Some time in the New Year I hope to write something on changing alliances not just in UK but elsewhere as I think what you saw in UK with Tories gaining in many traditional seats in the North does fit with trends you see elsewhere. Nonetheless is a brief summary of why I think you saw the results you did.
Boris Johnson has many flaws and his approval rating is negative so this was not a huge endorsement of him, rather a huge rebuke of the others. Still he ran a disciplined campaign and with his change on austerity, he was able to breakthrough with voters Tories haven’t been able to win in the past. Whether he can hold those next time around or not, hard to say, but I think some of Labour’s Red wall will return, but other seats there are permanently gone. I think the more urban will be tough to hold, but the more rural are likely going to stay Tory for quite some time. Still with a much different coalition in the past should be interesting times. On Brexit, there has been enough delays so time for some certainty and for good or ill, I think people were tired of indecision. Also people rightly resented many elites telling them they voted wrong. As the old saying goes, the voter is always right and politicians need to respect the result of the referendum even if they don’t like it and instead work to have the softest Brexit possible.
This was an unmitigated disaster no matter how you put it. Yes Brexit probably made this unwinneable for them no matter who was leader as a large chunk of their traditional seats voted leave yet their key urban seats voted heavily remain so unlike Tories they were bound to alienate some. The shifts against them were strongest in heavy leave seats, but it is not only Brexit. The party lost votes everywhere, just more so in heavily leave seats. This suggests to me their leader and agenda was a problem and in fact polls suggest about 1/3 of Labour voters did so reluctantly showing just how unpopular Jeremy Corbyn was. Not dealing properly with anti-Semitism, speaking positive of terrorist groups and past failed socialist experiments all showed he was unfit to be PM. Many Labour types argue some of their policies were quite popular and that is true, but most have a sense of pragmatism and want policies that are feasible not pie in the sky and people quite rightly saw the Manifesto for what it was. Labour need not be in the dead centre, but needs to be centre-left keeping some of their policies but ditching others and more importantly have an overall goal of improving lives of the British people, not following some ideology. Appealing to the social justice warrior types on university campuses is a huge turn off to voters elsewhere and left needs to understand doing this ensures losses. The party can win in the future, but it is going to have to make substantial changes and in some ways the big loss yesterday was a blessing in disguise as while it will get ugly at first, party is more likely to make the big changes to help make it more electable. Still coming back won’t be easy. A lot of the red wall seats can be won back, but they won’t automatically flip back as some seem to think. Likewise without Scotland, it is going to be very difficult to win a majority.
A huge disappointment for them too, but I think that comes down to a few reasons. Even though Brexit was very divisive, many are tired of dragging it on. Not only that, calling to revoke article 50 seems anti-democratic and as a rule of thumb people aren’t interested in having a party tell them they were wrong and Jo Swinson while unlike Corbyn had sensible policies, she came across as too much of a Liberal elitist. A lot of the posh remainer areas might have voted Liberal Democrat, but fear of a Corbyn government was enough for some Tory remainers to hold their nose and vote Tory. Likewise if you go back to 2010, most of the Liberal Democrat seats were in rural areas like Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall and those all voted leave. As for centre being hollowed out, that is partially true, but on economic policies which tend to drive elections, Tories have actually pivoted strongly towards the centre under Johnson. Maybe on cultural issues Tories are still right wing, but outside large cities that works in their favour especially amongst working class.
Scottish National Party
They did quite well and many are suggesting it means Scotland will leave the UK. I am not so sure. If you wanted to stop Brexit and lived in Scotland (which voted remain), SNP was your best choice. Likewise if on the left, they were also your best choice and unlike Labour, their policies were actually sensible and while I would never vote for them, they are an example of what a centre-left party should be like policy wise. Certainly lots of division and Johnson will have to deal with the alienation in Scotland, but I don’t think it separating is inevitable but a risk.
DUP lost ground, but still overall more voted for unionist parties than nationalist so I think with how strong the sectarian divide is, as long as Protestants outnumber Catholics, Northern Ireland will remain in UK, but will join Ireland and thus EU if someday Catholics outnumber Protestants. Nonetheless, Johnson must avoid a hard border and be mindful to avoid the troubles re-igniting.
What this means
Next four and half years will have lots of challenges, but I don’t think it will be nearly as bad as some claim. Leaving the EU will make UK less well off than inside, but not near the extent some think. They are still a large market so firms will still invest there and with a favourable taxation and regulatory regime, that will somewhat blunt the negative impacts. Also even if a 10% decline in GDP over a decade, that is 1% per year so even under worst case scenario just slower growth which is not ideal but manageable. As for country breaking apart, it is a risk but by no means inevitable. And here is the reality UK may be out of the EU for good, but no reason if things go badly they cannot later seek a closer agreement such as Customs union or rejoining the single market and in latter case its pretty much same as being in EU with a few minor exceptions. But they should only do this if there is strong public support, and I don’t see that happening anytime soon.