Whatever one feels about Boris Johnson (and almost any one who's had any truck with the man has, if he's honest, highly mixed views) today's election is a spectacular triumph for him. On the day Andrew Scheer, the Canadian Tory leader, announced he would be stepping down, the UK Tory leader led his party to their biggest share of the vote in half-a-century and swiped seats held by Labour since 1935 - from Blythe Valley to Bishop Auckland. Both Scheer and Johnson are unprincipled opportunists, but the latter is a fighter who knows how to return the ball and swat it down the opposition's gullet.
He was fortunate, of course, in finding himself up against Jeremy Corbyn rather than Justin Trudeau. Whether this was a referendum on Corbynism or on Brexit I leave for the exit pollsters, but either way Labour looks set to be reduced to fewer than 200 seats for the first time in eighty-four years. As I write, there appears to have been, in pure psephological terms, a swing away from Labour of about ten per cent. Six per cent of that went to the Brexit Party, not that it was enough to win them any seats, with the rest being split between Tories and the Liberal Democrats. So, put crudely, historically Labour working-class constituencies in northern England that voted Leave and were then screwed over by the subversives of a Remainer Parliament abandoned century-old tribal loyalties to Labour and shifted to pro-Brexit parties.
On the other hand, in leafier southern territory middle-class Remainers weary of Corbyn's equivocation on the subject shifted in smaller numbers to the LibDems, as the party most upfront about its willingness to subvert the result of the referendum ("Bollocks to Brexit"). As a result, Labour has been reduced to a pantomime horse of urban redoubts - immigrant enclaves in the North and Midlands and upscale champagne-socialist quartiers of London, either indifferent or rather partial to Jeremy Corbyn's particular baggage.
The only bad news for Boris came from Scotland, where the Scottish National Party is on course to win 55 of 59 seats. So that was naturally the straw the otherwise gloomy BBC panjandrums clutched at: The Union is in trouble; also the Irish "Troubles" will be back. Bombs away! The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, lost his seat to Sinn Féin, suggesting Brexit is somewhat straining the loyalties of Ulster Loyalists. In that sense, Brexit is realigning British politics: in Wales and Northern England, working-class constituencies prioritized Leave over Labour, while, in southern England, prosperous suburban voters shrugged off traditional Tory inclinations for their Remainer opponents. And for the SNP the logic of Brexit is that, as Scotland and Northern Ireland were the only two of the "Awesome Foursome" (in Boris' words) to vote to Remain, Scotland should either get the same deal Ulster does or a second crack at an independence referendum.
Whether this is a permanent realignment remains to be seen: It could be that if Boris lives up to his slogan and "gets Brexit done" - however defined, but enough at least that it fades from the headlines - then perhaps normal politics will resume. Or perhaps the peculiar Jeremy Corbyn, IRA-lover and appeaser of Jew-hate, a closet Leaver leading a Remainer party, has mortally wounded Labour. Can you have a United Kingdom whose constituent parts all have their own political parties and only the Tories' seats in eastern Wales make it more than an English organization? Conversely, if you can't, who cares? Many English supporters of the "Conservative and Unionist" party would be happy to cede the latter as the price of Brexit.
But those are questions for the long term. For now, Boris can contemplate half-a-decade at Number Ten, and no rivals on the opposition benches in the Commons: the LibDem leader who was supposed to be a bright young star lost her seat, the DUP leader who broke with Johnson over his Brexit deal is gone, the Labour leader is inclined to linger awhile to further damage his own party, and Tony Blair's constituency went Tory. A triumph for Boris by any measure.
It would be nice to think that the Conservative Party might now think it safe to offer a bit of conservatism. But that would be too much to hope for...
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