Update – Friday 9 June: 05:00 BST
The conversations have started not just about whether the Tories will be able to form a government, but whether or not Theresa May can stay in her job.
There is no one prevailing mood inside the Tory party. As I write, Mrs May is holed up with her advisers inside Tory HQ. But a former minister Anna Soubry has called for her to “consider her position” – political code for calling for her to resign.
Another senior MP tells me ‘I can’t see how she can stay’. A minister texts to say the Tory party is ‘absolute monarchy, ruled by regicide and that’s the territory we are in’. One Tory source says it is ’50:50′ that she will quit in the morning.
But others are urging caution, calling for reflection, a period of calm. It’s clear the Tory party won’t allow her to stay on to fight another General Election campaign in some years hence.
But cooler heads may press on her to stay, not to walk away. This is the election none of the main parties predicted.
Just as David Cameron finished off his own career by gambling with the EU referendum he didn’t have to have, Theresa May has followed him by calling a national vote when it was not required, because of our relationship with the European Union, and ended her career in the same way.
Update – Friday 9 June: 02:15 BST
It’s only just after two am. There are lots of seats to come in. But at this stage, Tory ministers are saying they do not expect to outperform the exit poll. That means, despite all of those Tory expectations, that confidence they regained in the last week or so of the campaign, the disbelief there was when our exit poll was announced, that privately at the highest level the Conservatives are now beginning to give up on achieving a majority.
It’s just not clear yet whether or not they will be the largest party. Our exit poll suggests that they will. But either way, Theresa May is damaged, “strong and stable” sounds less like an irritating political catchphrase, and more like a parallel universe. She called this election only because she thought she would achieve a much bigger majority than the Tories already had.
Even if the Conservatives still end up ahead in terms of the number of seats, her authority looks set to be seriously damaged. It is hard to see how her reputation will recover, and she will have achieved the opposite effect of what she had hoped. This election could produce a more uncertain political picture, a wounded Prime Minister trying to take on the most complicated task any Prime Minister has faced – that’s if, of course, the Tories remain the largest party, and she hangs on.
Thursday 8 June: 22:50 BST
If these numbers are correct, Theresa May played a high-risk political game and has lost it – she didn’t have to call this election, and only did so in order to give herself a mandate and breathing space during the bumpy ride of Brexit.
Just a few weeks ago at the start of all of this she seemed unassailable, but a shaky campaign and an insurgent Labour Party may have dashed the Tories’ hopes.
This exit poll result is not what either parties were predicting privately – this would be another political surprise – the public again defying the expectations of both the main sides.
The Conservatives do look set to be the largest party – it’s not clear on these numbers if they will be able to govern alone.
Theresa May’s promise throughout was to offer her catchphrase “strong and stable leadership” – instead she may end diminished – but only of course, your votes, and the real results, will determine through the course of the night what really happens next.
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