When Theresa May called this election she said she was doing it to ‘strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations’. Or in other words, she couldn’t resist the temptation of being the first Tory Prime Minister to win a huge majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1871. May ignored history’s lesson — that the public does not support politicians declaring elections simply for their own personal gain. But why did May lose seats? And why did Corbyn make the largest gains by any opposition since Clement Atlee in 1945?
May ran a contradictory campaign
At the beginning of the campaign, the Conservatives were hopeful. They aimed, rather ambitiously, to turn Labour industrial heartlands like Scunthorpe blue. They hoped that the large UKIP vote in second place from 2015 would swing to the Conservatives, seeing them as the Brexit Party. The problem is, these voters are just never (although, I hesitate to rule anything out after the last few shock results!) going to vote Conservative. The north of England is solid red, and is going to remain solid red. Eighteen per cent of 2015 UKIP voters this time voted Labour, with 57 per cent backing the Tories — not enough to ensure the Tories would take seats where UKIP was second last time.
The reason behind this miscalculation is that the Tories believed this would be the BREXIT ELECTION. Instead, voters refused to confine to the narrative wanted by May and chose their own narrative. This was a narrative based on the bread and butter of elections — public services and the NHS. UKIP voters didn’t back May not because of her plans for Brexit but because they decided the public services were the main priority, thus being drawn to Jeremy Corbyn who was much stronger on the domestic front in the public’s eyes.
Voters chose to ignore their ‘Brexit Election’. Voters decided that Brexit was not the priority in this election. This election delivered a huge problem for May who shaped her campaign in order to attract these ex-UKIP voters. This is why she made the brave move in abandoning the toxic Tory brand, and ran a presidential-style campaign, hoping that her own image rather than that of her party would attract voters. Neither did. Instead, voters sided with Corbyn, because in these areas like Scunthorpe voters just need someone who understands the problems of ordinary people.
However, not all of the results point to success for Labour. They have not won the election and perhaps if people were not comparing this result to such a low base, then the conclusion would be more different. There is evidence that some voters sided with Corbyn because they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for the Conservatives Party; a party that even May couldn’t rebrand. One thing this election does teach is that the Conservative Party are still limited when it comes to expanding their support in the north of England, because of their toxic past during the Thatcher years.
Meanwhile, the May Brand wasn’t cutting through in Conservative strongholds either. Her ideas over the economy and her personal rhetoric seemed almost un-Conservative. And pure blue voters didn’t like this. This resentment then was evinced over her shambles of a social care policy. Veteran voters are the Tory base and May must be the first leader to knowingly attack that base. This worried older Tory voters, and on Thursday they chose to respond. They did not want Brand May, they wanted the Conservative brand, one where they were protected, with the triple-lock pension for example.
Theresa May perhaps realised this when in the final weeks of the campaign she decided to make the Conservative logo that slightly bit larger on her campaign posters; the words ‘Vote May’ and ‘me and my team’ getting smaller by the day. However, it was too late. Theresa May sacrificed Tory strongholds in her attempt to gain voters in northern Brexit Labour towns. She failed in both.
Jeremy Corbyn inspired
Jeremy Corbyn had little support from the press. He had no support from his own party. Instead, he turned to young people. No politician in recent times has engaged the youth vote like Corbyn has. Through passionate rallies and a social media strategy that meant his messages cut through amid the clamour of the election, he got his policies onto people’s Facebook feeds, analysed in a biasedly positive way. But ultimately it was his socialist manifesto that got our attention.
Whereas the Tory headlines from their manifesto were fox hunting, taking away school meals, and their ‘dementia tax’, Labour made promises that appealed to younger voters. These were younger voters that had been brought up in an age of austerity: where schools were cut, tuition fees raised to startling heights, and hope sucked out of the young. Hope is a powerful emotion and culminates in whole movements. It was hope that elected Obama, and it is hoped that has caused Corbyn to pull off one of the greatest shocks in British political history. Corbyn gave younger people something to hope for, he represented the change that no one had offered in the last decade.
So how did Corbyn get the young vote out?
Simple. He energised younger voters, he made them feel part of a movement for change. When people want to change something, never underestimate their drive and determination to make a difference. This time, the 18-24 turnout is rumoured to be at 72 per cent. And it is this young turnout that gave Corbyn the additional voters in places like Canterbury — a seat the Tories have held since WW2.
Mete Coban the CEO of My Life My Say spoke of his ‘delight’ at the high young turnout:
‘I am absolutely delighted to hear reports that the youth vote was its highest in decades. All the late night shifts and travels across the country working for My Life My Say have been worth it, but we knew it was coming.
‘To think that many of May’s aides in this election were also part of the Vote Leave Campaign, they should have realised what Brexit achieved.
‘Brexit politicised our generation and it is really encouraging to see young citizens taking democracy in their own hands. I hope that this will be a foundation that we can build on for many more elections’.
It is this that should worry the Conservatives. Minority governments historically do not last and when the next election comes, some say it could be as early as October, the Conservatives would be wise to learn their lesson and treat the younger vote with more care.
This election has had the complete opposite effect to the one May anticipated. She hoped for stability but has instead delivered a tumultuous future, only 10 days before Britain negotiates with Europe in the country’s biggest challenge in post-war times.
This election was May vs Corbyn. And that means this has been May’s defeat as much as it has been Corbyn’s victory. For Jeremy Corbyn, his position as Labour leader has been strengthened; for his socialist movement, this may only be the beginning. But for May, she is no longer the strong Prime Minister she was before this election. Instead, she is severely damaged. The blame for this election can only be on her, especially because she ran a campaign managed by a very tight inner circle of two or three aides. For these aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, the Tory knives will be out.
As for Mrs May, she may not be stabbed in the back, but instead, I fear she will watch a minority government crumble as the DUP fail to deliver support with each vote and Tory backbenchers wield their power over her in Brexit negotiations — something she hoped to avoid.
I do deliver this warning though. Many thought the coalition wouldn’t survive but it did. However, one-half of the coalition was punished severely in the next election. The Lib Dems were wiped out from the electoral map. If this minority government endures the test of time, the question is: who in this partnership will be wiped out? DUP or the Conservatives?