The share of the vote for the Labour Party went up by 1.5%. Yes that's right it went up not down. Their reward was to lose 26 seats, mainly in Scotland. The Conservatives also increased their share of the vote. But by only 0.6%. Their reward was to gain 24 seats. What handed them victory was one very simple thing. The Liberal Democrats collapsed and lost 15.2% of the share of the vote and as a result they lost 49 seats and ended up with only 8.
It is important to keep remembering these simple facts because they have been distorted every day since the election. The coverage in the press and the radio continues to put forward the view that the Conservative Party received a huge endorsement in the election. In fact they scraped home because their Lib Dem allies were wiped out. Meanwhile 4 million UKIP voters and 1 million Green voters got only one seat each despite both going up strongly in their numbers of votes.
This matters when it comes to calculating what will happen if there is another General Election. The voters across the country are not all of one mind and there is a great deal of variation seat by seat. Any early election will be decided by a number of factors:
1. In traditional Labour seats will people switch to UKIP or stick with Labour?
There is a very strong lobby that is putting forward the view that Labour is finished because it is led by Corbyn and it could only win if it was led by someone like Owen Smith or Tony Blair. Ask yourself the question: in the traditional Labour heartlands will people be more or less likely to vote for the party when it is led by someone who describes himself as a convinced socialist? I think it is highly likely that the current leadership may prove toxic in Conservative strongholds but will prove highly popular in the seats that Labour needs to retain or win. To give a parallel it is at least seriously questionable as to whether Bernie Saunders would have done better than Clinton in holding onto Democratic voters. The total disarray in UKIP and the fact that many of their voters think UKIP's job is done and it no longer has a purpose will also help Labour. All this might very well mean that Labour wins just as many seats in the regions as last time and possibly more.
2. Can the Liberal Democrats recover?
The betrayal of the Lib Dems over University fees proved deeply unpopular at the last election but voters might very well think they have been punished for that and times have changed. For them the question to ask is this: are there any seats that the Lib Dems lost to the Conservatives that they might win back because the voters in those particular locations don't want Brexit, certainly don't want a hard Brexit and are looking for something more middle of the road and coherent than a far right and deeply split Conservative party? I think it is highly likely that the Lib Dems will win more seats next time than last time. They only need to get half their old seats back and the Conservatives are out on their ear.
3. Where is the Conservatives majority going to come from?
If they don't win more seats in Labour strongholds and lose some back to the Lib Dems then the Conservatives current slender majority has gone up in smoke. If the vicious splits that exist between their business friendly Remain majority and their nationalistic enthusiasts for Brexit at any price gets exposed it is hard to see how they can sustain their current popularity.
Given this logic the temptation for the Conservatives to go for an early election must be extreme. Just at the moment they have the advantage of having temporarily convinced a lot of the public that they represent a safe pair of hands that can steer us all through the chaos of Brexit. May is very popular because people are hoping against hope that she knows what she is doing and has a good plan. The longer she holds off the more a number of important things happen:
1. It becomes obvious that she doesn't have a very good plan
2. It becomes clear that her party is horribly split over implementing the plan.
3. Her majority steadily weakens in bi-elections and the Liberal Democrats start to recover strength
4. The terms of the final exit deal start to become clearer and the reality looks a lot worse than the promises. She has to hold the 52% behind her and get them to turn out to vote for her. Not easy to do when older voters don't live forever and there is a constant flow of Remain inclined young voters joining the electoral register. By the next election there are highly likely to be more people alive who voted to Remain than to leave.
5. Her key personality weaknesses become clearer. She has a peculiar mixture of dithering over what to do over actual policy coupled with ruthless determination to crush individuals who oppose her. That isn't a great mix for a Prime Minister and it has already left her with some very powerful enemies within her own ranks.
In these circumstances it looks to me that, unless the next election happens very soon, then the idea that the Conservative Party are going to walk it is somewhat flawed. That does not, of course, mean that I am stupid enough to believe that a victory for the left is the most sensible prediction. It means that the situation is far from hopeless and a victory for a left leaning coalition is one of the realistic possibilities.
Such a result will be most easily achieved if deals are struck over who stands in some selected marginal seats. Unfortunately I do not at the moment see many signs that there is any serious prospect of that happening. The Greens have called for a Progressive Alliance. The response has been deafening silence.
If I am brutally honest I do not believe a Progressive Alliance will happen. Labour still has a lot of tribal thinking and too many of its supporters seem to think that a tactical alliance is everyone else standing aside in every seat so that the real party of the working class can win. Those of us who passionately believe that there is a bit more to progressive politics than trusting the Labour party and then being endlessly disappointed aren't going to just give up and go away because Labour wish us to. I happen to believe that at this moment in time protecting the environment is the single most important issue. I passionately want to see the Greens put that case loud and clear in as many seats as possible. People like me aren't going to give up that opportunity for nothing.
A progressive alliance has to involve give as well as take. And Labour has to decide pretty quickly whether it wishes to give a little in order to win in collaboration with others. Put simply it needs to name the seats where it is prepared to stand aside for a Green or a Liberal Democrat as well as naming the marginal constituencies where it wants those parties to leave it with a free run. Otherwise the Conservatives could lose votes and yet still win against a deeply divided opposition. Not something any of us should contemplate lightly.