The exit poll from the British general election was released this evening, and it showed the Tories winning the most seats (314) but 12 short of an outright majority. Labour is projected to take 266 seats, the SNP is expected to have 34 with 14 for the Liberal Democrats, 3 for Plaid Cymru, and 1 for the Greens. James Forsyth comments:
If this is right, then it is a major humiliation for Theresa May. The election she called to increase the Tory majority and to gain a personal mandate will have resulted in neither.
A hung parliament would weaken May’s position ahead of the Brexit talks and would be seen in EU capitals as a sign of her domestic weakness. It will make them even more inclined to concede little in the negotiations.
Tory MPs regarded a majority of 80 as par for Theresa May in this campaign. They never really contemplated the party losing its majority. If she has done so, then the Tory party will be apoplectic with rage and little can be ruled out.
If the exit poll is right, it will be very much in line with YouGov’s election model. Their polls were the ones that consistently showed a closer, more competitive election than most other firms, and it seems they were capturing something about the electorate that others were missing. From the start I thought May’s decision to call an early election was risky, and there were many signs that things were going badly for the Tories over the last few weeks, but I honestly didn’t believe that they could screw things up quite this badly. It appears they have, and now Britain will be dealing with even more political upheaval. An election that was supposed to consolidate May’s position and provide “strong and stable” government appears to have produced exactly the opposite. As I said almost two months ago, “voters have an odd habit of not cooperating with a politician’s plans.”
May overestimated the strength of her position, she evidently overrated the importance of “Brexit” to most voters, and she clearly didn’t take her opposition as seriously as she should have. Granted, almost everyone thought that Labour was too hapless and unelectable to pose a real threat, and perhaps that overconfident assumption was the beginning of May’s undoing. Believing that she couldn’t possibly lose, May didn’t campaign as a leader seeking to earn support, but as one who believed she already deserved it. Despite being at the head of a party that had been in government for the last seven years, May also wouldn’t accept responsibility for the failures of her party’s policies. Instead of defending her record, she dodged as many interviews and debates as she could, and that can’t have helped her standing with voters. The terrorist attacks in Manchester and London didn’t boost the ruling party as conventional wisdom expected, and instead they may have reminded the public that the Tories were the ones in charge of all the relevant foreign policy and security decisions during that time in power.
I’ll conclude by quoting from my first post on the election from April:
Even so, we shouldn’t forget the extent of popular hostility to the political class that last year’s referendum showed, and if that mood still prevails it could be bad news for the ruling party.
The Spectator live blog can be followed here.