If I were a betting man, I would be putting money on a Conservative majority of seventy seats
Now that the least enjoyable election campaign in living memory is drawing to a close, what can we expect next, after the votes are counted and the results are announced? Here are my predictions.
Mrs May will win, and win comfortably. She will claim that the margin of her win completely justifies her decision to go to the country. If the Conservative majority is a comfortable one, this argument will sound convincing; if less than comfortable, not so much.
Mr Corbyn will lose, but he will claim a moral victory. If Labour wins over 200 seats, we have already been told that that will be a good result. If Labour takes a bigger percentage of the vote than it did two years ago under Ed Miliband, then we will be told that this is a triumph.
However, while both party leaders claim victory simultaneously, both will be under significant threat in the months and years ahead. The election campaign has revealed significant weaknesses in Theresa May. She is now a very dented iron lady. She has shown herself not to be a team player, failing to consult colleagues on the content of her manifesto, a consultation that might have saved her from the disastrous U-turn on the dementia tax. Moreover, those colleagues have been largely invisible during the campaign. Making the election all about Mrs May seemed like a good idea seven weeks ago, but has turned out to be disastrous.
Once the vote is over, Conservatives are going to be looking around for their next leader rather sooner than they ever expected to do so. Given that few of the invisible and ignored Cabinet now look up to the job, they will be glancing at people beyond that inner circle, perhaps at people currently not at Westminster. Over the next few years, the man to watch, in my opinion, is Andy Street, the newly elected Mayor in the West Midlands.
As Corbyn claims a huge victory for socialism, the questions about his leadership will be quietened, but they certainly will not go away. The less than stellar performances by his closest collaborators will not be forgotten. As with the Conservatives, this will benefit players away from the Westminster stage. The future, from a Labour perspective, must surely belong to someone like Andy Burnham or Sadiq Kahn, who in a few years, after successful mayoral careers, will be well placed to come back to Westminster and pick up the pieces.
On Friday morning we are going to be facing a unique situation: a wounded Prime Minister, and a not as weak as he was but still weak, leader of the Opposition, neither of whom has, though for different reasons, a convincing team around them. Those waiting in the wings may well be content to wait, given that Theresa May has to take up the surely poisoned chalice of Brexit, and Corbyn has the no less difficult task of holding her to account as she does so.
What about the other parties? UKIP will get no seats at all, I predict, and will see its popular vote wither into insignificance. It was never a party, always a pressure group. Given that the battle for Brexit has been won, its reason to exist is over. It will from now on no longer be a significant player. As for the Liberal Democrats, any significant revival seems unlikely. They may perhaps pick up a few seats, and may rise to the heights they enjoyed back in the first election of 1974 when they held 14. But the two party system seems back with a vengeance, despite the fact that in theory the centre party should be doing well, given that we have a very leftwing Labour leadership which should drive many progressives to take refuge in the centre ground. Their decision to refight the lost Brexit campaign was not a good one. Lost causes are just that, lost.
The Lib Dems may regain a few of the seats in Scotland that they lost 2 years ago. The Conservatives may well make gains in Scotland too. If they don’t, that will be seriously bad news for Theresa May, for the Union, and for the party. Given that the result in 2015 saw the Scottish Nationalists take all the seats north of the border bar three, one would think that the only way for the Nationalist vote to go was down. If the Conservatives (not to mention the Lib Dems and Labour) fail to make any inroads against the Nationalist, that will count as a serious failure.
As a person whose favourite spectator sport is a General Election, I will be staying up all night to watch the results come in. Scotland will be one place to watch. Also of interest will be the traditional Labour heartlands in the North and Midlands, where the Conservatives will make considerable gains. It will also be worth keeping an eye on the seats that the Liberal Democrats must surely be hoping to win, such as Sir Vince Cable’s old seat of Twickenham (from the Conservatives) and Sir Ed Davey’s old seat in Kingston and Surbiton (also from the Conservatives). Cambridge, currently held by Labour with a tiny minority, may be beyond them. Labour will hold up well in London, but beyond the M25 we should be seeing big changes.
If I were a betting man, I would be putting money on a Conservative majority of seventy seats. Of course, I may be wrong. If it is Jeremy Corbyn smiling and waving on the steps of Downing Street on Friday morning, then I will eat my clerical collar. It is plastic and will taste foul – so that is not a pledge I take lightly.