied the will of the people while pretending to support it: Oliver Letwin, Dominick Grieve, Anna Soubry and David Gaulke. Why John Major and Tony Blair should have supported them against Johnson now looks like an absurd misjudgement.
There will doubtless be many bumps in the road ahead as the trade talks with Europe stretch out through next year and probably beyond. Johnson will be judged mainly on his success in achieving a good deal with Europe and other promised trade deals around the world. He will also have to grapple with resistance in Scotland and Northern Ireland if he is to hold the Union together.
But he will also be judged on the efforts he makes to address Britain’s increasing inequality. I forecast the scrapping of mega-projects like HS2 and Heathrow expansion and the billions thus saved being spent on improved public services. At least, I hope so.
While in London I saw the Ken Loach film, Sorry We Missed You, which depicted, in terms that almost drove one to tears, the plight of an ordinary, honest, hard-working, debt-ridden family desperately trying to cope. I would like Mr Johnson to see it to give him some insight into the human pain that lies behind the bleak statistics of poverty in the Britain for which he is now responsible.
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