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Winner Boris calls for healing

Tories had 365 seats, a gain of 47 and its best performance since the days of Margaret Thatcher in 1987
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks outside 10 Downing Street in London on Friday, December 13, 2019.

Amit Roy   |   London   |   Published 13.12.19, 06:09 PM

Boris Johnson has pulled off a stunning victory over Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which has suffered its worst defeat since 1935.

With counting completed in all 650 seats, the Tories had 365 seats, a gain of 47 and the party’s best performance since the days of Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

This would give Boris an overall majority of 80. The figure is in line with the exit poll, which had given the Tories 368 seats — an overall majority of 86 seats — and Labour 191 seats.

Speaking formally outside Downing Street, Boris said he had an overwhelming mandate to take Britain out of the EU by the end of January.

At the same time he sought to reach out to Remainers, insisting his “One Nation” government would never ignore their feelings of “warmth and sympathy” towards the other nations of Europe.

“Now is the moment, precisely as we leave the EU, to let those natural feelings find renewed expression in building a new partnership,” he said. “I frankly urge everyone on either side of what are, after three-and-a-half years, an increasingly arid argument; I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin.”

As many as 15 Indian-origin MPs have been elected this time, up from 12. For Labour, Virendra Sharma, Lisa Nandy, Valerie Vaz (her brother Keith is gone), Seema Malhotra, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and Preet Kaur Gill are back in the Commons, and for the Tories that goes for Shailesh Vara, Alok Sharma, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman.

Tory peer Dolar Popat told The Telegraph: “The British Indian vote in this election was crucial. This election was the pinnacle in bringing the Conservative Party and the British Indian community closer together.”

Corbyn’s uncompromising stand on Kashmir, which was portrayed as “pro-Pakistan”, is thought to have driven a large number of Indians away from Labour. After Labour’s tally settled at 203, a loss of 59, Corbyn announced: “I will not lead the party in any future general election campaign.” 

For Boris, his slogan, “Get Brexit Done”, appears to have worked. Labour’s “red wall” crumbled as Tories took 28 seats from Labour across the north of England.

There were breakthroughs in places long seen as unwinnable by the Tories: Burnley, Blyth Valley, Workington, Wrexham, Blackpool South, Darlington, Grimsby and Sedgefield (former Prime Minister Tony Blair's old seat).

In his victory speech to party workers at Conservative headquarters, Boris said: “Good morning, everybody — well, we did it — we pulled it off, didn’t we?

“Because this election means that getting Brexit done is now the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people. And I will put an end to all that nonsense, and we will get Brexit done on time by the 31st of January, no ifs, no buts, no maybes.”

He acknowledged that working class Labour voters in the north had voted Tory for the first time in several generations.

“You may only have lent us your vote and you may not think of yourself as a natural Tory…. And if that is the case, I am humbled that you have put your trust in me, and that you have put your trust in us. And I, and we, will never take your support for granted.'

With a majority of around 80, Boris no longer has to depend on the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, which lost two seats, including that held by its deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, to come down to eight.

The Tories did lose one seat in London – Boris’s close friend Zac Goldsmith, brother of Jemima, Imran Khan’s first wife, lost to the Lib Dems in Richmond Park by 7,766 votes.

It was a rare bright spot on a very disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats, which came down by one to 11. The seat it lost by only 149 votes was that held in East Dumbartonshire in Scotland by its first woman leader, Jo Swinson.

She lost to the Scottish National Party, which improved its tally by 13 so that it now holds 48 out of 59 seats in Scotland.

It wants another referendum on Scottish independence, which Boris has said he will not allow.

This looks like triggering a constitutional crisis and a possible break-up of the United Kingdom, because SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, struck a defiant note: “It’s not a decision for any Westminster Prime Minister and certainly not for one who suffered a crushing defeat in Scotland last night.”

She never tires of pointing out that while Brexit has proved popular in England, Scotland has voted to stay in the EU. Whether or not Scotland becomes an independent nation “must be a matter for the people who live here”, she said.

She said her party will next week publish “the detailed democratic case for the transfer of power to enable a referendum to be put beyond legal challenge”, adding that the referendum “must be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament”.

It is now expected that the UK will leave the EU on January 31, 2020. But there is widespread scepticism as to whether a trade deal with the EU can be negotiated with the EU by the end of 2020.

The former Tory Prime Minister David Cameron called the outcome “an extraordinary result, a powerful result. It marks the end of Corbyn and Corbynism, and that’s a very good thing for the country.”

But that is not necessarily so. Corbyn seems determined to ensure that his brand of socialism survives his departure, which is why he is trying to stay on for the time being. “I will discuss with our party to ensure there is a process now of reflection on this result and on the policies that the party will take going forward. And I will lead the party during that period to ensure that discussion takes place and we move on into the future.”

Later, he added: “The national executive will have to meet, of course, in the very near future and it is up to them. It will be in the early part of next year.”

Corbyn may want to groom his successor but the reality is there will be pressure on him to step down immediately.

“This election was ultimately taken over by Brexit and we as a party represent people who voted both Remain and Leave,” he said. “My whole strategy was to reach out beyond the Brexit divide to try and bring people together, because ultimately the country has to come together.”

When asked what went wrong, Corbyn replied: “Those in Leave areas in some numbers voted for Brexit or Conservative candidates, which means we lost a number of seats and we didn't make the gains I hoped we could have done, particularly in the Midlands and Yorkshire and the north.”

This may trigger a bloodbath in the party because there are those who want to ditch Corbyn and “Corbynism”. But he argued that Labour had put forward a manifesto “of hope, unity that would help to right the wrongs and the injustices and inequalities that exist in this country”.

He insisted the manifesto’s policies were “extremely popular during the election campaign and remain policies that have huge popular support all across this country”.

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