Johnson Secures Britain's Iron Throne

December 13, 2019 | by Field Team

The Conservatives storm home, leaving Labour to pick up the pieces.

The campaigning is over, the dust has settled, and now we can survey a fundamentally reshaped British political landscape. With Conservatives now representing places like Bassetlaw, Bolsover and Bishop Auckland, the days when the Tories could be accused of being a southern party of rural England are over. Nor can the Tories be accused of being only a party of the wealthy any more, with huge rises in their support from working class and lower middle class communities. Some elections shift the dial whilst others transform the landscape. This one is the latter, and Boris Johnson is the undisputedly the new master sat on Britain’s iron throne.

With just one seat left to call, the numbers now show the Conservatives winning 364 seats, a majority of 78 – which will likely increase to 80 once St Ives is called later today – from a vote share of 43%, their best result since 1987. Labour, on the other hand, slumped to just 203 seats, their worst result since 1935, a loss of 59 seats even against the defeat of 2017. It was also a disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats who – despite a 4% rise in vote share – actually won one seat less than two years ago, including the loss of their leader Jo Swinson. Alongside the Tories, the other winner of the night was the SNP, winning 48 of the 59 seats north of the border.

More than anything else, the result is a huge vindication of the political strategy pursued by Boris Johnson since entering Downing Street in July. He decided early that the key priority was to unite the right, and to leave no political space for the Brexit Party or UKIP outside him. Having squeezed them with his tough line on Brexit, he then ruthlessly targeted Leave-voting Labour seats, not just with a Brexit message, but with policies on the NHS and law and order that appealed to a working class base that felt left behind by an increasingly liberal, metropolitan Labour Party. At the time, he was accused of pursuing a narrow and divisive agenda. But that was a London perspective – out there in Burnley, Bolton and Blyth it clearly felt very different.

How this new electoral coalition influences the future direction of the Conservative Party is one of the many interesting questions for the new Parliament. On issues like welfare, housing, NHS investment and even tax cuts, there are now dozens of northern Tory MPs in working class seats with a very different voter base to those in established Conservative areas. Their voters depend on public services, and those MPs will add significant pressure on the government to fulfil their promises to increase funding for schools, hospitals and the police. And for those interested in infrastructure, the big northern investment projects like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail have much stronger prospects today than they did yesterday.

But all of this will have to wait. As Boris Johnson said time and time again, his priority is to get Brexit done. And in the next six weeks, get it done he will. Britain will leave the EU on 31 January and the negotiations on a new trade deal will begin. Whilst today is a glad and confident morning for the Conservatives, it is not hard to see the big cloud on the horizon of getting that trade deal done before the end of 2020, as he promised. But with such a substantial majority in the House it is equally not hard to see how Boris Johnson might wriggle out of that promise, just as he did his previous Halloween Brexit pledge.

So hard yards lie ahead, as they do for every Prime Minister. But unlike everyone else since Tony Blair, today Boris Johnson can look ahead to a full five year Parliament with a sizeable one-party majority in Parliament. He’s created this new landscape, and now he masters it.

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