History was written in the recent UK General Elections. There were many historic shocks and yet again the opinion polls were wrong. The Conservatives and Labour were neck and neck in polling however managed to gain a majority. Labour meanwhile have been routed, not only in Scotland but have failed to make any significant gains in England and Wales. The Greens and UKIP despite all the hype only got a seat each. The SNP shocked everyone, gaining near complete control over Scotland and removing the Westminster parties from power. The Liberal Democrats were torn to bits and it remains to be seen if they can once more be a credible third party in UK politics once more, possibly not in this generation. UK politics has become fragmented - SNP in Scotland, England has gone blue once more with the South becoming a sea of blue.
Despite no one predicting a Tory majority I did mention the possibility a couple of weeks back in a recent blog post. Once the exit polls came out it did not surprise me, in fact I still thought they underestimated the Tory vote and decided to blog to twitter to state that the Tories would not only get the numbers claimed would get more and get their majority despite all the coverage still talking of deals. Once the results starting coming in, other commentators started comparing it all to the 1992 election, something I said in my original blog post. What did surprise me was the extent of the SNP vote in Scotland. I knew they would do well - possible 20-30 seat gain, but 50? The swings broke historical voting records, something I just didn't see coming. I thought people like Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander and so on would retain seats but it appears people just wanted SNP regardless of old ties (I think also the "No" vote to independance would have been split between the various other parties, while the "Yes" vote was concentrated in the SNP).
Of course this was a fascinating election whichever tribe you support. Here are my thoughts.
Strengthened their English vote. Cameron has successfully positioned the party in Center territory and was able to pick up a number of Liberal Democrat seats. People have felt the recovery and it showed as the Tories not only defended their seats but actually increased their majority.
A bit of irony. For years under New Labour they had moved too far to the right and Scottish people showed their distaste by voting in spades for SNP who have a socialist stance. However Labour actually moved too far left for English voters therefore Labour never made any real inroads in middle England. They were talking of price controls (on rents), "mansion" taxes, more tax on upper earners and scapegoating banks. Obviously the south of England completely rejected these anti-aspiration policies and went Blue.
Annihilated. I don't know where they go from here. Labour swept up any progressive votes they had, the Tories taking the moderate center ground voters. They are traditionally a progressive centrist party but went into coalition with a Tory Government. Its core voters therefore administered punishment. There was also SNP fear in England so many also voted Tory.
A clear message; Scotland want more powers. This will be interesting and I will discuss below.
Despite all the hype, only got a single seat each. They will both say we need Proportional representation. I've covered why thats a bad idea (I also mention in that post I thought Labour would come to power in this election - however this was before Ed became leader and I thought it would his brother David that would replace Brown at the time, who is more center, and I'm sure would have got more Tory and Lib Dem seats than his brother - already people are saying he should come back to British politics. If Labour want to win the next election, they need to move back to the center ground and elect a leader like David Miliband).
What will happen with the SNP? A lot of people are prematuratly stating that UK parties are dead in Scotland. They could be correct however if I was David Cameron I would offer fiscal autonomy to Scotland. This would be easy to pass as it doesn't affect other UK nations and is what the SNP want but also still preserves the union. He should call their bluff for a number of reasons.
- I don't think they want it. They are a party who have heavy spending commitments due to their socialist agenda but due to the current low price of oil would have no money to fund such spending. Many high tax payers reside in England, thus they would struggle to generate money that way.
- If they did they would bankrupt Scotland. They would run out of money and it would be clear to the Scottish person that they are inept. There would be no "Westminster" to blame as fiscal autonomy gives that control to Scotland
If this happened I believe many seats would once again move back to Labour/LibDem/Conservative hands and the Scottish may once more wish to not have autonomy over their finances or try to elect the above to manage the budget in a better manner. This move, if Cameron would be brave enough to do it, would preserve the union and discredit the SNP. It would also potentially push Scottish mentality towards a more center right wing stance.
The Liberal Democrats meanwhile were decimated. I'm sure Labour will once more move more towards the center-right a Blairite position once more and the tories are already there which is where the majority of English voters are politically. The party surely will gain some of their seats back over time; I think a number of freak factors contributed to the collapse; rise of SNP, Coalition and other tactical voting.
Labour didn't completely abandon New Labour politics. Ed Miliband was in fact the first Labour leader to actually say he wanted to cut spending but he did move the party ever so slightly left and thus did not gain the middle England vote. Socialism is dead in England (well I'm sure the North East would disagree). Margret Thatcher once said her greatest achievement was "New Labour" (although it was the British electorate that created it). British people took a profound shift the right during her time, nearly killing off the old Labour party. Under Neil Kinnock, then under Blair, Labour continually moved towards the center then to the center-right position in order to eventually defeat 18 years of Tory rule. Blairs first term kept to Tory spending plans and they were the first Labour Government during 1997-2001 to actually run a budget surplus. Labour had also abandoned any notion of tax rises - Blair was ruthless in this agenda removing any of his politicians who suggested such a policy. Thatcher meant that both main parties actually now encompassed Tory values, so it didn't really matter who got in power (hence one reason for recent voter apathy during Tony Blairs rule and the rise of the SNP in traditional Socialist areas such as Scotland).
This is also how I came to my conclusions of a Tory majority and that the polls would be wrong just like the 1992 election, Labour had moved once more to the left and all the "Shy Tory" voters would appear once more (in fact, whenever Labour did this in the post war period they always got a lower eventual vote than the polls suggested). They will no doubt under their next leader move back into the center-right ground. But heres a problem how would they re-gain Scotland if they were to do this? Put simply they can't; its either England or Scotland. I think their best chance is to support any devolved power to the SNP and just watch the party self implode.
England meanwhile is now firmly in the right-center of the political spectrum; Socialism is virtually dead. People believe in aspiration, business, profits, capitalism and so on. New Labour success was built on these principles the center-right ground which David Cameron now occupies. People have felt the recovery, indeed I see it with my own eyes as my own salary has kept increasing during the Coalition Government. Most of all people voted for why I thought the Tories would get a majority - stability. They saw too much of a risk with Ed Miliband, either with the economy or deals with the SNP so opted for the conservatives. Do not underestimate this victory. Not since Thatcher in 1983 has an existing PM increased their number of seats; and to actually increase the proportion of votes we have to go further back.
What are the main conclusions that can be drawn from the election? With all the drama and historic records that were set the actual outcome is quite boring. Its the same PM who wants to keep the status quo and is actually a reflection of the English people. Above all else they wanted stability and I actually applause such an outcome. Its a triumph of the first past the post as all other outcomes would have been fraught with battles from the off - no one would have a majority and there would have been deals that would have never worked for the long term. That doesn't mean David Camerons new Government is solid; far from it. With such a slim majority all those rebel backbenches may think it's time to raise their concerns knowing full well the actual majority has been reduced compared to the coalition. History has once more repeated itself just like in 1992 as I predicted a couple of weeks back.