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Everything You Need to Know About Election Night

The Tories wanted this to be a Brexit election, and they got their way. Now, they need to deliver on their impossible promise to "Get Brexit Done".

by Simon Childs
13 December 2019, 8:32am

Boris Johnson at a rally after the Conservatives were returned to power. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

Barbarism it is then. A day that started with hopeful reports of unprecedented queues outside polling stations ended in heartbreak for anyone who doesn't want the country to enter a new dark age.

Before the exit poll at the Hackney pub full of Labour activists I'm writing this from, people were nervous, but hopeful. It was a pivotal election, everyone seemed to agree.

When the Exit Poll was announced, the pub went deathly silent. A stonking Conservative majority, and a brutal loss of seats for Labour. There was a collective hang-dog expression on the faces of everyone watching. The job of a Korean TV News crew there to get the reactions of excited Corbynistas became a lot less fun. "Devastated" started trending on Twitter. The right were jubilant. "Johnson's historic victory," beamed the Torygraph. "The Dog's BolloX," said the Sun.

This means five more years of Tory rule and full steam ahead for Boris Johnson Getting Brexit Done, whatever that will look like. Without much of a manifesto, he will claim a mandate for whatever he feels like, presumably the next stage of the Thatcher revolution on steroids. Climate change will be an afterthought, the NHS is surely in greater peril than ever, and a party that ran a clearly racist campaign has won.

When the exit poll came out, the value of the pound jumped immediately. Almost as quickly, the Labour Party recriminations began to fly. MPs on the right of the party who have begrudgingly sucked up the reality of Jeremy Corbyn's grassroots popularity jumped in two-footed to blame the leader and his Momentum "entryist" foot soldiers. They had "taken for granted Labour's heartlands", said Caroline Flint. Period of reflection? How about a knee-jerk shift to the right.

Others were more direct. Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, tweeted: "Every door I knocked on, and my team and I spoke to 11,000 people, mentioned Corbyn. Not Brexit but Corbyn. I've been saying this for years. The outcome is that we’ve let the country down and we must change course and fast." If only it had been Owen Smith.

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Labour activists in a Hackney pub. Photo: Luis Kramer

Senior Labour figures will be setting up WhatsApp groups to make manoeuvres for the party leadership by now. Speaking at his constituency count in Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that he would not lead Labour into another election.

Sunderland and Newcastle did their traditional early announcement, with both going Labour as expected – but Sunderland with a reduced majority. Moments later, the Tories took Blyth Valley from Labour for the first time since 1950. In the pub, invective was hurled at the Lib Dems and Greens for not standing down. It was sour grapes, and you have to play the game in front of you.

At approaching 1:30AM, Workington – "Workington man" Workington, the dyed-in-the-wool-Labour-but-also-die-hard-Brexit seat, emblematic of the kind of place the Tories had to win Workington – declared… for the Tories. Shortly followed by Darlington – Tory.

As the night wore on there was more of the same. Places that have been Labour since before the Second World War, since the roaring 20s, started going Tory. The Tories started taking seats in Wales. Monumental stuff. These are so-called Labour heartlands, but they are places in which the labour movement has been gutted. The party and the wider left needs to find a way to deal with what that means.

The tantalising Tory scalps did not happen. Iain Duncan Smith kept his seat. Dominic Raab kept his seat. Boris Johnson kept his seat. Zac Goldsmith was the only well known Tory to have his parliamentary career curtailed, by the Lib Dems in Richmond. There was a moment of light relief when Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson – who started off the campaign saying she could be the next Prime Minister – ceased even to be an MP, dethroned by the SNP.

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Nicola Sturgeon celebrating the results in Scotland. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

Indeed, the story was different all over Scotland. The SNP virtually swept the board. The picture was different in London, too. Labour took Putney from the Tories and held on to Battersea. The Tories took the two cities constituency of Westminster and the City of London and Kensington – but in both the anti-Tory vote was huge, just split between Labour and Lib Dems. The capital and other major cities are operating in a different political reality to the rest of England. Scotland is operating in a different reality from the UK. It's hard to see how the union can hold with various parts of it reaching for the ejector seat.

The Tories wanted this to be a Brexit election and they got it. Brexit changed everything. In Barnsley, Labour just held on, despite a huge 30 percent vote for the Brexit party. Labour – trying to appeal to both a Leave and Remain support base – got stuck in the middle. Nye Bevan had a few words about that: "We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down."

The Tories won, and won convincingly. But it's not all easy for them. In the immediate term, the Conservatives have been delivered on an impossible mandate: "Get Brexit Done" was always a lie, and now Boris Johnson has to deliver on this epic bullshit. He has the majority to get his way in Parliament, but getting a trade deal with the EU is likely to be a different matter. He does not have an "oven ready" deal. He has a bad withdrawal agreement. What happens when he doesn’t get it done, or he does and it sucks? What happens when the social crises that he has promised to fix get worse, which they will?

They will blame saboteurs and traitors – anything but accept responsibility. As they continue this destructive path, it will be up for the millions who opted for a better society in this election to call them out, oppose them and resist the nihilism.

There's a version of this story where, in 20 years, journalists look back at this election and wisely tell us that this left-wing politics was electoral suicide and could never have worked – we all hated it. But does it feel that way to you? To many, this campaign offered a ray of hope against a constant cycle of crisis and alienation. The young overwhelmingly voted Labour. The rest of British politics stands above us like a demented Principal Seymour Skinner: Am I so out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong.

This election has seen unprecedented engagement from people hoping for better, getting involved in something resembling a mass politics. That must continue – on the streets, in the workplace, online. Everyone on an election WhatsApp group can throw themselves into activism, workplace organising and organising the defence of those who need help. If the Tories want to slash and burn democratic institutions, degrade the public sphere and make more people's lives impossible, they may find that there are those willing to build new forms of resistance. And in that there is hope.

@SimonChilds13

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