The Friday Speed Read – #GE2017 Special
Well then. That didn’t quite turn out as planned.
In terms of going off-script, TM the PM’s attempt to increase her Commons majority by calling the Election she’d previously sworn she wouldn’t call, has gone more awry than an actor deciding to break into a full-throated rendition of “I’m a Barbie Girl” during the gravediggers scene in Hamlet.
This was not meant to happen. TM the PM had a 10 point-lead in the polls; Corbyn was viewed by the majority as left-wing pacifist, as much use as a chocolate sauna and spa in a shunned gulf state; the right-wing press had its post-Brexit pecker up and, as such, was more clamorous than ever (remember the Mail’s drawing of TM atop the White Cliffs of Dover, crushing the EU flag beneath her stiletto?) and people, reluctantly or not, seemed ready to accept that Brexit was happening and so strong leadership was a fairly decent idea.
The day after TM announced the election, the Daily Mail published its now infamous front page of a dark-eyed May above the bold type legend: Crush the Saboteurs. And regardless of political affiliation, regardless of Remain or Leave, the UK public seemed to shrug and accept this crushing as an inevitability. There was talk of a Thatcher in ‘83 sized majority. And this didn’t seem like hyperbole.
So yes, again, this was really really not meant to happen.
Polling week began with everyone’s thoughts a very long way from politics, as the events from the murderous attacks around London Bridge were retold with ever-more vivid detail and testimony. The faces of the attackers were published but also were the faces of the victims, drawn from all corners of the world, united by a love for London. As ever, stories of incredible heroism emerged, heroism that in some cases would be fatal, and once again, for the third time in as many months, we were reminded that as much as there are a few despicable outliers, the huge, huge majority of people are, in their myriad different ways, incredible.
But as Thursday approached, the London Bridge attack was relegated to the inside pages, and politics returned. On Wednesday, The Daily Mail dedicated 13 pages to reasons why a vote for Corbyn would be a vote for “apologists for terror”; The Express said that “disaster” would ensue if TM didn’t win and on Thursday The Sun printed a life-sized poster of Jeremy Corbyn dressed as superman, along with stick-on Jezza-eque beard and a pin-badge saying “The best JC since Calvary”. Except it didn’t. The Sun actually published a dozen pages imaging a ruinous future for the UK under a Corbyn government. Their front page: “Don’t put Britain in the Cor-bin” (3/10 – weak).
The problem with all of these newspaper voices (and The Mirror was just as fervent in its anti-May rantings) is that young people don’t read newspapers. And on social media, Corbyn was not only winning over young people with his promise to abolish tuition fees but, more significantly, these young people were registering to vote and then convincing more of their friends to do the same. And it worked. The much-maligned “millennials”, disparaged by The Sun earlier in the week, turned up in their droves: turnout among 18-25 year olds is estimated to have been around 72%. That’s a brilliant figure (UPDATE – and as yet confirmed – this stat spread widely on Friday but it turns out that someone made it up).
And now, as the country wakes (if indeed it actually went to bed) the early editions of Friday’s press are a mix of joy (The Guardian, The Mirror) and recrimination (Mail, Telegraph, Express etc) as TM the PM, up until Thursday their hero, is now roundly criticised for her dreadful campaign, poorly-conceived manifesto and ultimately, for her Cameron-esque gamble that has, it is universally agreed, spectacularly failed.
So in the aftermath of the “shock” result and as the news channels continue to debate and analyse, their presenters and pundits baggy-eyed with lack of sleep, let’s pull together a few conclusions that seem to be emerging from the news fug:
ONE: The Conservatives are the largest party in the House of Commons and TM will likely remain the PM, at least for the moment.
TWO: However, TM has sought (and won) the support of the DUP and their 10 MPs to pass any new laws. The DUP’s main priority is, understandably, Northern Ireland, and they will able to use their new positon as kingmaker to create significant leverage.
THREE: Hard” Brexit is now in serious danger. So much so Nigel Farage (with his new shiny American teeth and tan) is threatening to return to politics to ensure Brexit is as hard as possible. Imagine what fun that’s going to be
FOUR: Despite point 3 (above). UKIP is dead.
FIVE: Love him or loathe him, Corbyn has done something unprecedented. He’s come from the fringes of the Labour Party, with a fist-full of policies that conventional political wisdom believed were a relic from a past-age, and wiped out TM’s majority. JC didn’t win the election but JC is a winner.
SIX: TM called the election to become stronger. The opposite has occurred. The UK is a lot less strong and a lot less stable than it was six weeks ago.
SEVEN: The rest of Europe, hell, the rest of the world, thinks we’re utterly mad. And they’re probably right.
(In other news, James Comey may just have started the ball rolling on a Trump impeachment but, we’re tired and this, potentially world-changing news is going to have to wait until next week.)
You know what, it’s nearly the weekend so let’s just relax. It’s been a dizzying, upsetting, compelling few weeks and we all need a bit of a break. But before we shut down our computers and return to our families, friends and leisure activities, let’s remember one thing:
Democracy may well be messy, imprecise and, often, flawed but it’s also precious, electrifying and wonderful.
And it works.
Have a great weekend.
(photo credit: @FitchyK via Twitter)