Generally, I’m going to try to be apolitical in this blog, but obviously a very important election has just happened and there are a few interesting (for me!) points. Hopefully they will be relatively apolitical (on the object level). I’ll also talk about my take on party strategy and future for all sides in a hopefully relatively unbiased way.

Anyhow, what is interesting in my opinion about this election is the following:

1.) The relative lack of party loyalty. What has surprised me the most is the massive Conservative successes in the north/midlands in leave voting constituencies. Of course that was their strategy all along, and it is a huge vindication of that strategy which Dominic Cummings has been planning at least since 2014. This means that voters are actually much more swayable than we generally think. Voters typically aren’t voting out of blind loyalty. A strong campaign on a polarised wedge issue that voters care about can actually shift them to another party, even one that used to be anathema. Neither the home-counties Tory, nor the post-industrial working-class Labour voter are forever bound to their party. Everyone in that sense is persuadable and votes on issues, if the issues are perceived to be important enough. This is actually a really good sign for democracy, in my opinion.

2.) Realignment around urban/rural. This is the second biggest story. Remaining Labour and Lib-Dem seats seem to be primarily urban/student populations and not working class heartlands (by and by large). Effectively labour have lost much of their working class base. To me this implies convergence with, for instance, the Democratic party of the US and a naturually greater focus on social issues as opposed to economic – i.e. the repudiation of economic socialism instead going back to some form of woke-blairism. The Tories in contrast will likely go more populist and economically socialist and take over many of Labour’s old stances. Boris Johnson’s speech today in front of a banner with the “People’s Government” seems emblematic of this.

3.) There is actually a substantial majority in England for socially-conservative, fiscally liberal politics which had, in fact, been untapped for at least a decade. This is something I’ve been thinking about since 2013-2014 when it was obvious then. It is not clear what Labour/Lib-Dems can do to defeat this coalition in the immediate future if the Tories manage to hold it together. I think we are seeing a realignment here which will last for a political “epoch” (probably about 15-25 years). The split has been simmering for a while (at least since early 2010s) and has now become a widely acknowledged reality.

This also means that there isn’t any real sort of efficient market in politics. There are potentially large interest group/vote coalitions that are going untapped, despite what seems to be large incentives for tapping them. That is interesting and it’s worth pondering on why this is. Why is the “vote-market” less efficient than regular markets in this regard?

4.) Huge polarisation between Scotland and England. Independence is more likely if the SNP push for it although Tories are in a good position to say no. To keep the union together fundamentally a conciliatory policy towards understanding Scottish grievances plus a successful Brexit are likely necessary in the hope that the issue would slowly ebb away over time. Delay benefits the Tories here. I predict that if Brexit is not that damaging and no major economic crash then we will see a slow reduction of partisanship and polarisation, and active demands for Scottish independence will ebb.

5.) The importance of vote-splitting. Labour and the Lib-dems got hurt quite a bit by splitting their vote in many constituencies. The Tories vs Brexit Party also got hurt, but I suspect less. The electoral pact between Tories and Brexit Party is likely a significant contributor to their victory in the North and West-Midlands. It was a tactical mistake for Labour and the Lib-Dems not to agree a similar pact, and also for the Tories and Brexit party not to have extended their pact to cover all seats instead of just previously Tory seats.

6.) There is clearly a stable (if slight) majority in England for Brexit. This has not changed since 2016. Despite all the rhetoric before the election about the second referendum and people “realizing their mistake”. This largely does not appear to have happened. This is likely because Brexit is fundamentally a values question and not an economic question. Ultimately it doesn’t matter at all whether the 350m figure is correct or not. It’s symbolic of values. The actual economic numbers are something nobody on either side really cares about.

I think we have seen the now substantial realignment which will last for the next political epoch. In Britain “populism” has effectively won enough to establish itself inside a major party. Now the realignment will occur I expect the current political fervour to start dying down again soon and getting back to normal, even if it’s a very different (and largely unthinkable) from the perspective on 2015.

7.) How fast major political realignments can occur. The past 4 years would have been essentially unimaginable to somebody in the mainstream of 2015. In many ways I was ahead in recognising these trends, but I never thought they would win. The mainstream of 2015 seemed utterly impregnable then. Who knows what will happen in the next 4 years. Personally I think now that the realignment has fundamentally occured and some form of populism has won that things will slowly settle down polictically in the UK, and that politics will be fundamentally much less exciting after Brexit is done for a while. Until the next realignment takes place.

Thoughts on strategies for the major parties going forward:

Labour: Labout have obviously had a grievous defeat, but their problems are actually much less severe than they seem long term. Their key issue is that they have fundamentally lost their previous northern/west midlands working class heartlands as part of the realignment. They now have a fundamental choice which will shape their identity for the next decade or beyond. This choise is:

  • a.) accept the loss of working class heartlands and focus on increasingly core demographics of urban knowledge workers, students, and immigrants.
  • b.) refocus their efforts on winning back the working class heartlands against the now One-Nation Tories. This tension has existed and built in the party all through this decade and now it has come to a head. Advantages with a.)
    • Have a clear message on Brexit, social policies, economic policies etc
    • Ties closely with natural demographics and tendencies of MPs/media etc
    • Not tied to (now-judged-to-be-failed) political program of Corbyn. Disadvantages with a.)
    • Cedes naturally Labour voting groups to Tories
    • Unclear if they have demographics sufficient for majority with their new core.
    • In stringent competition with lib-dems for same demographics.

Especially immediately after the election we can expect vast pressure within Labour to go with a.) and repudiate corbynism and take Labour away from working class roots. In my opinion this is a strategic mistake since it essentially gives the Tories their old heartlands for free (which would otherwise be very difficult for them to consolidate) and also puts them in a tough competition against the Lib-Dems where both are targeting demographics which also aren’t likely to be large enough to give them a majority in the near future. We will also see calls towards “moderation” i.e. Blairism again. This may or may not work. It depends on how well the Tories do of holding their Labour’s old heartlands and how the economy fares over the next 5 years.

If they go after their heartlands with a more pro-brexit message then these are advantages/disadvantages:

  • Advantages:
    • Can potentially win back all losses in 2025 when no major wedge issue like Brexit is likely to be on the table
  • Disadvantages:
    • May alienate urban/student demographics
    • Harder to compete with lib dems here. May undermine this strategy completely. Potential result if they go all-in on this strategy is a coalition government with the lib-dems.

The primary issues for Labour is defining its identity, and dealing with their competition over core demographics with the Lib-Dems. The Lib-Dem challenge may or may not be severe in 2025. This depends largely on the effectiveness of Lib-Dem leadership after this election. Potential pacts/mergers would be of a large benefit to labour to prevent damaging vote-splitting as seen in this election. Ultimately labour must choose what demographics it wants to target. What we have seen in part this election is that “chasing two rabbits” just does not work.

Personally I expect the Tories to do worse and Labour to do significantly better in the next election, if for no other reason than regression to the mean. Tales of Labour’s demise are greatly exaggerated in the heat of the moment.

Tories: Have won a substantial victory but now have to:

  • 1.) actually implement and succeed at Brexit and related promises.
  • 2.) Consolidate their gains against labour in working class northern areas. These are by no means guaranteed in the future, especially if labour make a strong attack on them again and this time without the brexit wedge issue. There is still a substantial danger they will lose their gains come 2025. There are four key threats the tories face:
    • 1.) Failed brexit negotiations. If Brexit fails in that the economy really suffers or negotiations drag on forever then this will put Tories in a tough position and may reverse many of their gains.
    • 2.) Scotland. Dealing with the SNP is going to be a key issue of 2020-2024 period. Key aim is to deny Scotland a second referendum while working to push through Brexit to remove that wedge and make it irrevocable while offering other concessions to calm SNP ardour. Delay must be the watchword with Scotland. Any delay on a second referendum is good (assuming a good Brexit outcome)
    • 3.) Failure to consolidate/keep current coalition together for 2024. The current coalition of “leave voters” is likely unstable without the unifying issue of Brexit. A key post-brexit strategic issue must be finding some common ground emotionally resonant enough to keep this coalition together against Labour attacks.
    • 4.) Major economic crash at an inconvenient time. If there is to be a crash then a crash in the next two years or so, early in their term is best. To ride out the crisis. A crash right at the end near the election would be majorly problematic for them. We are likely overdue some kind of correction (the great recession being now 13 years ago(!)), although it will likely be less severe than that depression. If Brexit brings on a small crash that would actually probably be beneficial as a sort of economic innoculation.

The Tories do have an easier job though. They are victorious but that brings dangers of falling into internal factional fighting, ideas of invincibility and complacency. Having just architected a realignment they are extremely vulnerable to losing it all against in the next election depending on Labour’s actions and campaigns.

Key issues for next few years must not be on electioneering. The best thing they can do is institute sound and effective governance. “Get Brexit Done” successfully, pacify Scotland, work out a winning formula for keeping together their coalition, and improving the state and economy for all. That is what will win them 2024 more than anything else.

Lib dems: Once again they have to consider the future of their party. Their strategy of targeting strong remain demographics worked out well in raw vote numbers but lead to a lot of catastrophic vote splitting and relatively few seats due to FPTP. If Labour also goes after their demographic with a-vengeance we will see strong competition, likely resulting in the oblivion or merger of the lib-dems. If Labour tries to appeal again to their heartlands we will see a resurgence of the Lib-Dems, perhaps to form a minor part in a future Labour-Lib-Dem coalition. If Labour continue on a compromise track, neither will be especially successful but they will keep eking out a minor existence. Lib-Dem success in future depends primarily on the charisma of whoever ends up as the new leader, and their ability to appeal to their core demographics.

Predictions for 2024:

  • Brexit actually occurs: 90%
  • No second scottish referendum before 2024 election: 70%
  • Non-truly-disastrous Brexit: 80%
  • Less fervent election than this time around: 70%
  • Labour focuses strongly on heartlands/momentum takes control: 30%
  • Labour fights on compromised middle position - 60%
  • Labour explicitly/implicitly abandons heartlands to tories 10%
  • Lib-Dems major force in 2025 i.e. > 20 seats: 10%
  • Brexit party/right wing populism >= influential as today: 15%
  • Tory victory in 2025: 55%