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They’d expected a landslide but all they got was a modest trickle.
As of 5 pm tonight (10 pm BST), the first U.K. exit poll indicated a shocking result: The Tories hopes for a sizeable, safe majority dashed. Against all odds, Labour’s numbers appear marginally up.
Immediately, social media lit up with talk of the Tories possibly losing their majority, which could of course result in a hung parliament.
Although the projected results showed the Conservatives as the largest party with 314 seats it also showed Labour gaining back some 34 seats in total – an amazing result (if true) in an election which they’d been expected to lose and lose hard.
But perhaps the most startling thing about the projected numbers is that they showed Labour (266), the SNP (34) and the Lib Dems (14) as having precisely the same number of votes as the conservatives when added together.
This could result in the forming of a so-called Progressive Coalition (widely mocked by Tory members on the campaign trail as the “coalition of chaos,”) leaving the two sides to scrap it out over the stray remaining seats to see who would form the next government.
There was even talk of the Tories forming a minority government, quickly getting rid of Theresa May, and heading back to the polls, yet again, come the Autumn.
One election not yet down and already talk of the next one. So much for Theresa May’s oft-repeated campaign mantra that only she could offer a “strong and stable” leadership heading into Brexit negotiations. Weak and wobbly was the unexpected motto of the night.
Whatever the final outcome, one thing was abundantly clear: Unless the exit poll was hugely off the mark, Theresa May’s risky decision to call a snap election in the hope of securing a safe majority had proved a disastrous calculation.
What a stunning fall from grace, if that’s what it proves to be. Just a month and a half ago, a stunning 20 points ahead in the polls, her approval ratings soaring, May and her party seemed unassailable. Six awkward and unpredictable weeks of campaigning later and so much has changed.
What looked like a sure bet had proved a risky move indeed. Chalk it up to yet another lesson on perils of political hubris. Surprising as the story of this election is, it’s a narrative very much in keeping with our tumultuous times: In Britain, the age of uncertainty continues.
Live seat map for U.K. election 2017
In the meantime, read these backgrounders on the campaign, Brexit and the terror attacks that will no doubt weigh on voters minds on election day:
- Welcome back to little Britain
- Why did Theresa May call an election
- Theresa May’s cold election calculus
- Would the Liberal Democrats stand a chance in a U.K. election?
- A new level of terrorism in Manchester
- Are Theresa May’s Tories about to blow the U.K. election?
- The London attack: It’s getting harder to keep calm and carry on