Numerous forces appear to have combined to cause this reversal of fortune.
Two of the strongest seem to have been a pro-Labour vote from first-time voters, and the end of nationalism as a force in English politics and its weakening in Scotland.
The simple explanation could be how our young have been force-fed socialism through the education system for at least a decade. However, this is also a failure by the Conservative Party to make its case to those who have just entered participation in the British economy, and by extension British politics. If the only political education a young person receives is from the Left, this is because the Right have been sleeping. The outcome should not be a complete surprise.
It is clear that the controversy surrounding the UK’s membership of the European Union had an increasingly distorting effect on British politics for almost two decades. The collapse of the Ukip vote has not favoured the Conservative Party, but has caused a reversion to a two-party system, the like of which we have not seen since James Callaghan was Prime Minister.
Unlike the previous two elections, votes for minor parties have not affected the outcome. In Ed Balls’s former seat of Morley and Outwood there was a straight three-party fight. Back in 2015, people voting Green instead of Labour appear to have destroyed Balls’s majority and let in Andrea Jenkyns on a majority of just 422. In 2017 this majority has been increased, despite the absence of both Ukip and the Green Party.
The return of two-party politics has favoured Labour in England. A few weeks ago, I pointed out that David Cameron’s victory in 2015 was at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Percentage-wise, Labour’s vote actually went up in 2015. The barrier to Labour’s success seems to have been votes going to Ukip. In 2015 people were voting for parties that wanted a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Ed Miliband arrogantly ruling this out on Question Time may have cost him the election. In 2017, people have been voting for what they want the country to look like after we leave, now that both main parties support Brexit.
The events in England have overshadowed what has gone on in Scotland. The Conservative and Unionist Party, to use its full name, has been the party of choice for those opposed to the SNP’s clear desire to keep holding independence referendums instead of properly using devolved powers for good government. It will be a scant comfort to Theresa May that former SNP leader Alex Salmond, and Parliamentary leader Angus Robertson, have both lost their seats. However, this is evidence once again of the retreat of nationalism in British politics.
The biggest victor in this election is not Jeremy Corbyn. It is Peter Hitchens. It is he who said “Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense.” It was the opinion polls that influenced Mrs May to go to the country three years before she needed to. Unfortunately, Mrs. May seems not to have cracked the polls.
This country has had a succession of major polls. There has been the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2015 general election, the 2016 European Union referendum, and a second general election. There has been non-stop, high-intensity mainstream political activity for four years when it would have been reasonable for such activity to take place in just one year. It is possible that in the face of this continuous activity that public voting responses started to become unpredictable. It may seem a surprise to those who do not live eat and breathe politics, but the general public as a rule do not think of politics every single day. When required to do so, their reactions have been a surprise.
The ostensible reason for calling an election three years before it was necessary was because of the political obstacles being raised over the negotiations for Brexit. However, there was clearly a perceived political advantage, just as there was when Harold Wilson went to the country not even two years after winning in 1964. In Wilson’s case the gamble paid off. He tried it again in 1970 when he saw an upward blip in his ratings. That time it didn’t.
The British public are used to waiting between four and five years before being asked which party they want to govern the country. The moral seems to be that politicians should wait a decent interval before asking the public to make up their minds once again.