There shall never be enough adjectives available in the English language to accurately articulate the full magnitude of the 2015 General Election which has now come to pass. Almost every poll of the past six months has been proven wholly mistaken; presenting us with a night of pure excitement, trepidation and broken expectation to the extent which British politics so rarely provides. It is one which shall stand out as a possible turning point in our democratic and constitutional history; perhaps revolutionary like no other. From dissatisfaction with the electoral system to the surge of nationalist gains in Scotland, it is an Election that has provided us with much to discuss. Here I present a rundown of the main winners and losers, whilst keeping one eye on what the now-altered political future might hold.
- The Conservative Party – What an incredible night to be a Tory. After being attacked mercilessly by the non-Murdoch press for Coalition’s faults and their seemingly lacklustre election campaign, the Party has defied all the odds to eventually scrape together a Parliamentary majority. Considering the last time they managed this (in similar fashion I must add), was in 1992 under the seemingly inept John Major. Polls had them tipped to either find themselves electorally subservient to Labour, or that they would win the most seats but would be forced to scrabble round in an attempt to form a rag-tag majority. It couldn’t be any different. The sometimes ruthless Conservative election campaign, which heavily targeted opposition individuals and party’s alike, appears to have worked exceptionally. The scaremongering over Scottish rabblerousing and consistent assaults on Miliband’s character have indeed been morally questionable; but have proven a stroke of political genius. To have swayed disaffected Liberal Democrat voters away from Labour I believe, and the polls suggest, has won them the election. To have secured 331 seats in the House of Commons will allow the Conservatives a degree of flexibility when it comes to implementing legislation: On issues where the Party drifts to the Right such as Europe and the economy, they shall likely find themselves supported by a handful of MP’s; 8 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 UKIP. On Lefty issues they can rely on their old friends the Liberal Democrats, whose election disaster will be covered later; whilst potential allies on social issues could even be drawn from the remaining Blairite wing of a demoralised and likely turbulent Labour Party.
- The Scottish National Party – To think that just five years ago, this was a Party that managed to muster just 6 seats in the House of Commons. They were written off even by the Scottish – as they have been throughout their turbulent history – as a Party of nationalists fielding limited ideas and credentials. Now in 2015, they have successfully smashed over a century of Scottish tradition by obliterating Labour in what has forever been their solid heartland. They have achieved the impossible; a process which would typically take decades, as when the Liberals were eclipsed by Labour way back in the early 20th century. The foundation for this Caledonian coup is a combination of three factors. Firstly, the economic mess following the banking crisis and continued by turbulence in the Eurozone three years later has driven millions of voters to explore new alternatives. The SNP have responded brilliantly, offering a genuinely attractive left-wing package for the Scottish people. Socialism almost naturally runs through Scottish veins and with policies such as unilateral disarmament and redistributive fiscal policies, it comes as no surprise that they have left the limp Labour Party in droves. Secondly then is the fact that the SNP led an incredibly smooth and effective campaign to portray this manifesto. A combination of the two saw the Party govern effectively as a minority in the Scottish Parliament from 2011; with their credibility further validated by their conducting of the YES campaign for Scottish independence. To have gained 56 seats, still a mindboggling figure, without the First Past the Post voting system however would have been impossible. Thus the third factor to which they owe their success is the fact that their 4.8% national vote share is so massively concentrated. As for the future, do not fear a breakup of the Union because of the SNP’s success. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour would stand for another referendum regardless of how hard the nationalists might fight for it. As it stands there is no way legislatively speaking that the SNP could force a bill through the House.
- The Electorate – Well done to all who voted. The turnout was brilliantly high at 66.1%, or 46.4 million voters, given all the talk of national disaffection with politics.
This election threw up for many people a huge number of disappointments, so I will attempt to keep them brief.
- Key Individuals – Much of this election’s shock stems from the cruelty and mercilessness it displayed in culling numerous political figures which have come to dominate our newspapers and TV-screens over the past couple of years, by either causing them to lose their seat in the House or outright denying them one. Moreover since this morning a number of Party leaders have also resigned. Here is a comprehensive list in order of significance to both Party and electorate.
- Ed Miliband (Labour, resigned)
- Nick Clegg (Lib Dem, resigned)
- Ed Balls (Labour, lost)
- Nigel Farage (UKIP, denied then resigned )
- Natalie Bennet (Green, denied)
- Vince Cable (Lib Dem, lost)
- Esther McVey (Conservative, lost)
- Danny Alexander (Lib Dem, lost)
- Charles Kennedy (Lib Dem, lost)
- The Labour Party– I know I wasn’t alone in predicting that it would be Labour who gained the most seats and eventually cobble together a government. How wrong we were, having been led so far astray by many pollsters in the election build up. With a mere 232 seats this will forever be remembered as a crushing moment for the Party; a shame adding to the list of many others, like the traitorous escapades of Ramsay MacDonald in the mid-1920’s or Jim Callaghan’s governmental collapse. Despite a huge surge in support of Ed Miliband in the past few weeks, this failed to convert into adequate votes in key constituencies to secure anywhere near as many seats as is acceptable for one of the nation’s major parties. What is required now is a huge internal overhaul of the Party, one to modernise not only its policy approach but also its system for leadership selection. Clearly the latter has been a key handicap of the Party for decades. The popular vote from both MP’s and grassroots members evidently chose David Miliband in 2011, yet found itself vetoed by the power of the Unions. This archaic and frankly undemocratic system has resulted quite blatantly in inadequate leadership. Although I am frankly opposed to the crass attacks Miliband has faced with regard to his brother David, both in comparison and for their face-off over the leadership; I must confess that I firmly believe Labour would have swept to victory in this election had the other Miliband held the leadership. Without a clear replacement for Miliband, who has resigned today, expect much Party soul-searching and a huge amount of overhaul in the next few months/years.
- The Liberal Democrats – Devastation, complete and utter devastation. Their election experience this time round portrays an antithesis to the success enjoyed by the SNP. Never again will we witness a political party dealt such a cruel and disabling blow over the period of one Parliament. The decline of a Liberal Democrat presence in Parliament from 56 to 8, which is the lowest in Party history, can be accounted for simply. Coalition with the Conservatives destroyed a great deal of trust of the leadership for the electorate, grassroots Party members and backbenchers, especially over issues such as Europe and tuition fees. Since the days of the Charles Kennedy leadership the ideology of the Liberal Democrats has ever increasingly mutated away from classic or even social liberalism toward that of social democracy; more akin to Labour than any prior manifestation of the Liberal Party, making their natural enemy the Tory Party. Whether when the Party entered into Coalition agreement with the Conservatives Nick Clegg did not understand this or chose simply to ignore it, we will never know. But what is clear is that what was perceived to be a slightly damaging manoeuvre has turned out to be catastrophic. Had the choice been available again following the election of playing kingmaker between Labour and the Conservatives as they did in 2010, the Party would have likely split. Having been denied this opportunity they will probably just trundle on for another Parliament, keeping their heads down away from tough decisions. It will be interesting to see who shall assume the leadership given Clegg’s resignation, given that the Parliamentary Party has been denied all of its major Coalition-era figures.
- The First Past the Post Electoral System – FPTP has got unquestionable merits, there is no doubting that. Hence why it has remained a constant feature of the world’s oldest and strongest democracy. It produces strong governments, minimises the chance of legislative gridlock, it allows for a clear maintenance and advancement of the constituency-MP link, etc. But the system can only function advantageously when voting trends produce a clear two-party system. Evidently, this election and the last has further entrenched peoples doubts as to the fairness of the system. Since the implementation of British universal suffrage, we have voted massively within preset class boundaries. The working class voted overwhelmingly Liberal and then Labour; whilst the middle and upper classes have voted Conservative. Of course there has always been a degree of interchange; otherwise the numerical advantage possessed by the working class would have meant Britain becoming a Liberal/Labour one-party state. But now, those electoral norms have been eroded considerably. There no longer exists one motivational factor that dictates voting behaviour. Trends do still exist, but not to the same extent they used too. Now we have the option to vote for many different parties for many different reasons. This happened in 2010 and it has happened now; with 2015 proving to be one of history’s most fragmented elections. People are becoming frustrated that their party is not proper represented in Parliament. UKIP are the best example of this: having gained a whopping 12.6% of the vote share, making them the third largest Party, they managed to achieve one meagre seat. It’s a shame that such a huge amount of people have seen their vote wasted. Although I deplore UKIP, it’s no wonder that people’s enthusiasm for politics fades dramatically when they fail to be electorally accounted for. Having said that, this election against all the odds did indeed produce a majority government. So rather than panicking about Proportional Representation in the wake of such a monumental event, what is needed is a time to reflect. Give it one more Parliament, to see if FPTP can redeem all the qualities it used to possess before implementing voting reform, for it is still undoubtedly the best voting system in the world.