Weeks after the result, the 2017 general election has left us with many more questions than answers

by Trevor Fisher

As life in the Westminster bubble is now obsessed by the date of the next general election, the last one is slipping away without due care and attention, leaving many more questions than answers.  If the 2017 general election was a horse race, there would have been a steward’s inquiry. The bookies would have demanded to know why the favourite lost – but remained in the winners enclosure – the outsider came up strongly on the rails but still remained several lengths off the winning post, and the winners of 2015 were the losers in 2017 as the SNP fell back in its own hurdle race and UKIP lost most of the 4 million votes it gained in 2015.

The only consistent pattern was poor performance by the Greens and the weakness of the Lib Dems who having been destroyed in 2015 could not convert their opposition to Brexit into votes though 48% of those who voted in the 2016 Referendum voted to Remain. Even the one clear trend that was established on June 8th – the return of 2 party politics as the two main parties hoovered up votes from the small parties,  UKIP mainly going to the Tory Party – is not certain to be a long run trend.

The over-riding problem for analysts of political trends is that we are now in a politics of Surge. It has long been true that opinion polls don’t provide an accurate guide, partly because the old national swings rooted in class politics began to collapse with the rise of fringe parties from the 1960s. But this has come full circle recently with fringe parties rising and falling like a yoyo, while the two main parties rise and fall, with Labour rarely breaking 40% – June 8th was unusual – and the Tories normally ahead.

For example, it was predicted (in the Telegraph) that the Tories were heading for a Landslide, based on marginal seats, which backed up an Independent report by Andrew Grice that the Tories were “heading for a 90 strong majority”.

However the dates on these articles are (for the DT) November 28th 2009 and the Independent 10th November 2009, both 6 months before the election of 2010. The actual election was a hung parliament and as we all know, the Lib Dems went into coalition and were destroyed in the 2015 election, a development which no one saw coming.

Paddy Ashdown said he would eat his hat if the exit polls were correct, and later ate a confectionery hat on TV. In 2015 the SNP wiped out Labour in Scotland and the EU referendum in 2016 took Labour voters in numbers into the UKIP camp, with modest gains from both groups of exiles in 2017. Making the move back to two party politics more effective was the poor performance of  the Lib Dems, as on the one issue they can take a lead on, rejection of Brexit, they managed to fail to take a lead at all. Thus while instability has been a core fact of life for some time, the surges in the election as party performance kicked in were sufficient to mean  the early polling was not worth the paper it is printed on.

The surge which took place largely in late May and largely after the publication of the Labour and Tory manifestos sharpened the thinking of the voters, was clearly down in part to the character of the leaders. No Prime Minister has performed as badly as Theresa May since Douglas Home in 1964, who lasted little more than a year in #10. And no Labour leader since Blair in 1997 has done as well as Corbyn. He restored the open public meeting to prominence presenting an image of openness which made him justifiably attractive to many voters.

But beyond those conclusions analysis stutters. It cannot be assumed that because Labour gained support in the  final stages and their opponents failed dismally, this provides a platform for advance. There is an urgent need over the summer to investigate the election in depth, taking inspiration from the 1983 LCC pamphlet After the Landslide.

The issue which the election was nominally called to put beyond doubt, Brexit, was removed from the election by Corbyn’s decision to accept the referendum result, which also helped sink UKIP. Its bizarre attempt in the Stoke Central by-election in February to claim that Labour was planning to keep the UK in Europe spectacularly missed the boat. Labour had removed Brexit from current politics, though it remains the elephant in the living room. Brexit has largely vanished from both the campaign and analysis since June 8th, which has been dominated by May’s struggle to survive.

But if there is another election this year, the conclusion that can be drawn south of the Scottish border from the data is that youth has replaced class as the major determinant of voting behaviour, and small towns are more conservative than large ones, as in the USA. Beyond that, there are few clear patterns and much to ponder.  There is no easy road to power as some on the Labour Left are suggesting.

At the end of the day, an abysmal Tory leader and a manifesto that promised only Bleak House nevertheless gained the biggest vote. The two major lessons from the 2017 election are that while the Tories struggled to form a majority, Labour despite the Corbyn surge failed to overtake them. A credible explanation of why this is the case has yet to be devised. That task demands to be undertaken.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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10 Responses to “Weeks after the result, the 2017 general election has left us with many more questions than answers”

  1. John PReid says:

    thought The article was going to answer some of those questions

  2. David Walker says:

    Until recently, a lot more people got married, had children and bought a house in their late 20s to early 40s. For many, this would be when they voted Tory for the first time. Many more now reach their mid 40s without having done any of these things and it is a problem for the Conservative Party.

    Labour would secure a landslide win among those who do not own a property, just as the Tories would from those that do. The election result would be just as polarised between those who are not married with children and those that are.

    After the last election though, I think anybody making predictions about how the next one will work out is just guessing really. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up with almost exactly the same result again.

  3. john P Reid says:

    this election is vindication of the 1983 one, but not for the reasons people think, the idea that labours achievement at this election shows that we didn’t lose the 1983 one,as it was too left wing,
    but the Tories standing on the most useless manifesto with the worse camapign and still winning shows that labour with the longest suicde speech in history, could have won that election, if the tories at that time, had been even worse

  4. TNL says:

    I think Labour needs to be very clear on one point – they did not win. They did better than expected and the Tories did worse, but they still lost. May is in No.10, backed by the DUP. Any sort of delusion that Labour won needs to be nipped in the bud if it is to stand any chance of winning next time.

  5. Will says:

    Labour lost the 1983 election because the manifesto commitment to leave the EU pushed a large number of pro Europe Labour to vote for the SDP .
    Let’s hope Corbyn can avoid this mistake !

  6. Anne says:

    I am inclined to agree with David -If an election were called tomorrow I am not sure if the result would be much different, although, at the moment Labour are in front. The Tories are still heading into the nasty party area. Today’s announcement of retaining the 1% cap for public sector workers will be deeply unpopular as well as their deal with the dup – TM seemed to find money for this bribe.
    On the other hand, I am not sure JC can manage to win over those who see themselves in the centre ground.
    In the end, I think it will be the party who can deliver on the on the EU deal as this result has implications for the economy and this, in turn, dictates the amount of money available for services.

  7. Tafia says:

    @Anne – Today’s announcement of retaining the 1% cap for public sector workers will be deeply unpopular as well as their deal with the dup – TM seemed to find money for this bribe.

    Most ordinary people couldn’t give a toss about the 1% public sector cap – the private sector has been much the same for ordinary workers since the crash = and ordinary workers have lost pension rights, had to give up shift allowances etc in order to avoid redundancy etc etc Little bit of maths for you. 43% of the workforce earn less than 18.3k a year. Slightly more than 50% earn less than 20k a year, 65% earn less than the UK average wage. Newly qualified nurses start at over 18k, bottom grade infantry private soldiers are on over 18k, newly qualifiesd police officers, firefighters, teachers etc are in the top 50% pay wise and most of them are in the top 35% very quickly, including nurses. My sister ( an NHS nurse) and my ex-wife (an NHS nurse) are both in the 40% tax band with all the overtime they do. As was shown on LBC the other day, the general public are sympathetic to nurses, firefighters, police etc until they are shown what nurses earn – then their sympathy drops somewhat. And a lot of it is regional variation, where I live a newly qualified nurse earns enough to buy a 3 bedroomed house. So perhaps the time has come for regional pay based on where your residence is.

    I have yet to meet a public sector worker demanding to have the same pay and conditions, retirement age and pension schemes as someone doing a similar job in the private sector.

    As for the DUP, ordinary people really are not arsed. The woman voted against gay marriage and is a bigot – Oh, hang on, that’s Angela Merkel. And nobody’s arsed about her either.

  8. Anne says:

    Beware ‘Tafia’ is a Tory Troll

  9. Tafia says:

    Actually Anne, I’m a member of Plaid Cymru.

    I used to be a member of Labour for over 20 years up until the Iraq war. I’m also one of the original members of the Oldham Anti Nazi League when the BNP rose to prominence there, a work place union rep,

    Whereas you are despised by the majority of the Labour party membership who now regard anyone who is a member but not pro-Corbyn as the enemy.

  10. Tafia says:

    Oh, and Anne, learn what a ‘troll’ is and stop making a fool of yourself.

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