Around Thursday lunchtime, I took a break from my chilly polling-station vigil in West Auckland and nipped for a sandwich in the nearby Eden Arms.
Waiting for it to arrive, I opened Twitter and began to acquaint myself with Jeremy Corbyn’s triumphant march on Downing Street.
London’s polling stations were grinding to a halt in the face of a ‘youthquake’. Iain Duncan Smith was being routed in Chingford.
This is Boris’s victory, and his moment. When I left Westminster on the final day before Parliament rose, I couldn’t find a single Minister or MP who could identify a credible path to a Tory majority. Boris – guided by his mercurial adviser Dominic Cummings – found one
Dominic Raab’s leafy citadel of Esher was set to fall. Labour activists were being ordered to Uxbridge, where they would deliver the coup de grace to the reviled Boris Johnson.
But then I started to catch snippets of a conversation taking place at the bar. People were talking across each other, and Spanish football highlights were playing on TV. But the gist of it went like this. ‘Yeah I voted… you too… Conservative… of course… Corbyn… he supports the IRA… despise him.’
If you believe – as many do – that Brexit is the biggest challenge facing the nation since the war. And if you believe – as many clearly did on Thursday – that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party represented the biggest peacetime threat to the stability and security of that nation, then we have just lived through the most seismic domestic political event of our lifetime.
In County Durham, everywhere I went on Election day I was met by the same staccato drumbeat. West Auckland Memorial Hall. ‘Brexit… Corbyn… IRA.’ Jubilee Fields Community Centre. ‘Corbyn… IRA… Brexit.’ Shildon Civic Hall. ‘IRA… Corbyn… Brexit.’
The man who loved to paint the Conservatives as the party of avarice and self-interest never attempted to address his toxic associations, but simply relied on stuffing the voters’ mouths with gold
At 9.30pm, I drove over to Trimdon in Tony Blair’s old Sedgefield constituency to watch the exit poll. The Royal pub is about three minutes’ walk from Myrobella, the double- fronted cottage where Blair once played host to George W. Bush.
When I arrived, I got chatting to Robert Martin, a carer who had just returned from his mother’s funeral. I explained I’d been visiting Bishop Auckland, which was vulnerable to the Conservatives, but said I thought this seat was probably safe. ‘Here? It’ll go Tory,’ he told me.
As Big Ben struck ten, and the exit poll flashed on the screen, I asked security guard Philip Solomons what he thought.
‘Unbelievable,’ he said. Unbelievably good or bad? ‘Oh, good.’
Pharmacy manager Andrea Hughes seemed less sure. I presumed she’d voted for sitting Labour MP Phil Wilson. She shook her head. ‘I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve always voted Labour. But I just couldn’t this time. I voted Green.’
In last week’s Mail on Sunday, after a month and a half travelling from Bolsover to Canterbury, St Ives to Chingford, Wrexham to County Durham, I predicted that Labour’s vaunted Red Wall was on the brink of collapse. I was wrong.
It didn’t collapse. It was smashed into a billion pieces. Atomised by the arrogance, ideological blindness, self-righteousness and viciousness of Jeremy Corbyn and his cultish followers.
As Election day approached there was fevered speculation that traditional Labour voters would hold their noses and return to the party of their parents and grandparents. They didn’t
When first elected in 2015, they inherited a battered but proud and functioning party. By the time The Absolute Boy made his graceless resignation speech in the early hours of Friday morning, all that was left was the political equivalent of the Manson clan.
I’ve often been critical of Boris Johnson. And part of me still finds something distasteful about the way Theresa May – a woman who dedicated herself with flawed but unflinching purpose to the service of her country – was hounded from office, leaving Britain’s Greatest Showman to sweep in and reap the plaudits and rewards.
But neither life nor politics are fair. This is Boris’s victory, and his moment. When I left Westminster on the final day before Parliament rose, I couldn’t find a single Minister or MP who could identify a credible path to a Tory majority. Boris – guided by his mercurial adviser Dominic Cummings – found one. The scale of their triumph is dwarfed only by the scale of Corbyn’s defeat.
This morning there is an understandable sense of relief – even jubilation. The Corbynite danger has passed. The Brexit log-jam is about to be broken. The post-referendum political turmoil has been ended, at least for the next four or five years.
But we need a serious national inquest now. Into how we got here. How we came so close to disaster. And how the British people were again required to save our entitled political class from itself.
The first thing everyone needs to grasp is that while Thursday was a Conservative victory, it was not a victory for backwards-looking conservatism. There is a settled narrative, shared across the political spectrum, that the working men and women of Britain are terrified of change.
This argument says that traditional communities, still reeling from the loss of inter-generational industries, are rebelling against the transformation they see all around them. Immigration. The break-up of the extended family. The insidious, all-intrusive penetration of social media.
For the past three years, politicians have been lecturing the voters about how they got it wrong. That they didn’t really understand Brexit. Or didn’t want a particular form of Brexit. Or didn’t want Brexit at all. People are pictured celebrating after Sunderland voted Leave in 2016
But the constituencies I visited were not packed with 21st Century luddites, longing for a return to a sepia-tinted 1950s Britain. No one in Bolsover wanted the pits reopened.
Few people I spoke to in St Ives expressed a longing for their children to earn a living from the sea. Their anger wasn’t generated by the fact the world was changing too fast.
It was that it wasn’t changing fast enough. And the change that did occur was being imposed, rather than reflecting individual or community will.
For Labour there was also a very specific lesson. The clue to obtaining the trust of the British working class lies in the name. They are the working class, not the freebie class.
Everything they own they have worked for. They harbour an innate suspicion of anything gifted, not earned. And an even greater suspicion of the person hawking it.
Jeremy Corbyn never understood that. But then there’s no reason why he should. He has spent his political career focusing on the hard-pressed communities of Gaza and the Chagos Islands. Wrexham or Chingford are like another country to him. Former Labour MPs like Phil Wilson do understand.
Speaking before a single vote had been counted, he told me why he’d lost Sedgefield.
‘People here are genuinely patriotic. Lots of them in this part of the world have links to the military. And when they see what Jeremy Corbyn says about the IRA or national security, they resent it.’
I’ve often been critical of Boris Johnson. And part of me still finds something distasteful about the way Theresa May – a woman who dedicated herself with flawed but unflinching purpose to the service of her country – was hounded from office, leaving Britain’s Greatest Showman to sweep in and reap the plaudits and rewards
Ironically, to Labour’s leader, this concept of a deeper collective consciousness is anathema. The man who loved to paint the Conservatives as the party of avarice and self-interest never attempted to address his toxic associations, but simply relied on stuffing the voters’ mouths with gold.
Fifty billion for WASPI women here. Twenty billion for free broadband there. What was a little historic fraternisation with the gunmen of the IRA and Hamas, when one trillion pounds of public spending could buy him the keys to Downing Street?
And to be fair, why would such moral – not to mention fiscal – turpitude seem out of place when you look at the rest of his party? A party that stood back and allowed its Jewish Members of Parliament to be driven from its ranks.
That cowered and vacillated as Momentum’s boot-boys issued de-selection punishment beatings to anyone who crossed them. And responded with nothing more than craven appeasement and the plaintive cry: ‘What can we do? We have to stop Brexit.’
But it’s not just Labour that has lessons to learn. All of the parties now have to take a crash course in what happened on Thursday. Because this is their last chance. And it is the country’s last chance.
British democracy is on its final warning. Never, ever again can our parliamentarians set themselves with such blind disregard against the expressed wishes of the people.
For the past three years, politicians have been lecturing the voters about how they got it wrong. That they didn’t really understand Brexit. Or didn’t want a particular form of Brexit. Or didn’t want Brexit at all.
But they did understand. In Bolsover and Canterbury and Wrexham and Bishop Auckland and St Ives and Chingford and Sedgefield. They understood all too well.
That Jeremy Corbyn literally had no position at all on the biggest issue facing the country for a generation. That Jo Swinson’s policy of unilateral revocation was an affront to basic fairness, let alone democratic principle.
And that Boris, for all his clumsy prorogations and broken deadlines, was sincere in his pledge to get Brexit done.
But there is a further lesson that will need to be learnt from Thursday’s demolition of the Red Wall. And it is that the era of missionary politics has finally ended.
The British working class are no longer going to be instructed by munificent benefactors how best to improve their lives. Brexit has given them agency, and they will not be revoking it.
As Election day approached there was fevered speculation that traditional Labour voters would hold their noses and return to the party of their parents and grandparents. They didn’t. They were intent on making a statement. And that statement was ‘No one takes us for grated any more’.
Boris certainly can’t afford to. The Northern Blue Wall is wide but fragile. A phrase I heard echoed by more than one successful Conservative candidate was: ‘I’ve been told these votes are on loan.’
This morning there is an understandable sense of relief – even jubilation. The Corbynite danger has passed. The Brexit log-jam is about to be broken. The post-referendum political turmoil has been ended, at least for the next four or five years
Yes, fledgling Tory MPs such as Mark Fletcher, Sarah Atherton and Dehenna Davison will be granted a bit of time. But no Prime Ministerial badinage about the virtues of a US trade deal will save them if Wrexham High Street remains a nocturnal desert, or the promised Bolsover police station sits unmanned, or A&E isn’t brought back to Bishop Auckland.
But if the Tories now need to secure the trust of working Britain, at least they don’t have to do so from the position of having betrayed it. Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, and his acolytes. Labour’s vanquished leader has promised a period of ‘reflection’. But after a month and a half out on the hustings, I can save him the time and trouble.
The Corbynites lost because for all their liberal pretensions, they hate working Britain. And working Britain reciprocates. A sense of patriotism. A strong work ethic. A pride in community and of place.
To the ideological fanatics of the New-Left these are heresies. They believe the scrapping of Trident, a four-day week and freedom of movement are what the working men and women of Britain crave. And if they don’t, they’ll just have to be forced to accept them anyway.
For four long years, Jeremy Corbyn and his minions have not spoken to or for Britain’s working communities, but at them.
And their message to the people of Bolsover and Wrexham and Bishop Auckland and Sedgefield has been the same.
‘If you’re not one of us, then you can bugger off and join the Tories.’ So on Thursday, they did.