An election that was meant to unify the nation for Brexit has instead divided voters in new and complicated ways.
The vote that Theresa May called to solidify her position has triggered a deep crisis of leadership, just days before the EU exit negotiations are due to begin.
The smaller parties have stalled or declined, with the country once again largely retreating into the big tribal camp: Blue or Red.
But a two-party system that for so much of the post-war period produced a clear outcome has today delivered anything but.
George Osborne said this morning it was the “none of the above election”. At the end of the night, nobody is truly in the driving seat.
The Conservatives have the largest number of seats. But that is the only way they can be said to have “won” this election. An immediate inquest begins into what will go down as an absolutely disastrous campaign.
The one Tory figure to emerge with huge credit is Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland who has taken big chunks out of the SNP and, almost single-handedly, pushed independence off the immediate agenda. She emerges as a powerful figure.
Jeremy Corbyn – a man written off time and again by the media and most of his own MPs – has led his party to what, in the circumstances, were stunning gains.
Of particular note, he seems to have found a voice that spoke to a new, younger and frustrated generation of voters. But in his success, he has exposed troubling divisions: young v old, urban v rural, North v South.
The big questions now:
- Can a stable government be formed? Led by whom?
- Can MPs reach a common view on Brexit – which will surely now have to be ‘softer’ than the version in the Tory manifesto?
- Will there have to be another election later this year?
- The Tory election soundbites about “money trees” and “strong and stable leadership” now seem ridiculous, almost comical.
The public rejected the controlled brand of campaigning deployed by Conservative headquarters.
It was the night that new and unpredictable forces were unleashed.
It will be many months before we understand the consequences: for government, for austerity, for Brexit and for the UK.