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9 June 2017

The result is objectively hilarious – but we should still be angry at the Tories for screwing things up, again

Whatever happened to the national interest?

By Jonn Elledge

I’m not sure, if I’m honest, which was my favourite moment of last night.

The exit poll: that was good, obviously, and a much needed corrective to the trauma of 2015, when at least one member of the NS politics team literally screamed. Last night, by contrast, there was singing*.

Then there was the bit where – just as I’d convinced myself it wasn’t true, that this was one more, sick joke played on the left by the same evil spirits that brought us Farage’s concession on Brexit – just then, rumours starting to come in about all sorts of unlikely Labour gains. Ipswich! Kensington! Canterbury, which has been Tory since 1918! Amber Rudd might have lost Hastings!

Not all of these rumours turned out to be true. Amber Rudd clung on in Hastings, after two recounts and possibly some help from a passing genie. And Philip Davies retained Shipley, which is pretty impressive given his decades-long mission to alienate 52 per cent of the human race, and also his haircut.

Perhaps most annoyingly, the former independent anti-Heathrow MP Zac Goldsmith was re-elected in Richmond Park on a pro-Heathrow Conservative ticket. This is deeply upsetting, not just because he’s a turncoat, a traitor to his party, and the guy who ran a dog-whistle campaign against Sadiq Khan to be mayor of London last year, but because he’ll learn all the wrong lessons from it. As a man blessed with money, height and looks, I really felt that repeated public humiliation would be just the sort of thing that might help Zac develop character.

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Then again, set against all that, there was the moment around 2am where Nigel Farage – like a soldier who’s failed to adjust to life on civvy street, and wishes he could go back to the war – said the magic words, “We may be looking down the barrel of a second referendum.” This was obviously music to my Remainiac ears, but it did rather make him sound like he’s less concerned about delivering Brexit than he is about appearing on TV to talk about it a lot.

And best of all, there’s the fate of Theresa May. Six weeks ago, she was the most popular politician in Britain, on course for the Tories’ biggest majority in 80 years. Now the contempt she gets from the electorate is outranked only by that she’ll receive from the parliamentary Conservative party, and her days are almost certainly numbered. For Tony Blair to trash his reputation like this, it took ten years in power and two wars. Theresa May managed it in six weeks. That’s Conservative efficiency in action for you.

This is brilliant, obviously – there are few things in life more satisfying than watching hubris run smack bang into nemesis. Except, somewhere deep down – buried by the elation and the sleep deprivation and frankly, also, the hangover – I can already feel the first, vague twinges of rage.

Because, yet again, a Tory leader has blown this country up, in an attempt to shore up their position inside the Conservative party.

The party has form on this. David Cameron recently defended his decision to hold last year’s referendum on the grounds that EU membership had been “poisoning British politics for years”. But it hadn’t: polls consistently showed that most people didn’t care. What he actually meant was that it had been poisoning the Conservative Party for years, and sorting that out doesn’t seem to me like a good enough reason to drive the country off the White cliffs of Dover.

Eleven years earlier, to shore up his Eurosceptic credentials during his leadership campaign, Cameron promised to pull the Conservative party out of the EPP, the main centre-right grouping in the European parliament. This was an entirely cosmetic decision, that I’m sure had absolutely no role in the gulf of understanding that’s since grown up between the Tories and, say, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Time after time, to fix their own, narrow partisan problems, the Conservatives have thrown national interest under the bus.

When May called this election, it was not because Britain needed it, but because she thought she saw an opportunity to get herself a whopping great majority. Now Brexit negotiations will be led by a PM who has all the political authority of a slightly damp Compare the Meerkat doll. The clock is ticking – and we will all pay the price.

*It was not good singing.