Last Friday, to the surprise of many British people, the right-of-centre Conservative party won the General Election with an outright majority. This was despite polls which had claimed that the Conservatives and their largest opponent, the Labour Party, were neck and neck throughout the campaign, with the Conservatives’ former coalition partners the Liberal Democrats losing a lot of vote share. Meanwhile, the Scottish Nationalist Party were predicted to surge in Scotland, the right-of-centre United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) surging in England (although by less) and even the small Greens vote share was predicted to grow.
The first indications that the polls had been way off was the publication of the exit poll at 10pm, showing the Conservatives with a much larger share of parliamentary seats than expected, but short of an absolute majority. By the following morning, the Conservatives no longer needed an coalition allies, ending up with 331 of the available 650 seats. This also ran counter to most electoral history in the UK, where the incumbent party’s vote share and number of seats usually drops. Meanwhile, the Labour party seat share fell, the LibDems lost all but 8 of their seats. Due to the anomalies created by the UK ‘First Past the Post’ voting system (designed for an earlier era of two-party politics), UKIP achieved 4 million votes (about 12% of the vote) but only won one seat. The Green voted increased to around 1 million (about 3%) but were unable to win more than the one seat they’d held since the 2010 election. The SNP did spectacularly, taking 56 of the 59 available Scottish constituencies.
It really was the shock of the size of the Conservative win which has taken people by surprise, along with how poorly Labour did. And the consequences may rumble on for some time.
The Conservatives will consider themselves unfettered by the compromises needed while in coalition, but actually now have a slimmer majority than they held while in their formal alliance with the LibDems from 2010 to 2015. This may cause some future problems if too many of their backbenchers rebel against the party line.
The other parties have been thrown into disarray…
Within the space of sixty minutes on Friday, three party leaders resigned – Ed Miliband (Labour), Nick Clegg, who had led the LibDems into coalition, and Nigel Farage, the face of UKIP (although this last resignation became an ‘unresignation‘ within a few days).
To my mind, it seems odd that leaders of political parties would resign at this point. Firstly, I would have thought that some continuity of leadership would be needed, ready to challenge the ideas which are inevitably put forward by a new Government. Secondly, I don’t understand why leaders of political parties suddenly, it seems, have to throw themselves on their swords if they lose the election / lose seats. We’re not talking about soccer teams who fire managers after a run of bad games. And there’s no historical precedent. Take Winston Churchill, for instance. After heading the wartime National Government, he was booted out in the 1945 general election, also lost the 1950 election and didn’t become Prime Minister again until 1951. He didn’t give up after the first defeat!
Added to this, we have the issue that everyone thinks they know how to solve the ‘problem’.
We have candidates rushing forward to offer themselves up for leadership, while stating what went wrong. Hang on, people, give the dust a little time to settle. How about time to gather evidence, talk to people, analyse and reflect? It begins to look like you’re more interested in your CV, than assessing how things might need to change.
It’s not helped by the other ‘elder statesmen’ (and it is men) in Labour who have already made their damning verdicts on the leadership of Ed Miliband: Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, and even Ed’s brother David Miliband…
I’m not, in any way, going to apologise for the Miliband version of Labour and how it performed during this election campaign (it’s not just Miliband himself – I’m not a big fan of the presidential approach parties now take, but that’s another post). Clearly, the Labour party didn’t present a clear and appealing narrative of what they had to offer.
But that said, I don’t think anyone can yet know what exactly produced the result last week and, rather than proclaim themselves an expert at this point, I honestly believe some time and evidence is needed and no party should rush into electing a new leader.
P.S. After originally typing this, I notice that Labour is holding off till September, which is better than nothing.