‘The country is safe with Corbynistas!’ - shock and joy in London
Labour supporters hail a generational shift in politics as Tories lament devastating loss
The shock came at the very start of the night with the exit poll.
The prime minister had spied an opportunity and called a snap election in a bid to grow her majority for the tough Brexit negotiations, but she lost that majority. There would be a hung parliament.
For Conservative leader Theresa May, it is a calamitous and humiliating outcome.
At Twickenham, the home of English rugby and the scene of stunning victories and crushing losses, Conservatives were already nursing defeat before a single constituency had been declared.
“It’s a loss for our country,” said crestfallen local Conservative councillor Alan Butler. The blue rosette pinned to his lapel reflected his mood more than his party allegiance.
“A hung parliament is a loss because right now you need a stable government, you need someone to steer us through with the Brexit negotiations. From my point of view, it is a disaster.”
At the rugby stadium, scene of the count for Twickenham, Butler acknowledged the party’s defeat in the constituency: Vince Cable, the Lib Dem former cabinet secretary, would win back his seat from one of his friends. He was right but it would be several hours before it became official.
Even people in the party of the night’s big winner, Jeremy Corbyn, were stunned at how badly prime minister Theresa May’s gamble to call an early election had backfired.
“I am in shock. I wasn’t expecting it to be that good for Labour, ” said Katherine Dunne, the Labour candidate for Twickenham, standing in England’s rugby stadium.
May’s sweet chariot had crashed and burst into flames.
“I think she is finished – she has to go,” said Dunne. “She called this election banking on getting an increased majority and it’s destroyed her.”
Standing next to her, Jennifer Churchill, a local Labour councillor, declared the election outcome a positive step for the Brexit talks.
“It will be excellent that Theresa May does not feel empowered and she can just do whatever she wants and not consult with the country,” she said.
Tired but delighted
After a campaign as bruising as any encounter on the Twickenham field, these Labour women were tired but delighted.
“It has put a smile on our faces, weary legs but smiling faces,” said Churchill.
Further east, in the private members’ clubs of Pall Mall, there were few smiles.
“Disastrous, as far as I am concerned,” said John David Housden, director of the Institute of Specialist Surveyors and Engineers, in one of the marbled rooms of the Institute of Directors.
Two hours after the exit poll’s release, the institute’s election night party had become a depressing, booze-soaked affair.
“I think she should not have called the election. I think she has shot herself in the foot,” said Housden, tucking into a bacon bun distributed to steel the partygoers for the long night ahead. “It is horrible, disappointing.”
Printing and courier company owner Andrew Wells had planned to get the 11.58pm train home from Marylebone to Hertfordshire but the night’s surprises meant he would be staying longer and getting a £65 taxi instead.
“Fair play to him,” he says of Corbyn. “He has kept to this true colours. He is not my cup of tea but he has turned a few heads in the last couple of weeks. It was not predicted but over the last three years who can predict anything in western politics.”
Businessman David Butter chose to accentuate the positive. He declared himself “very excited” by the election result as it might change the Brexit discussion, which he called “a kind of phony war”.
“This is an opportunity to reassess,” he said, sipping on a beer.
Another reassessment, inevitable after last night, is the future of May’s leadership.
At the Pall Mall club, Randolph Kent, a former high-ranking UN official, said that this may be the end of May but not immediately. “It will take a few months. There will be regrouping.”
“I don’t think there is a lot of drink being had in number 10,” he said. “Let me put it this way: it’s not champagne, it’s probably gin.”
Even further east in London, in Corbyn Country, near his Islington North constituency, the beer and craft ales were flowing and the drinkers roaring their approval at the giant TV screen in The Lexington pub.
The crowd chanted the Labour leader’s name at every Labour MP elected.
“Are our drinks safe with Corbynistas?” asked an American as he put down his pint and whiskey chaser on a counter to go out for a smoke.
“The country is safe with Corbynistas!” Labour supporter Kapil Komireddi shouted back.
The Pentonville bar heaved with joyous chants at every Labour seat gain and Conservative loss. The crowd of mostly millennials celebrated what they claimed was a ground-breaking shift in British politics and the next generation wrestling power from the old by backing a man wrongly written off by his adversaries as a walk-over.
“It shows that Jeremy Corbyn has turned the tide against the Conservatives and it shows that he has transformed this country,” said Komireddi.
“He is a socialist who is not afraid of being a socialist.”
Liberty Melly (26), a museum educator, hesitated to celebrate too soon. She took to her bed early during the Brexit referendum count thinking that the Remain camp had won and went to sleep early that night last November believing Donald Trump had lost the US presidential election.
“We will see how the beer takes me tonight and whether it carries me on until 4 o’clock in the morning,” she said.
Across the pub, one of the barman necked a shot bought by a jubilant customer between the blizzard of orders.
“Far too many,” he said, with a smile. “Far too many.”