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One year on: Why 2017 election was so important

By Lewis Goodall, political correspondent
"Is it hung? Is it hung? Tell me, is it hung?"
I assure you, there was no innuendo intended. Rather, that was me, on election night in the Sky News Centre a year ago, imploring Sky's election producer Isla to give me some idea as to whether the whole of the political world was about to be turned upside down.So it was to be. Our jaws hit the floor. As I sat, at a few minutes to 10pm, before we announced the results of the exit poll, I took a moment to compose myself. I was taking over Sky's on-screen psephology analysis for the night, up to 11am the next day.I realised, if the exit poll was right, I was going to have a very different sort of evening than that for which I'd prepared myself. Only half an hour before, a Conservative source texted me to say they thought they'd secure a majority of about 50.Not nearly the eye-watering landslide Theresa May and her team had expected at the start of the campaign, but a comfortable win all the same.
One year on: Why 2017 election was so important

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The election left the executive denuded and the legislature enhanced
The election night team had conducted rehearsals for a range of different scenarios.At no point had we prepared for a hung parliament, only one session where we practised for an outcome of a small Conservative majority of about 20.In that rehearsal, playing along, I'd said it was a disaster for the prime minister's authority.That she lost the majority altogether explains why on the night I went one better and said that this was the biggest humiliation for any sitting prime minister since the war and that it was "the biggest rebuff and rejection delivered by the electorate that you could imagine".I stand by that. Theresa May lives under the dark cloud of that rejection, her authority still irrecoverable.But the wider political consequences have been as equally profound.
One year on: Why 2017 election was so important

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The outcome of the election had the exact opposite effect to the one Mrs May hoped
The purpose of this ostensibly unnecessary election was to liberate the prime minister's hands from her errant backbenchers, marginalise the House of Commons from the Brexit process and provide her with the flexibility she so craved.On all three counts it had the opposite effect. Far from freeing Mrs May, it has bound her to the shackles of the Commons' portcullis.As next week's parliamentary votes will demonstrate, she will find herself beholden to the benches to her front and behind.Every single member of parliament matters and will do so even more when and if a vote on the final deal takes place in the autumn.The election served to diffuse, not concentrate political power, especially with regards to Brexit.Ever since election night, Brussels hasn't just been dealing with Number 10 but in effect, the House of Commons too.Within that, power is further dispersed: the Tory Remain camp, the Tory Leave camp, the Labour frontbench, the Labour backbench, some to Edinburgh and SNP HQ, some to Belfast and the DUP.One of the clarion calls of the referendum was that parliamentary sovereignty must be restored.It is an irony that that restoration should come not as a result of the referendum, but from an election which left the executive denuded and a legislature enhanced.
One year on: Why 2017 election was so important

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9 June: How May's election gamble unravelled
That legislature has since done all it can to soften many of the consequences of the referendum which prompted its election in the first place. Such are the odd ironies of political life and history.The election also muddled the political imperatives behind Brexit.It had been argued that the people's will had been expressed clearly and absolutely on 23 June 2016, and that that mandate was clear.But the 2017 general election confused that narrative. A government had gone to the people on a prospectus of a hard Brexit and specifically asked for a super-majority for its execution.The prime minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and said parliament was thwarting her and by extension the people's will and argued only total parliamentary dominance would nullify the problem.The electorate did not oblige, indeed, they reduced the prime minister's power. The House of Commons became more, not less, Remainer in composition.There were now two dual wills, expressed by the same people at different times, with apparently contradictory impulses and instructions. The electorate, it seemed, was confused. The Brexit process, accordingly, became as equally chaotic.It also put pay to any distinctly Mayite domestic political agenda.Think back to those salad days of the early May premiership. Grammar schools, a new interventionist industrial policy, talk of a vote on fox hunting - all have vanished.There is no majority for any of it, even with the DUP. Instead the tumbleweeds blow through the corridors of parliament and the order paper is covered with little ink.However, when the history books are finally written (and heaven help the historians who have to make sense of our era), perhaps they will focus less on the direct political consequences of the election inside the Commons but rather as an important signal and harbinger of the enormous changes taking place outside the chamber.The 2017 election threw up the playing board of traditional British party politics.As I sat there on election night, bizarre results came through. Kensington and Canterbury had gone Labour. Mansfield and Stoke South had gone Tory.At first we wondered if there was a glitch in the system. Rather, we soon realised, the glitch was in our own imperfect understanding of what was happening to the political world outside.
Mrs May called the election because she believed she could secure a realignment of British politics.As with Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy", taking advantage of Democratic civil rights legislation in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, or more recently the SNP and the 2014 Scottish referendum, Mrs May believed that big events like Brexit provided the opportunity of big changes in party voter bases.The Leave voting, socially conservative, left-behind voters in the North and Midlands were a glittering prize there for the taking.It succeeded. Generally speaking, the more heavily a place voted for Leave, the bigger the swing to the Conservatives was. That explained their victories in old Labour fortresses like Mansfield or Stoke.However, Mrs May did not anticipate the Newtonian like equal and opposite reaction.
One year on: Why 2017 election was so important

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The 2017 poll threw up the playing board of traditional British party politics
In courting those voters, in casting a hard Brexit as the only one possible, she incurred the wrath of liberal Conservative Remain voters and the young.It cost her seats such as Bath, Warwick, Canterbury and her majority.On the day after the night before, as election geeks like me surveyed the new political landscape, what we saw was, for traditional students of British politics, a confusing sight.Old cast-iron rules of British political life seemed to have crumbled.Most strikingly, the class centres of gravity for both parties had shifted - 2017 showed that neither Labour's grip on the working class nor the Conservatives' grip on the professional middle class remained strong.Labour lost a huge number of working-class voters to the Tories and vice versa with the Conservatives losing lots of professionals to Labour.Some commentators suggested that that would prove a blip, that given it was a Brexit election, when that issue is settled, traditional voting behaviour will reassert itself.It is possible, but I am far from convinced.First, it's unlikely Brexit will, in some senses, ever be "over" as an electoral issue.Secondly, Brexit turbocharged party political class crossdressing but it had been happening for a while anyway, since at least 2010.
One year on: Why 2017 election was so important

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The prime minister went to the country on a prospectus of a hard Brexit
The process appears to be speeding up, not slowing: the electoral data we have since 2017 has confirmed that hypothesis, not least the local election results.YouGov data published only this week shows the continued bleeding of Labour's working class support. Whisper it: Labour is getting posher and the Tories are going the other way.A realignment is taking place, not in one fell swoop as Mrs May had intended but instead, slowly, over time, in fits and starts.A wise man once said that every trend is a trend until it bends.However, the forces driving this trend, this rewriting of the parties' DNA are profound: the rise of the graduate class, technological changes, distaste with globalisation and the rise of identity politics.These politically flammable materials just needed a flame, provided by Brexit and the general election which flowed from it.Historians may well then look back to 2017 as a defining moment in the respective voter bases of both major political parties in the 21st century.In the meantime though, overall polling shows both parties more or less stuck on where they were in 2017. To coin a phrase, nothing has changed.That's despite the fact that the Conservatives have had a combination of Brexit civil war, Cabinet resignations roughly every six weeks, sex scandals, a minister negotiating her own foreign policy, a cough, a P45 and a dodgy set, Grenfell, Windrush and more besides, none of it has made any difference.If there were another election tomorrow, all the indications, including the local election results, indicate the result would be much the same.Blame has been attached to both Mrs May and especially Jeremy Corbyn for this failure to break through.Perhaps, however, that isn't fair. The pool of swing voters is just too small. Brexit has bound us in our respective party political boxes. It has helped create a British culture war.In these circumstances, it is increasingly difficult to persuade voters from the other party's bloc to come to your side.The result? Two zombie parties, lurching, ambling, groping towards the finish line, without success. We may therefore be stuck with a variant of the 2017 election and the contours it set on British politics for some considerable time to come.Someone, not long ago, asked me which was my favourite election of all time. After a moment's thought, I smiled and said: "Easy, 2017."
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Everything about it was a surprise, it confounded every pundit, politician and pollster. It will prove and has proved the most important election for a generation, both inside and outside the Commons. At least that is, until the next one, which could come as soon as the winter.I'll try not to look so surprised, next time.
news.sky.com
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