Shortly before 2.30am, Jeremy Corbyn arrived, smiling and waving to his supporters, at his Islington count. No one appeared to have told him that Labour was suffering its worst result at a general election since 1935 and was predicted to win fewer than 200 seats.
An hour later, once the declaration had been made, the severity of the defeat still hadn’t sunk in as the Labour leader began his acceptance speech. It was a disappointing night, he said. A setback, nothing more. If his manifesto had had a flaw, it was that it had been too good for the country. It had been the country’s fault that Labour had not won the election. The people had allowed themselves to be manipulated by the mainstream media into being distracted by Brexit.
However, even though he took no responsibility for Labour’s defeat, Corbyn did concede that he wouldn’t lead the party into another glorious general election. He would stand down, but in his own time. Only after he had been able to engineer a suitable replacement who would build on his magnificent legacy and lead Labour to an even more crushing humiliation. The few Labour party supporters around the country who weren’t already paralytically drunk, each downed an entire bottle of scotch.
Just minutes later, Boris Johnson gave his own acceptance speech, trying and failing not to smirk too obviously. This was his birthright. The man who didn’t give a fuck about anything was free to do whatever the fuck he wanted. Astonishingly, even though Boris kept his speech down to just a few minutes, he still managed to squeeze a few lies into it. Just imagine. Your first act on being re-elected prime minister is to lie to the entire country. Start as you mean to go on. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Once the exit poll had landed there was a moment of gobsmacked silence in the ITV studios. This was way beyond anyone’s expectations. The biggest Tory victory since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. First to fill the dead air was George Osborne, suddenly morphing into Johnson’s No 1 fanboy. He’d always loved Boris. Boris could now do whatever he wanted. And he sincerely hoped that Boris might look favourably on him. “I’m George. Fly me.” No one can say that Osborne hasn’t built a lucrative career out of blatant insincerity. The reality is that he loathes Boris.
Other talking heads came and went. Michael Gove briefly appeared to declare that he wanted the Tory party to heal divisions in society. This from a man whose specialist subject is slashing at open wounds. A fool of finite jest. He even talked about the left behind northern towns as if he had any intention of doing anything but leave them even further behind.
As the first results came in, it had quickly become clear that the exit polls were more or less accurate. With Labour in meltdown over Brexit, the chatter turned to the renaissance of the SNP, the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum and the demise of Jo Swinson who had triggered the election in the first place. All that was missing was a spokesperson from the People’s Vote campaign saying that now was not the right time for a second referendum. Maybe 2030 then.
The shark has well and truly been jumped and the truth has become a foreign country. And it’s the Tories who have been the worst offenders, adopting every trick out of the Steve Bannon/Donald Trump playbook. Why tell a small lie when you’re so much better off going big? And if you are caught out lying, never apologise. Just double down on it. Tell a lie often enough, then some people will believe it. And a substantial number had been dumb enough to fall for “Get Brexit done”. The most egregious lie of all.
This had been less of an election and more of an unpopularity contest. Boris and Corbyn were widely disliked and mistrusted throughout the country. All that had been at stake was which leader was hated the least. A race which Boris had won at a canter. No one expected him to deliver on the promises he had made, but they were less worried about that than the promises on which Labour might deliver.
So we were heading for a Tory government and a Brexit that would continue to divide the country. Hell, it was odds on that not even a majority of leavers would like the Brexit deal Boris ended up with. Not that Boris gave a toss. He was the World King. Entitlement rules OK. And in the meantime, Corbyn would soon be eased out. Written out of Labour’s history. A bad four-year dream that had cost the party and the country dear. Only a few faint echoes of his most loyal supporters could be heard. Sooner or later it would dawn on them that they had been pissing in the wind.
John Crace’s new book, Decline and Fail: Read in Case of Political Apocalypse, is published by Guardian Faber. To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
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