It was an unnecessary election, called by a brittle authoritarian Prime Minister, hoping to take advantage of an unpopular and discombobulated opposition to get a sweeping mandate to remake the country. Aware of the near certainty of victory, they packed their manifesto with far-reaching ambit claims: force the NHS to sell off its land; replace Britain's segment of the internet with an Iranian-style censored, filtered national intranet and ban strong encryption; replace local election voting systems with first-past-the-post, killing off minor parties, abolish the Serious Fraud Office (which had an unfortunate habit of picking on Tory MPs); they even included ending a ban on the ivory trade, because, why not. And it looked like it would win; all the polls showed commanding leads. Britain would vote Conservative, because it believed it deserved to be punished. Or perhaps, however unpalatable the Tories' programme was, the alternative was unthinkable, so bitter medicine it would have to be.
Things tightened during the election. (It didn't help that Theresa May didn't cope all that well when things weren't under her control, and tended to freeze up like a broken Dalek when confronted with questions from members of the public; empty warehouses and squads of pre-vetted party volunteers were soon found to mitigate this.) Things, however, could be expected to tighten. It's all part of the pantomime of the great carnival that is a general election: the old order is temporarily inverted and those who govern are briefly at the mercy of their subjects. Still, the vast majority of polls pointed to an increased Tory majority, if not quite the epic landslide promised, but still a healthy mandate.
It didn't work out that way. As soon as the polls closed, the exit poll (which has a much higher sample size and resolution) indicated a hung parliament. As the night went on, this bore out in results: Tory seats falling to a Labour party buoyed by an unusually high turnout, especially of young people traditionally written off as apathetic. (Somehow enough millennials took a break from Snapchatting selfies or eating avocado toast in pastel-coloured onesies or whatever it is the snake people reportedly spend all their time doing and got out to vote, swinging entire seats. One can probably add neoliberalism to the list of things millennials are ruining.) By the morning, a hung parliament was confirmed.
May didn't waste any time, and secured a minority-government deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, a far-right religious-fundamentalist party from Northern Ireland with shadowy links to Protestant paramilitary groups; together, they have a working majority of one or two seats. Things get interesting when one considers that the DUP are opposed to the restoration of a hard border in Ireland (making leaving the customs union much more complicated), but also opposed to Northern Ireland having any special status within the EU (as that'd be caving in to the papists south of the border). They get even more interesting factoring in the fact that a significant number of the Tories' MPs are in Scotland (where the SNP had a very bad night), and thus prohibited by the English Votes for English Laws convention from voting on purely England-and-Wales matters (such as anything to do with the NHS or education). If this holds (and, in the ad hoc world of Westminster, especially under the reality distortion field of a right-wing press, nothing is certain), it means that the government will not have a majority to pass much of its programme; and even that which isn't covered could fall prey to dissent within the party. A further question is that of Theresa May's career. She may have reasserted her authority over her party for the time being, but she did gamble on an unnecessary election, and the Conservatives' losses are at least partly due to her performance. History's judgment of May will not be favourable; as Charlie Brooker put it, “the history books will say Theresa May poured her legacy into an upturned crash helmet and shat in it.”) Meanwhile, Boris Johnson (the classically eloquent yet buffoonish Bullingdonian partly responsible for the whole Brexit omnishambles thast led us here) is said to be preparing for a challenge. Which could mean that, soon, both sides of the pond will be ruled by the hosts of a species of hirsute parasitic brain slug.
If there is a winner of the night, it is the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Previously written off as unelectable, Corbyn has galvanised the party base and the voting public, and achieved the highest vote count for Labour since Tony Blair swept to power 20 years ago. And it's Blair's legacy—a focus-grouped managerialism, bedded on the certainty of Margaret Thatcher's neoliberal axiom, “there is no alternative”—that Corbyn has put to rest. It will be a long time until we see a bland, well-scrubbed Labour politician announcing that the party has the value of “having strong values” or some similarly content-free pabulum. And given the Tory minority government's tiny working minority, and the certainty of byelections, Corbyn may yet be Prime Minister sooner rather than later.
In summary: strap in. This ride's just beginning.
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