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Where are we now? After the election, writers reflect on what happens next

From Armando Iannucci and Rowan Williams to Germaine Greer and Melvyn Bragg.

Armando Iannucci

It begins with a titanic “if”. If leaders were to put country before party, they would be reaching out for some consensus. The country is split but not antagonistically. There is huge appetite for the banging of many heads together: Corbyn reaching out to the Hilary Benns and Yvette Coopers, May reaching out beyond the DUP.

If everyone had truly listened to what the electorate yelled at them last week, they’d be searching now for a more consensual approach to Brexit. Theresa May asked for a mandate for “hard Brexit” without any defence or explanation of what she meant. Much of the country thought that was crazy and coldly rejected her strategy.

We’re now devastatingly confused and divided on this issue, so I’d suggest a suspension of hostilities and the handing over of Brexit to a small, cross-party team. To keep everyone focused, maybe also agree that we only have an election in two years’ time, after a deal is done.

If all parties understood the enormity of what is about to happen to this country if Brexit talks fail, and the damage it will do for generations, they would bury their differences immediately for the common good. My fear is, though, that Corbyn will be tempted to keep away from this and instead watch the Tories/DUP implode over the next six months or so, in the hope he can win the resulting general election.

The basic laws of self-preservation should be telling him to resist this approach. Labour poured its heart and soul into last week’s vote, and still fell short. It’s hard to imagine a Tory campaign worse than the one May ran, and the next is going to be a much tougher fight for Corbyn. No party has won any decent majority for the past three elections now, and our crazy system means Labour would actually have to be about 10 points ahead of the Tories to get anything workable.

With the collapse of Ukip, the right is now united: the progressive left needs to be, too.

That means Labour doing an electoral pact with the Lib Dems and the Greens, and all three parties agreeing not to get in each other’s way next time round.

That would give us a popular and progressive government strong enough to make the big changes needed to make voters feel more connected to power: a reformed electoral system; more power back to local government; the devolving of more power to the regions; a second, reformed chamber with more powers to review and scrutinise faults in legislation.

This would put an end to the current politics that allows a prime minister to act as president, to ignore voices other than those coming from unelected advisers, and to drive through an agenda that nobody asked for. We’ve all seen where that gets us.

It’s a big ask, because it’s a big if.

Armando Iannucci is a screenwriter

David Hare

When needy prime ministers call vanity elections to demand “Do you love me?” they tend to get a dusty answer. In 1974, Edward Heath chose pointlessly to enquire “Who governs Britain?” and was rewarded with a chorus of: “Not you, sailor.” The answer offered to Theresa May 43 years later has been no less startling. It’s as if electorates expect leaders to lead – that’s what they’re there for – and resent being solicited for expensive psychotherapy.

The point about acclaim is that you don’t ask for it. You earn it. May hadn’t. A hung parliament wasn’t simply a verdict on her campaign. It was, more important, a verdict on her government – ten months of achieving nothing.

It’s stupid to describe this election as May’s gamble. Hardly. The word suggests a free spirit and a happy-go-lucky willingness to accept the luck of the draw. For May, this wasn’t a gamble. It was a demand. There was an imperiousness about it that stuck in the electorate’s throat. After the race, there’s an uptight refusal to tear up her ticket and admit she lost.


Jeremy Corbyn

A couple of months ago, the NS asked a gang of us where opposition might come from. I wrote: “When people suffer intolerably, they overturn the cause of their suffering.”

But I added that “they still need representatives who can articulate their needs. Revulsion has to bubble up soon, but so do policies.” I was half right. Jeremy Corbyn has spent his life saying no. But the weird thing about this campaign is that it has highlighted a Corbyn paradox. Although he turns out to be brilliantly able to expound his own ideas, Corbyn remains hopeless at analysing and dismembering the arguments of his opponents. This is a shortcoming in a leader of the opposition.

We are hurtling towards a disastrous Brexit. Something is still wrong in a democracy where a journalist such as Rachel Sylvester, or an academic such as David Runciman, can offer a far more trenchant demolition of a deeply flawed prime minister than anyone on the Labour front bench. Corbyn may feel his strengths lie outside parliament. Yet after a national act of self-harm, the choice of arena is not his.

More than anything, at this moment, the left needs parliamentary forensics. Let’s hope, for the sake of so many in the country, that Labour goes on to add that skill to its set.

David Hare is a playwright

Melvyn Bragg

First, congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn and his troops. I don’t think anyone else in the Labour Party at this time could have brought about such a strong result and herded into the party such a number of young, active people, who promise well for its future. He was vilified and downgraded by a vicious opposition but he rose above it.

I hope to God that internal fractures will be mended. Corbyn deserves all the support the full Labour Party can bring. There are fine people who have stood aside for long enough now. They have their principles and some are opposed to some of the principles of Corbyn, but Labour has always been a broad church. In the end, it’s the congregation that matters, and for that, you have to have some consensus. With that consensus the Labour Party could grow and govern once again. There is no other way.

Jeremy Corbyn is already reaching out to others in the party, to make of his fighting force a huge political movement, which will get power in parliament at the next available time. Equally, those who have spurned him should surely shake hands. The idea of New New Labour is a dead duck.

For Theresa May to lose in such a fashion is characteristic of an arrogance and laziness and contempt for the wider public that has intensified since the days of Cameron. He must surely rank as the worst peacetime prime minister we have ever had.

We are left with poor Mrs May, who substitutes obstinacy for strength, dead clichés for fresh thought. Her time at the Home Office led to a disastrous cut-down on foreign students in an inept attempt to “control immigration”. Students are not immigrants, but visitors. When she went to India to set up trade deals she failed so lamentably because the Indians were understandably furious at Britain’s attitude to their students. Her policy has already eroded a higher education system that was one of the best in the world.

Yet she has still got the most seats and the highest number of votes. Labour has to win another 60-80 seats to get into government with a secure majority. This means reaching out to Basildon Man and Woman. The great hope is that the party will attempt to heal its self-inflicted wounds soon and urge a soft Brexit.

Frankly, I hope it will find a way to boot Brexit into the Channel and watch it sink. If we have to leave at all, let’s end up something like Norway, still in the single market and as close to our European friends as possible. In her panic, May has stepped into the Northern Ireland minefield without realising the danger.

Putting together a strong Labour Party is the only chance this country has of keeping a full-throated democracy, constructing a more equal society and holding on to the most important links to Europe.

Melvyn Bragg is a broadcaster and a Labour peer

Marina Warner

When those exit polls were announced, it was as if I’d been told the X-rays had been mixed up and someone for whom I cared deeply didn’t have a fatal illness.

It so happens that I had considered May’s premiership illegitimate, because she and her policies as Prime Minister hadn’t been discussed or voted for by “the people” she is so keen to invoke; I had wanted her to be tested in the public forum, even though, according to all the soothsayers, she was set for the mandate she craved, and I dreaded that. But I still thought it would be right for the citizens to decide if they really meant they wanted this.

I feared the worst: one expert told me, with an airy wave of the hand two days before the general election, “It will be a landslide. She has a direct phone line to Middle England.” But I still, deep down, had stubborn flickers of hope. I doubted her popularity: I never met anyone, old or young, London or outside, who thought highly of her. As home secretary she was dull and tenacious and liked to talk tough about “creating a really hostile environment” (all features of her character still much in evidence – that borrowing from porn of the term “hard” says it all).

Still, there’s a bit of the Lady Jane Grey about May: first a Thatcher revenant raised for the tabloids, now a survivor on a shipwreck, with the sharks circling. I think she has to take responsibility for what happened, but that we shouldn’t forget that Johnson and Davis and Fox and the rest were arrogant, complacent and cloth-eared, too. The cabinet can’t just dump all the misjudgements on the underlings.

I have always been astonished at how soothsaying still exercises such fascination and commands such assent and after all these convulsions, prediction seems an especially foolish endeavour. Wishing is different; wishing is hoping, and hoping is what Corbyn inspired in the young and the older voters who turned out for him. So here are some of the things I hope for, recklessly, optimistically, wilfully: I am a proud founding member and supporter of the campaign “48 Per Cent and Rising”.

It has always struck me that one of the whopping lies reiterated by the last government was that the will of the people supported Brexit: some, yes, but. What about all the UK citizens in Europe who couldn’t vote? However, the situation remains that amid the euphoria over Labour’s exceptional gains, May and her ministers are holding on, hostages to the Unionists, with all the dire consequences for Ireland, for the border discussions, for the peace process, quite apart from the repercussions for us in the rest of the archipelago.

I would like to demand cross-party representation when the Brexit talks start. I want the Labour Party, Lib Dems, SNP and Greens to work in every way possible on the most effective device to halt this catastrophic process. I wish the Labour opposition had argued against triggering Article 50, on the grounds that the government had no clear plans.

I would like to hear – I suppose this really is a pipe dream – free parliamentary debate on the proposed conditions, each step of the way, and for alliances to be formed regardless of historic party rivalries. It is likely that unless a way is found for preventing the deadline falling, the other countries won’t agree to the arrangements in time, and even if “soft Brexit” were official policy, Britain will be out, in looped and windowed raggedness, alone on the blasted heath.

I hope the students – and their families – who will now have to pay tuition fees, after voting in their hundreds of thousands to pay taxes instead, will be ever more vocal and active and persistent in their refusal to be represented by this government. I hope their teachers, like myself, will intensify their arguments for continued European alliances; that all the social service workers, including museum and other arts staff in the crucial cultural sphere, will keep making the cogent arguments against austerity economics that Corbyn and his team understand.

Corbyn is drawing up an alternative Queen’s Speech. I wish for rebels in the other parties to act on it with their own consciences – perhaps even the Scottish Conservatives, even though Corbyn wouldn’t like to find friends there. But they above all stand to gain from a Labour rethink of Brexit. I’d like Emily Thornberry to become deputy leader and several of the new, younger MPs to be invited into the shadow cabinet.

I am not sure about the Labour Party penitents who did so much to vilify and scorn Corbyn until now: I can’t forget, but he will pick and choose with caution and for the best. I’d like May to quit the scene with dignity – admitting that her promise to help the poor and level inequalities has been exposed for the hollow boast it was at best, for a gross fraud at worst. 

Marina Warner is a writer and lecturer

Germaine Greer

The gruesome twosome, Nick Timothy (aka Rasputin) and Fiona Hill, have quit Theresa May’s cabal. They were probably less to blame for her ignominious defeat than the Lizard of Oz, the Australian in the woodpile, Sir Lynton Crosby AO –knighted, absurdly enough, for “services to politics”. Those services include treating the electorate as a mindless horde, peddling untruths, merchandising candidates for office with meaningless mantras, and set pieces in selected popular media. It was he who decided that the best way to set May’s landslide a-rolling was to foreground her personality, having failed to notice that she hasn’t got such a thing.

What May does have are delusions of glamour. Her wardrobe appears to be vast; her hemlines rise and fall like the tides, letting us see far too much of the May knees, not to mention the tiresome trope of the shoes. Feminists were angry for her when her kitten-heeled fake leopard-skin shoes got more publicity than her actual achievements at the Home Office, but you have to be unimpressed when she persists in wearing the very same shoes for her most important public occasions.

It began to look as if the shoes have more charisma than she does. May’s adviser in such matters was Liz Sanderson, who used to write for the now much-derided Mail on Sunday. Perhaps we have Sanderson to blame for the Prime Minister’s distracting array of bulky neck ornaments known as “statement necklaces”. These seem to have been chosen with rather more thought than her garbled statements of policy.


Germaine Greer

The campaign to flesh out the PM’s personality began with her photo session in £995-worth of leather trousers, which passed off without as many sneers as they deserved. Much was made of May’s being the first British PM to appear on the cover of American Vogue, which would have been even more obviously pointless if there had been an election in the offing, which there wasn’t then.

This may have been no more than tit for tat, considering that in 2014 May had named as her one luxury on her desert island a subscription to Vogue. Anna Wintour, who masterminded the whole exercise, was damed just in time to see her cover girl humbled. The photographer was Annie Leibovitz, who cannot take a dull photo for her $150,000 a pop, unless it is of Theresa May.

If Crosby had been half as clever as his disciples think, he would have seen that the kind of exposure engineered for May was backfiring badly. Her appearance with her husband on The One Show pleased some and made others sick, but more importantly it suggested quite strongly that the more we saw of her, the less there was to see.

As the Corbyn campaign gained momentum, the May campaign should have changed tack but it didn’t – couldn’t, probably. May was finally skewered by a mischievous question from Julie Etchingham, who asked what was the naughtiest thing she had ever done. May fought for time, asking that the question be repeated. Her lip trembled as she struggled for an answer, only to come up with some feeble nonsense about running in wheat fields with her playmates as a little girl.

Much of the electorate finally realised that not only did they not trust her or like her, there was nothing to her.

Crosby has now disappeared. Some blame David Davis for the decision to hold an unnecessary snap election and he, too, has been all but invisible. The best we can hope for is a cross-party commission to run the Brexit negotiations – a committee composed of people who genuinely care for this country and fear for its future.

If the situation we find ourselves in is a national crisis, as seems to be the case, we would be best served by a government of national unity involving all the parties. A “brisk, business-like Brexit” is no more than a fantasy and May was never the person to bring it about. We should be glad that we found that out as soon as we did.

Germaine Greer is an author and critic

Stuart Maconie

As we came down – jittery and elated, post-coital even; sleepless zombies staggering into the giddy light of day – it was crucial to remember one thing: we had lost. But weirdly, to paraphrase the Crystals’ awful 1962 single “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”, they beat us and it felt like a win. How did we get to this (maybe misplaced) euphoria from the dark days of only three weeks earlier? “Events, dear boy, events,” as Macmillan may or may not have said.

Those events, as I saw it, went like this. First, the Labour manifesto. It’s by now a cliché to call it “radical but realistic”. Yet clichés sometimes get to be clichés by being true. Sane, passionate, well-argued and above all well-costed – though JC did flunk the maths test at one point – it made nationalisation of the railways, scrapping tuition fees and raising the minimum wage seem perfectly reasonable suggestions, which, of course, they are. The Tories said that promising freebies to “ver kids” (as Smash Hits used to call them) was a bribe. Well, yes . . . like tax cuts for the rich, I guess. Welcome to politics, Sir Bufton Tufton.

Then there was the Tory campaign, or ritual seppuku by interview and manifesto, as I liked to think of it. This was surely the worst-constructed (attempted) suicide note in history. May’s performance with Andrew Neil was as bad as I have ever seen: terrified and robotic, parroting dead phrases with dead eyes. Even if you think that Alastair Campbell is the Antichrist (I don’t), you would probably grudgingly acknowledge his effectiveness. May’s “team” of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill appeared both loathed within the party and fairly useless – a potent cocktail. Arrogant and mean, their campaign strategy looked decidedly unchilled next to Labour’s upbeat, kindly, relaxed tone.

Which brings us to Jeremy. Some speculated about new advisers and media training – even a beard trim – but I think this is to not give credit where it was due. He got better and better with every day. It was as if, after years preaching to the choir in draughty halls, he found that not only was getting out and about, taking on Tories, meeting the unconvinced and the committed alike, being interviewed by real journalists, something like fun, but he was good at it. The much-vaunted decency and warmth started to emerge to us sceptics, especially when set against the chilly weirdness of the opposition.

For me, the seismic shift – not a volcanic explosion but a deep tectonic rumble that changed the direction of the currents and tides – was the collapse of the right-wing tabloids as a power block, especially Murdoch’s Sun. The paper’s front page on election day, with its tragically unfunny cartoon of JC in a dustbin (Cor-bin, geddit?) looked hopelessly tired, old and bitter. So God knows what it looked like to someone raised on Snapchat and emojis. The more they banged on about the IRA and Trident, the more they sounded like a nasty, boring version of I Love the ’70s.

Where does that leave us? I think that when the true nature of the DUP becomes apparent to the mainstream electorate, a shiver of revulsion will run through the body politic. Such is this dodgy, choleric alliance, coupled with the lack of any charismatic, competent rising star within Toryism – Boris Johnson is a joke that we outside the M25 have never got – and the subsequent rise in Corbyn’s stock (surely now leader for as long as he likes, and justifiably), that another election within a year is a good bet. The Brexit talks show every sign of being a Whitehall, or rather a Brussels, farce, with the rest of Europe chuckling at our “dropped trousers and foot wedged in the bucket” incompetence.

They beat us and it felt like a win. No one in any camp, acolyte or sceptic, left right or centre, expected the events of last week. But we are still 60 seats away from uncorking the champagne. So, rejoice at that good news for sure, but save me a slice of humble pie; I’ll wash it down with the bubbly when we win.

Stuart Maconie is a writer and broadcaster

Deborah Levy

We are walking backwards into the 1950s – with the grim DUP clinging to the fraying rope of heterosexual supremacy and a Conservative Party still snogging Ukip even though it’s dead – while at the same time walking forward into the unknown: which might be progressive, modern, creative and inclusive.

Deborah Levy is a novelist

Timberlake Wertenbaker

My favourite account of old remedies is something called “farts in a jar”. Apparently, people believed that you could protect yourself from the plague by collecting your farts – or other people’s, presumably – in a jar. You opened the jar and breathed the farts in when you felt most threatened.

I think it’s pretty much what the Tories are doing now. And just as this remedy didn’t protect anyone from the plague, it may not help them avoid what to them may feel worse than the plague – the loss of the next election.

On a more elevated note, the word “crisis” originally had a more hopeful meaning than it does now. It comes from the Greek krinein, which means to separate, decide, judge. It’s in times like these that people can and must separate what’s useless and what’s useful, and maybe also separate cant and nonsense from real political discourse.

During the election campaign, Labour kept their slogans to a minimum. On the whole, Jeremy Corbyn answered the questions put to him in complete sentences that had some thought behind them, especially during the Cambridge debate when he showed how he would try to define (discern, judge) what might pose a real threat to our security. This was in stark contrast to May’s Brexit Means Brexit, Enough Is Enough, Trust Me, and so on.

The first recorded use in English of “crisis” was in 1543, when it meant, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, “the point in the progress of a disease when a change takes place, which is decisive of recovery or death”. In the 17th century, it was also used by astrologers to indicate a conjunction of planets, which would determine the course of events.

There’s no question that we’re in crisis now. And that we’re living through a time when we must judge and make decisions, when Britain could recover or die. And the way to recover surely cannot be by smelling or hearing more farts in jars but rather by listening carefully, with discernment, to the language that is being used to talk to us, and – on that basis – selecting, choosing, judging the right people to represent us.

Timberlake Wertenbaker is a playwright and translator

Rowan Williams

One of the many odd things about the election was the gulf between what the electorate wanted to argue about and what large tracts of the political class wanted to argue about. It was supposed to be a campaign about Brexit; in fact, the overwhelming message from the electorate seems to have been that they did not want Brexit to push other issues off the radar – issues about the crisis in social care, health and education, housing and other such prosaic essentials of manageable life together. It was significant, too, that in the wake of the atrocities in Manchester and London, the public discussion rapidly focused on local security, on the grass-roots business of effective community policing.

The Conservative manifesto made some noises of a vaguely “Red Tory” kind (enough to annoy the right of the party), but the ground campaign suggested that questions about fundamental social well-being were just not up for intelligent discussion. That is why the embarrassing reversal on care for the elderly was such a significant moment, when a critical mass of public discontent reminded the party management of what was most on people’s minds.

Part of what caused this and other disastrous episodes was – ironically – some of the same indignation and resentment that fuelled the referendum vote, the same anger about not being listened to. The electorate clearly does not like being taken for granted; and the calling of an election explicitly in order to reinforce a mandate for Brexit sounded uncomfortably like just that.

Worse still if  the campaign does little more than invite the electorate to sign a blank cheque on this issue. Neither of the main parties in fact offered any detail on Brexit – nor could they have. But in that case, it should have been clear that a campaign focusing on the question but without any small print available for scrutiny was going to be vacuous, and was likely to be felt as patronising by a lot of voters, not  least those with an appetite for greater scrutiny.

The resilience of Labour’s performance unquestionably had a great deal to do with their willingness to be honest about the levels of deprivation and anxiety in the United Kingdom. Some commentators have been disparaging about a “youth vote” that supposedly wants endless subsidies for a prolonged adolescence. This is rubbish. The suggestion of a return to public monetary support for higher education was certainly attractive to the under-25s, but it was not the only issue.

As with this generation’s anger about Brexit last year, there was a genuinely broad concern about shrinking horizons, defensive and mean-spirited rhetoric and the blaming of victims. Anecdotally, it seems that the widespread and vocal sympathy of this age group for refugees – an issue with no personal advantage at stake for the average British student – is an index of a deeply felt worry about the kind of society we could and should be. Ignore this – or sneer at it – at your electoral peril: that seems to be one of the messages emerging from last week’s result.

But there is another dimension to this. As close analysis of the figures indicates, we are not talking simply about a “youth vote” in general, but about two factors that sharpen up the challenge. Recent graduates seem to have been a particularly powerful element in this group – those who are painfully aware of the burdens blithely unloaded on them by an older generation, burdens not only of debt, but of a middle distance in which the support of an ageing population will weigh heavily on a cohort that cannot assume anything like a steady accrual of salary and property.


An anti-Conservative protest

Blank cheques again. It is not an appealing proposition to be invited to support an indefinite reduction of public service in a context of insecure employment patterns and limited possibilities of a property ladder. And a second factor emerging from analysis of areas of increasing turnout is that more diverse communities produced a larger voting percentage.

Younger graduates are quite likely to live in such communities; and these communities are also where some of the sharpest issues about care and access will come into focus. It is lazy thinking to imagine young Labour voters as work-shy middle-class brats. They are likely to be struggling with work and housing in a setting where they will daily be aware of wider social challenges: galvanised into action by their neighbours and helping to galvanise them in turn.

There were – quite rightly – tough questions asked about the costing of Labour’s plans, and one good reason for not being triumphalist about the result is that there needs to be continuing hard work on this, and continuing public argument about the ethics and the practicalities of an appropriate tax regime.

The salient point, though, is not that Labour produced an excessively aspirational and inexpertly costed programme, but that the alternative was in effect far worse – a refusal to think through the middle- to long-term implications of a situation where younger people have to contemplate a mixture of debt, housing insecurity and the attrition of public services.

For most of the under-thirties, Brexit is a further complication in this picture; but that most definitely does not mean that concentrating on Brexit in the way encouraged by the Prime Minister is seen as any kind of solution to their more immediate challenges.

Quite a lot of people have found themselves responding to last week’s result with a surprised optimism for the middle term. The electorate has refused to provide a clear mandate for the terms of exit from the EU – mostly because a mandate was being invited simply for whatever the Prime Minister managed to come up with. This refusal to be instrumentalised makes the continuing use of the chilling language about “the will of the people” seem increasingly unreal.

We are none the wiser about what the British electorate wants from Brexit. But we do know that they have refused to be distracted from practical issues of local security and well-being. And, startlingly for many, a programme of reinvesting public resource in social provision – reinvesting in the kind of stability that matters: people’s confidence that they will not be left to suffer or struggle in isolation – has proved appealing to a large sector of the younger public.

Those who lamented Brexit because it threatened to eat up administrative and legislative resources for years on end may well feel vindicated by the implicit and explicit discontent with the Brexit focus of the government’s campaign.

And a new generation of voters, including young professionals and freshly articulate members of under-represented groups, have said firmly that they find a politics of self-interest, suspicion and nervousness incredible. It is not that they relish uncosted aspirations, or that they have any illusions about the benignity of the global situation (remember that it has been the young, even the very young, who have suffered most in recent terrorist attacks); but they dislike far more the assumption that they can be persuaded to sign away their future. And they seem to know that the real blank cheque is one that is blank of any collaborative, supportive vision of society.

Rowan Williams was archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012

Simon Jenkins

For the political agnostic, the 2017 election has been an extraordinary hamper of goodies. It validates the maxim that, in politics, first impressions are usually wrong. Jeremy Corbyn’s success has been a welcome boost to the new authenticity, but enough of a boost and no more. I could not seriously want him as prime minister. He may be the darling of the millennials, but his £50bn tuition-fee relief to higher-earning graduates must have been the biggest election bribe in history, an insult to redistributive taxation. That said, it is hard not to cheer the implosion of Theresa May’s egotistical regime, along with its collateral devastation of slapdash manifestos, polling grandees and Tory newspapers.

Yes, the Tories did just win a third election in a row, and Labour lost a third. But this election above all was about performance against expectation. May has led a disappointing government, and its comeuppance is justified. Elected for five years and crippled after two, it has received not just a kick in the guts but shackles and handcuffs. To those who, with H L Mencken, always want power brought low, this election was good for the soul.

There has been other cleansing of the political stables. Ukip may have been the most successful single-issue party since Parnell’s Irish Nationalists, but its job is done. The voters said thank you and goodbye. Scottish separatism has been returned to the back burner, while political opposition to the smug SNP north of the border has been reinvigorated. The Liberal Democrats have been shown yet again to be a dustbin vote, little more than a cabal of ageing peers. Their sole achievement was to hamstring any coalition of the left.

Most emphatic of all is the much-vaunted “death of hard Brexit”. What this means is moot. The test of hardness starts only when the real intransigence of the EU’s negotiators is revealed, especially on what matters most to them, their budget. “Any deal is better than no deal” calls Britain’s bluff. The only question is whether a Commons coalition of Remainers and soft Brexiteers will have the guts to vote through a Norway-style free market, with humiliating payments to the EU.

At which point the Byzantine nature of the Tory party becomes critical. The party barons must be right to tell May to soldier on through the summer, to get negotiations under way and let party tempers cool. It is one thing to punish May, but quite another to gaze from that frying pan into the fire of Boris Johnson, David Davis or Amber Rudd. It must be in the party’s and the country’s interest for a chastened May to get at least to her autumn conference, when stock can be taken.

A different satisfaction in this election lies in how voters, angry at being asked the same question a second time, contrived so deftly to redefine the political spectrum. They reasserted two-party primacy. They passed clear judgement on the performance of the party leaders. They gave MPs a steer on Brexit, and they put government under close parliamentary scrutiny on pain of instant death. This is serious good news. In other words, the person to take most credit from this farrago is the ordinary voter.

Simon Jenkins is a columnist and a former editor of the Times

Bonnie Greer

Jeremy Corbyn defied all of the pundits, all of the polls, all of the predictions. How? Because he was in the street. With the people.

I spent election night in the green room of a TV studio. Crowded in it were a great many familiar names and faces: the Punditocracy. A “civilian” would be shocked to know that many of these people know one another. They’re even friends. In print, on air, many of them engage in gladiatorial combat. But in real life, many have gone to school together, worked together, been married to each other.

In other words: much of the UK’s so-called comment is actually a copinage – the French word meaning “buddy system”.

Actually, this is what I like about the UK. Backstage, almost everyone likes one another. I have a Ukip friend. She’s high up in the party. I don’t want her or her ideology anywhere near the levers of power, and she feels the same about me. There’s a lot of that in UK punditry. That’s also the problem.

Almost everyone in this television green room on election night was expecting a Tory landslide. Because the pundits (that is to say, they themselves) had said so.

Everybody expected it except the four millennials present – representatives of a generation that the pundits had written off as incapable of doing anything. They were serving the food. I was gloomy. They kept whispering to me: “Wait.”


BBC Broadcasting House flashes up the surprise exit poll

I had been tweeting for weeks, saying that all you had to do was to convince two 18-to-34-year-olds to register to vote and then get them to the polling booth. If that happened, it would completely change the game. I tweeted, “Forget #punditspaperspollspredictions.”

You could feel that something was in the air. If you stepped outside of the bubble. Alas, I, too, kind of listened to the pundits. I got it wrong. I couldn’t see what Jeremy Corbyn had wrought; what he had tapped in to. Because both the pundits and the polls ignored what they couldn’t see or measure. What they don’t or can’t or don’t want to understand.

The Washington Post had an op-ed on the Monday after the election which used the expression “the UK’s flawed punditry”. Why? Because the “talkers” were guilty of herding. Simple.

It’s clear that, in addition to what we have in this regard, we also need new people: younger; more diverse; less London-centric; more women and guys who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge. We need more than journalists shaping our conversation and our thinking. Bring in more bloggers and folks plugged into social media. Because if these new groups had delivered the punditry, we would have seen Corbyn coming. We would have known that something was up. That this was a game-changer.

YouGov and Survation saw it. The polling analyst John Curtice warned Theresa May right after she called the election that she was taking a big risk. He, and those others, were all laughed out of court. By the pundits.

At the media centre, after the exit poll was published at precisely 10pm, there was a deathly silence. The only people yelling were me, a handful of Labour Party folks, and the four millennials. They were dancing with their serving trays.

This was their time and they’d done it. Many older people had done it, too, including those who have openly said that they “lent” their vote to Labour because they were tired of the way society was going.

The Punditocracy missed: the “revenge of the Remainers”; the older generation sick and tired of the Tories; the voters who “came home” to Labour. And all of those who thought that Corbyn was actually OK and not a freak.

It takes guts to do something new. But may I humbly suggest that our broadcasters try out some new people. There are plenty out there. If they do, they might get it right next time.

Bonnie Greer is a playwright and critic

Linda Grant

I live in one of the highest Remain-voting constituencies in the country with an MP who defied the three-line whip to vote against Article 50, and then increased her majority from 11,000 to 30,000.

Since Ed Miliband lost the election two years ago and Leave won the referendum, I have been repeatedly told that I live in a metropolitan elite bubble that has no purchase on the mood of the rest of the country, so I failed to predict the result of the general election, assuming my own experience was completely out of kilter with everyone else’s.

The telling result almost no one has commented on is that Cornwall, one of the poorest regions in the country, which voted Leave, had a Labour surge, and the party is now in second place in most constituencies. It would take a better head than mine to make a pattern out of this. I know nothing.

Linda Grant is a novelist

This article first appeared in the 15 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel

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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear