Well, that was weird. Prior to the election the polls were predicting that Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck — if anything with a slight lead for Labour, though that wouldn’t necessarily translate into more seats. I wasn’t surprised, as David Cameron had presided over the least competent government I can remember. When I went to bed the exit polls had just come out, and they were predicting that the Conservatives would have a healthy lead with 316 seats to Labour’s 239. Now, with all results in, the Conservatives have an actual majority with 331 seats to Labour’s 232. The leaders of Labour, the LibDems and UKIP have all resigned.
What the heck happened?
Understanding elections these days isn’t easy. If it was, the pollsters would get it right. Take a look at my constituency, for example. It is a Tory Rotten Borough, so the incumbent MP was re-elected with over 52% of the vote. UKIP came second with their vote shooting up from 5.5% to 17.5%. The Greens, running for the first time, got 5.8%. The LibDems slumped from 30.5% to 10.6%. Conservatives and Labour had small gains. So did a whole lot of former LibDem voters defect to UKIP? I think it unlikely. I think that UKIP drew votes from both Conservatives and Labour, but those parties also gained LibDem votes. Of course there’s no way I can prove that. Explanations as to what happened have to be conjecture.
From my point of view, the main issue with UK politics prior to the election was that all three major parties — Conservatives, Labour and LibDems — have been drawing their candidates mostly from an upper middle class, English, Oxbridge educated elite that has little connection to ordinary people and no experience of having a job outside of politics. I understand that this was more marked in Labour and the LibDems than in the Conservatives, who are happy with taking on rich businessmen as candidates.
Many of the British people are more than a little pissed off with this, and are looking for an alternative. In Scotland they found one. The SNP, as Jane Carnall explains, took a lot more of their candidates from local communities. And while Scotland voted against independence the Scots were very happy to vote in national elections for a party that didn’t appear to only represent London. The result was an utter massacre of both Labour and LibDems in Scotland (a country that was already almost Tory-free).
The situation in Wales was a little different. Plaid Cymru failed to establish itself as a viable alternative and trailed in fourth behind UKIP. That may be because Welsh independence has never looked viable economically, but it could also be due to local issues I’m not aware of as I don’t keep a close eye on goings on in the Welsh Assembly.
As for England, what choice did the disenchanted voter have? The LibDems had proved themselves useless over five years of propping up the Tories. Voting Green is still seen as an eccentric middle class fad. And Labour were busily promising to be just like the Tories if they won, with more austerity measures and even more persecution of those on benefits. So people voted UKIP instead.
Labour is busy blaming the SNP for their poor showing, which seems a bit off because even if they had won every SNP seat they could still not have formed a government. What may have tipped LibDem voters into going blue rather than red was the prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition, or failing that a need for a second election. That, of course, is partly Labour’s own fault. They campaigned heavily against electoral reform and therefore helped make voters afraid of anything other than a single-party majority government. Unfortunately for Labour, without Scotland, which they appear to have treated with utter contempt, they have no chance of ever getting a majority in Westminster.
Given the level of anti-Scottish rhetoric in the English press over the past few weeks, I suspect that if they held another Scottish Independence referendum now then the Nationalists would win easily. Then the Scots could get back to being a country again rather than begin just anti-English. How long that sentiment will last I don’t know.
As for the rest of the UK, what it desperately needs right now is a viable opposition to the Tories: a party that is neither made of up careerist politicians nor racist cranks. I have no idea where such a party can be found, though if the Greens can manage a bit more populism they might fill the void.
One small ray of hope is that the Tories will probably soon be tearing each other apart over exit from the EU. Promising a referendum helped Cameron stave off the UKIP threat, but now he has to deliver and the business community is firmly on the side of staying in the EU. Similar issues with the Eurosceptic wing of the party bedevilled John Major’s government too. It had a similar wafer-thin majority, and when it collapsed that ushered in Tony Blair.
On a personal level, the election has been a disaster. I quite understand the public anger with the LibDems, but losing Julian Huppert and Lynne Featherstone from Parliament is a major setback for trans rights. Thankfully we still have Kerry McCarthy and Caroline Lucas, but I don’t know of anyone with a voice in government that we can rely on.
Bristol, on the other hand, has done quite well. All four city MPs are now women, three of them Labour. One of the new ones is Thangam Debbonaire who is a former professional cellist, and an internationally renowned campaigner against domestic violence. We don’t have a gay MP any more, but you can’t have everything. I note also that Bristol Greens gained 7 seats in the City Council elections, including both Clifton seats.
Finally a word of commiseration to my friend Talis Kimberley who stood as a Green candidate in Swindon South. While she didn’t manage to save her deposit, she did come within a whisker of beating the LibDem. In any case, standing for Parliament is a hugely stressful thing to do, Here’s hoping her political career only goes upwards from here.