This morning many of us – except those who hadn’t slept – woke up to what could be considered a bright new dawn, both figuratively and literally.
While many on the progressive side of politics will be lamenting a lost opportunity to take control of the agenda once again, I feel the results of last night’s election can be best summed up as better than expected, not as good as hoped.
Yes, the Tories will most likely walk away with the government once more, but it will be a weak, hobbled thing, prone to the whims of the reactionary DUP and Theresa May’s own back benchers. That’s assuming she has any left.
Two years ago I was at my local count and I saw grim faces and petty attrition among the left – but not so this time.
Last night there were no cheers and jeers from Labour as Nick Clegg lost his seat, and when one Liberal Democrat candidate was all-but-done, there were Labour supporters helping to invigilate a partial recount to try and boost him through. It was to no avail, but over the course of the evening you could tell the two parties were pulling together.
Another shining difference between 2015 and 2017 was the reactions of the losing candidates. In 2015 there were gritted teeth and half-hearted promises to keep on fighting from those who has lost, but this time the vanquished were almost smiling in defeat, looking at the chunks they had torn from the Tory leads and keen to pick themselves up and start again.
Conversely it was the Tory candidates who gritted their teeth in victory: ‘Of course May should have called the election… no, I wasn’t nervous… I back the PM all the way… excuse me, must dash.” Despite claiming more votes, they’ve seen the way opinion is swinging, and they know that given another week they would have been gone.
As I said, 2015 saw internecine fighting among the progressive parties, yet this time there seemed to be a just-too-late realisation that if they had pulled together, they would have this. With the possibility of another election, they seem to be almost gleeful about the idea that a Lib Dem vote here and a Labour vote there could totally overturn the Tories’ plans. They will leave this morning bloodied but unbowed.
All of this is but a microcosm of national opinion. Local candidates talked about the groundswell of public opinion which has carried Corbyn forward, but at the same time what the local parties are feeling on cooperation will surely feed up into the higher echelons of Labour, Lib Dems, Green and SNP alike – or if it doesn’t then they truly are stupider than we give them credit for.
Across the country seats were lost by tiny margins (Richmond Park) or held by just as small a gap (Hastings and Rye). The grassroots are realising they have less separating them than what unites them against austerity and inequality.
This may have been a narrow Tory win, but only the most partisan will see it as anything than a defeat in terms of power and image. There is no mandate, their leader is on the rocks, and they have lost their majority. Imagine what could have happened if the opposition had time to fully prepare.
I was told today by a Liberal Democrat candidate that he was overjoyed the young had turned out, but “gutted they hadn’t voted for us.”
Last night and this morning Jeremy Corbyn offered a new optimism, an actual alternative, in politics. Young people cottoned onto that and they voted. The Tories have no riposte to that, and they know it.
I felt tearful this morning leaving that counting station, because for once the bad thing did not happen. The momentum has shifted, the progressives, Corbyn in the lead, are on the front foot, while the Tories are retreating. So many so-closes, so many campaigns that just needed one last week.
Last night was a massive non-victory for the Tories. Let’s just hope the progressive parties can finally agree their whole is better than the sum of their parts. And quickly.
Will a Tory DUP government happen? Will Theresa May even last a month? Will there be defections, stalemate, a new Tory leader looking for legitimacy (or realising there is still no Brexit mandate)? Who knows, but I know I won’t be booking holiday this September or October.
And I’m off to shave my austerity beard.
Brief addendum: One local Tory winner was so pissy – he hates our paper anyway but still – he gave three terse sentences to my questions following his victory. The Lib Dem candidate who was mere hundreds behind him gave two pages. He’s had two years to learn that no comment doesn’t earn you coverage. I doubt he’ll get two more. Oh well.