December 13, 2019
PM set for return to Downing Street with 368 seats for the Tories and 191 for Labour
Thursday night’s exit poll pointed to the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images
Heather Stewart Political editor | The Guardian
Boris Johnson appears on course to secure a crushing majority of 86, and take Britain out of the EU in January, after a shock exit poll showed his party would win 368 seats in Thursday’s general election.
That would be the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987; and mark a dramatic repudiation of Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of “real change” for Britain.
If the poll is vindicated as results come in, the Conservatives will have smashed through the “red wall” of Labour-held seats across Wales and the Midlands, many of which voted leave in the 2016 EU referendum.
Constituencies including Bolsover, Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Stoke-on-Trent Central looked set to fall to the Conservatives according to the breakdown of the poll, some for the first time ever.
Early declared results suggested the exit poll was on track. The former mining constituency of Blyth Valley in Northumberland, a seat that has been Labour since it was created, fell to the Conservatives, with a small majority of 712.
Labour held two other seats, Newcastle Central and Houghton and Sunderland South, but with drastically reduced majorities.
Reacting to the exit poll on ITV, the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne declared the UK was “entering the Boris Johnson era of British politics”.
“He’s won a huge majority, the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher, if this poll is correct. It’s been very much his election with him at the centre of it. You haven’t seen much of the cabinet and his gamble, in calling this risky election, will have paid off if this is accurate,” he said.
The exit poll, which is compiled on the basis of a large-scale survey of 20,000 voters as they leave polling stations, put the Tories on 368 seat seats, and Labour on just 191.
That would allow Johnson to pass his Brexit deal early in the new year, so that Britain would formally leave the EU at the end of January.
Recriminations began within Labour immediately after the exit poll was published. Staunch Corbyn loyalists were quick to blame Brexit, while others pointed the finger at the leader’s personal unpopularity.
Plunging to only 191 MPs would represent Labour’s worst performance at the polls since 1935.
The Labour leader caved in to pressure from party members and promised another referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – but candidates in many Labour-held seats in the party’s heartlands warned that it risked alienating their constituents.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, appeared pale and shocked when confronted with the poll on the BBC. Asked whether he and Corbyn would stand down if it proved accurate, he said: “We will see the results in the morning and decisions will be made then.”
McDonnell acknowledged that he had not expected the poll to point to such a large Tory majority. He said it had been “the Brexit election” and that Labour had failed to persuade people to vote based on other issues such as the NHS.
McDonnell has been a key figure in Labour’s shift towards supporting a referendum. He had been expected to put himself forward as a potential interim leader, but is likely to face questions about his role in masterminding the party’s election campaign.
Caroline Flint, the Don Valley MP whose seat appears likely to fall to the Tories, according to the breakdown of the exit poll, tweeted that both Brexit and Corbyn were to blame. “Sorry we couldn’t offer you a Labour party you can trust,” she said.
The Conservatives have led Labour in the polls since late October, when Corbyn decided to accept Johnson’s demand for an election; but several had shown a modest narrowing as the six-week campaign has drawn to a close.
Labour had sought to focus its campaign on the impact of nine years of austerity on public services, and the risks to the NHS of a trade deal with Donald Trump’s White House.
Even senior insiders have fretted that the party’s strategy was not as clear as in 2017, and the manifesto, titled “Time for Real Change”, was so crammed with giveaways it was sometimes hard to discern an overall theme.
Corbyn told the Guardian earlier this week he was “always cautious about an overlong manifesto” but had allowed himself to be persuaded.
Some Labour candidates in marginal seats complained they were left exposed by their party’s decision to fight an attacking strategy, pouring resources into Conservative-held constituencies in the hope of winning a governing majority.
The Tories ran a relentlessly focused campaign, repeatedly pressing home their “get Brexit done” message.
Jo Swinson’s party had hoped to increase their showing in parliament significantly from the 20 MPs they had when the campaign began, by persuading remainers to flock to their anti-Brexit message. But the poll, sponsored by the BBC, Sky and ITV suggested they will be left little further forward, with just 13 seats.
High-profile former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger appeared unlikely to secure their London seats for the LibDems, in Westminster and Finchley and Golders Green respectively, though both have campaigned hard.
Campaigning by party leaders was suspended for polling day so they could do little else but vote themselves then wait until 10pm, when voting closed and the exit poll was released.
Johnson chose to cast his vote at Methodist Central Hall in the marginal constituency of Cities of London and Westminster, rather than in his constituency of Uxbridge.
Corbyn was photographed walking to a local polling station in his London constituency of Islington North. A woman dressed as the bright red Sesame Street character Elmo tried to rush towards him, but was firmly pinned back by his security detail.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, cast her vote in Bearsden in her constituency of East Dunbartonshire. She appeared highly likely to lose her own seat, according to the exit poll.