On Friday I asked Gippsland Laborite whether he’d be prepared to write a post analysing the UK election – once the horsetrading was done and the result was known. Well, as we all know, there was no need for horsetrading, so GL’s piece arrived much sooner than I had originally anticipated. The academic in me is tempted to include the sort of comment usually put on essays by excellent students. I’ll restrain myself to saying that, given the quality of GL’s comments at The Pub, I am not in the least surprised by the clarity of this piece. Many thanks indeed, Gippsland Laborite, for your debut threadstarter. I look forward to reading much more of your work!
(Image Credit: The Huffington Post)
To the surprise of almost everyone, the Tories won a majority in the UK elections. Given that everyone thought that the result would be neck and neck the first thing that we should look at is, “how the hell did this happen.”
On the surface Labour led by Ed Miliband ran a good campaign, rather than the gaffe-ridden nightmare that the naysayers were saying he would run, that included a number of solid policies such as freezing energy prices, axing the bedroom tax (reduction in housing benefit for people living in council homes who had more bedrooms than people), strengthening the National Health Service (NHS), and making the rich pay their fair share. These policies were shown to be popular with voters. However, Labour also had to contend with not only a relentless Tory scare campaign about a Labour-SNP coalition in which Ed Miliband would either be in Alex Salmond’s pocket, or have his strings pulled by Nicola Sturgeon, and eventually leading to the destruction and ruination of the United Kingdom, but also relentless attacks from the Murdochs and the Rothermeres in the press on Ed Miliband’s policies and on Miliband himself. In the end, despite the polls, the fear about the SNP among English voters, shamelessly stoked by the Tories and their media mates, definitely stole a great deal of oxygen from the Labour campaign.
Conservatives: 36.8%, 331 seats +25
Labour: 30.4%, 232 seats -24
SNP: 4.7%, 56 seats +50
Lib Dems: 7.9%, 8 seats -48
UKIP: 12.6%, 1 seat
Others: 7.6%, 22 seats
The Tories had a good night and no longer have to placate the Lib Dems to stay in office and can do whatever they want.
For Labour the result ranged from a mixed bag to a disaster. The disaster, as everyone knows, happened in Scotland where Labour lost all but one of the seats they held going in to this election. Labour really needs to have a good long think about where it went wrong and how to fix it without resorting to any quick and cheap fixes that will inevitably backfire. Labour also didn’t do as well as they hoped in Wales: while they gained Cardiff Central from the Lib Dems, they failed to gain Cardiff North, one of their top targets from the Tories, and lost the seats of Gower and Vale of Clwyd to the Tories. In England, Labour made a net gain of fifteen seats. However, these were concentrated in London and the North of England and in some areas the party lost seats to the Tories, including the seat held by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls. In England the Tories’ fear campaign certainly helped them fend off Labour in a number of key marginals, especially in the Midlands where Labour made very little progress in an area they need to win in order to form government.
For the Lib Dems this election was a complete catastrophe. In terms of votes and seats this is their worst result since 1970 and voters decisively punished the party for going into coalition with the Tories. During the Blair years, the Lib Dems positioned themselves as the left wing alternative to Labour that voters angry over the Iraq War and tuition fee rises could flock to. Entering the coalition ensured that these voters would abandon the party en masse. While Nick Clegg held on to his seat a large number of high profile Lib Dems did not, including former leader Charles Kennedy, and Cabinet Ministers, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Ed Davey and Simon Hughes, and the party is facing a return to the wilderness years of the 1950s and 60s unless something dramatic happens.
For the SNP it was undoubtedly a triumph, winning all but three seats in Scotland. However, they will not hold balance of power and I think this poses a problem. The SNP’s campaign was focused on two points: locking the Tories out of Number Ten and giving Scotland the balance of power in a hung parliament through electing a large number of SNP MPs. The first did not happen, and secondly, the party will have to answer this question, what is their block of MPs actually going to achieve given that they don’t have any influence whatsoever?
UKIP got the third highest number of votes of any party and came second in a number of Tory strongholds in the South of England as well as in several Labour strongholds in the North of England and in the South Wales Valleys, even though they only got one MP elected and Nigel Farage failed to get in to the House of Commons. This could potentially be a springboard for even greater results. However, they could hit a brick wall if the Tories start copying their rhetoric and policies (like what happened with One Nation here in Australia).
Finally, despite all the hype, the Green surge fizzed out with the party only winning 3.8% of the vote and only getting one MP in to the House of Commons.
What’s Next for Britain?
Now that there’s a Tory majority, the party will feel no need to placate anyone else and will be able to do whatever it pleases, which will undoubtedly be a disaster for most of the United Kingdom. In addition, there will also be a referendum, most likely in 2017, on the UK’s future in the European Union, which could have the potential to divide the United Kingdom even further than it already is now.
And what of the future of the Union itself? There’s no denying that the Conservatives, through their appeal to English nationalism, have done more than anyone to put the future of the Union at risk but it is too soon to say whether a second Scottish independence referendum is inevitable. Already Cameron and Osborne are making noises about granting full fiscal autonomy to the Parliament in Edinburgh and we’ll need to see how that plays out. In conclusion, we can say that, with the results of this election, several cans of worms have now been opened and what happens next under the Conservatives will affect the United Kingdom for decades to come.
(Image Credit: Image Arcade)