Well. What a surprise.
Remember my analysis of the Brexit referendum campaign? Thus:
As loyal readers here know, it’s not what you say – it’s what they hear.
The Remain campaign have aimed (with broad success) to corner the market in common sense steady-as-she-goes decency. Yet they somehow also exude drabness, pessimism and fatalism. There’s not much we can do about migration or the EU or anything else these days, but hey, let’s not rock the boat.
They also have no convincing answers to charges of serfishness and the huge role of Brussels in so much UK policy-making. Yes, most of the UK’s problems come from stupid things done in Westminster, but all sorts of other stupidities are layered on top of those, and we can’t affect them or even block them. Most countries in the world are NOT EU MEMBERS and seem to get on well enough. Why can’t we do the same?
Above all, they project inconsistency and untrustworthiness. No-one including most of his own Party can understand why David Cameron is flailing around on behalf of the EU in the way he does. He proclaims that Britain is Great, but not so great that it can’t have a different independent relationship with its integration-obsessed EU partners? Something not quite right here. These people don’t really believe what they’re saying.
By contrast the Leave campaigners try to project optimism: Yes we can. They may be nutty or reckless, but there’s no doubting their sincerity. They definitely believe in what they say…
In 2015 the Conservatives won a clear majority with a total of 11,300,000 votes on 37% of the vote. This time they have increased their total votes towards 13,600,000 and achieved a powerful jump to 42% of the vote. Not bad. Well done Theresa May!
Wait … but they have lost well over a a dozen seats, and so lost their overall majority!
That’s because Labour has managed to pile on some 3.5 million votes and boosted its share of the vote from 30% to 40%. Terrific. Well done Jeremy Corbyn!
In other words, there has been a lurch to a two-party outcome, with the smaller parties tending to get squished in the middle. The LibDem vote total has held up pretty well. It’s the UKIP vote that has collapsed: from nearly four million in 2915 to just 600,000 now. Likewise the Greens, whose total vote has been halved.
In 2015 Conservative + Labour won 67% of the total vote. This time they have won a whopping 82% of the vote. And given the way the UK’s eccentric first-past-the-post system works (when the votes are counted in each constituency the person with the largest total wins, even if no local majority has been achieved), the final tally of Parliamentary seats has worked against the Conservatives in enough places to end its majority.
That said, this two-party ratchet effect has worked v nicely in Scotland, where the inept SNP-led independence tendency has found itself in a ghastly squeeze and had a thrashing. Good.
* * * * *
Basically, Theresa May blew it on several levels simultaneously. We need to look at the rival attempts to ‘frame’ the issues in the public mind.
First, she called a new election when she did not really need to do so. Yes, it made some sense to ask the peevish UK masses for a strong Brexit negotiation mandate so that she could take on Brussels from a position of strength blah blah. But it also looked clumsily opportunistic, a power-grab based on J Corbyn’s unpopularity. Voters tend to disapprove of that sort of thing: we’ve elected you to do the job you promised you’d do, so why not get on with it?
Second, and far worse, she completely failed to project a strong interesting UK + Brexit vision and bold new policies for a post-Brexit UK. Instead she came across as both dull and control-freaky. This happened partly because she did not want to use the election to spell out specific Brexit and post-Brexit policies, as doing so might make things more difficult in the Brexit negotiations. But it happened too because she is in fact dull and control-freaky.
So she ended up with the worst of all worlds. She seemed to take for granted that most people wanting Brexit (and especially UKIP voters) would automatically back the Conservatives. She therefore asked voters for a blank Brexit cheque, while appearing elsewhere to ‘move to the centre’ by being as bossy as Labour if not more so in state spending and civil liberties terms. You want more for the NHS? Too bad! We’re going to continue to throw money wildly at ‘international development’!
In short, there was something annoying, stodgy and subtly defensive if not pessimistic about the whole exercise.
J Corbyn + Labour by contrast managed to convey energy and optimism. By offering fat bribes to students (no fees!) and somehow tuning into a wider sense of urban chic anti-establishment irreverence (“You liked Boaty McBoatface? You’ll luuurv Corbyn McCorbynface!”) they won over the younger part of the electorate and thereby managed to find lots of inventive people keen to exploit whatever opportunities might lie out there for clever e-networked local tactical voting against the Conservatives.
Labour were helped hugely by the sprawling BBC Left-Industrial Complex. Not so much because the BBC did not report Labour’s share of bungles and failures. Corbyn’s lifetime record of supporting all sorts of disgusting extremists down the decades has been beyond a disgrace. Yet he and his positions were presented day and night as in some way ‘normal’ if not droll and, gasp, even lovable. Help! Horrid uncaring nasty austerity party Conservatives are bullying poor Jeremy! He’s a victim.
This is the problem with ‘balance’: how in a democracy that cherishes fairness do your media cover ‘fairly’ the positions of (say) democrats and anti-semitic anti-democrats without giving the latter undeserved implicit respectability?
All this came to mean that insofar as the whole point of the election was proclaimed by No 10 to be all about presenting a bold British face towards Europe and the world on Brexit and Beyond, T May did not manage to establish any clear water between the Conservative and Labour approaches, so leaving herself fighting against unexpected Labour ‘populism’. Former UKIP voters drifted back en masse to Labour and Conservatives alike – there was (apparently) little to choose between them in their dim anti-libertarian ‘national-socialist’ instincts.
So, as usual, when it comes to energetic Optimism v steady-as-she-goes or defensive Pessimism, optimism tends to prosper. In this case the Corbyn Effect both boosted Labour and limited its gains. However, having entered the race just a few weeks ago with a position that looked overwhelming on every count, Theresa May has had a real success in boosting the Conservative vote and vote-share. And she has suffered an ignominious political debacle that makes literally everything worse.
What now for Brexit?
#thinks #furrowedbrow #baffled