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General Election 2015: The Tale Of The Tape

10pm, 7th May & Exit poll announces Tories are largest party on 316 seats

At about 20 to 1 this afternoon, the Conservatives passed a landmark that they had not passed since the afternoon of April 10th 1992.  They won the seat of Cotswolds which gave them their first overall majority since that date.  This confirmed a result that we all knew was likely since the retention of the Nuneaton seat about quarter to 2 this morning.  For this election, Nuneaton was this elections equivalent to Basildon in 1992 – results that made flesh Labour’s failure to win.

When the seat of St Ives declared at half past 3, this gave us the final result of –

Liberal Democrats

Conservative majority - 12
Turnout – 66.1%

The Conservatives did not win by voters switching from Labour, there was a swing from the Conservatives to Labour of 1.1%.  What pushed the Conservatives over the line was the collapse in the Lib Dem vote and that simply more Lib Dem seats were Lib Dem-Tory marginal’s.  Like 1992, Cameron’s honeymoon period will be short lived though the bulging in-tray might have more to do with things than any economic problems.  The European Referendum will now be a thing – with negotiations dominating the first part of Cameron’s second term.  Cameron has also indicated a willingness to deal with Scotland as well in a better manner than The Smith Commission.  Those 56 SNP seats now means that those proposals are now obsolete.  While there is things to celebrate for the Conservatives, bearing in mind that the result is better than the exit poll (the Conservatives short by 10), the last time the Tories won with a wafer thin majority – twice the current majority – Major’s government was a walking disaster riven by division and rebellion over Europe.  It’s a good job Europe isn’t going to dominate the…  oh.

The Conservatives are not the only party celebrating.  The SNP surge was very real and much worse for the Westminster 3 than the polling suggested.  That moniker now describes the total MP’s for the pro-Union parties.  Why?  Well the referendum campaign played a part, canvassing areas New Labour took for granted putting their arguments until the penny dropped about Labour’s neglect of Scotland & the Scottish voter. Of course, Sturgeon, like Salmond before her, is lucky that Labour have played into their hands with not smart politics.  The neutral blogger Stuart Winton suggested that the SNP would be marginalised in the new parliament and that the best prospect to save the union would be a new Independence referendum.  I’m not sure a second referendum would be as decisive as the Unionists need it to be, but the SNP are not going to go away – they’re too smart for that.  Remember as well that the SNP will now be eligible for ‘short money’ and also positions in the key select committees.

Douglas Alexander, Mhari Black & Fraser Galloway await their fate
at Paisley's Lagoon Centre
Any talk of the SNP brings about talk about blaming the SNP for Labour’s defeat.  It’s true that Scotland is one of the big reasons Labour lost.  Labour did not handle the referendum very well.  From Milliband’s unthinking acceptance of Cameron’s anti-Independence positioning to their acceptance of the Coaltion vetoing parts of the Smith Commission – time and time again they showed a lack of understanding that the terms of the debate hadchanged.  True, we don’t want Independence but polling showed that Devo Max is the settled will of the Scottish people – Labour’s constant thwarting of this sowed the seeds of them being seen as ‘RedTories’. Scotland also hurt them in the English shires as the Tories pushed the line that a Labour-SNP deal would be deeply harmful to the country.  They did not handle the referendum and they failed to successfully rebut the prospect of ‘that woman’ (as a voter in Carlisle put it) running the UK.

The other reason Labour failed was that they lost the economic argument.  That’s an outcome that you could have predicted within a year of Miliband taking the Labour leadership.  As I pinpointed at the time, rather than formulate a viable alternative to Osborne’s scorched earth policy they instead fully signed up to it.  They also failed to fully articulate their economic policy fully.  They did have good policies, abolishing the Non Dom tax rule, but they were few and far between.  Personally speaking, I was also rather appalled at the gentrification of Labour – not something that had occurred to me until I voted last night.  Two Labour canvassers (not the normal canvassers outside Bushes I hasten to add) were unhappy at the prospect of someone being elected that wasn’t from the town that would bring the reputation of the town down.  Make of that what you will.

Yet, even before Milliband resigned, there were the growing storms of a Blairite coup should he not jump.  Even after he went, the journalists Dan Hodges and John Rentoul were questioning Milliband’s supposed left wing policies while Blair’s former speechwriter Phillip Collins and the former MP John Reid were also urging a return to Blairite policies.  That worked really really well here in Scotland, didn’t it?  Of the so called leading contenders, Andy Burnham’s probably the co-favourite with Yvette Cooper with Dan Jarvis (who?) the outsider. More to follow on that story one suspects though there certainly is the feeling of a changing of the guard moment for Labour with Milliband gone and both Balls and Alexander losing their seats – Brown’s backroom staff from opposition have been removed from the top of Labour

Labour had a really bad night, in being wiped out in Scotland.  At least they didn’t come close to extinction like the Lib Dems.  In 2010 they lost 5 seats but picked up the most votes they have ever taken under the Lib Dem banner.  Last night, the pattern set in the Holyrood elections of 2011 continued as they lost all but a small cabal of MP’s and shed more than half of their voters.  If Labour have huge choices on their future direction, what of the Lib Dems?  Do they continue down the Orange Book path that brought them power followed by the brutal rejections suffered in the past four years, or do they return to the Social democratic model that saw them gradually build as a party since the merger of the Liberals and the SDP in 1988?

The SNP richly deserved their victory.  Unkind Labour wags bemoan the fact that the SNP have stolen their clothes.  Well if you discard things in pursuit of gentrification, then don’t be surprised if vote winning ideas that have been discarded are picked up.  We will see how much influence the SNP/Plaid/Green bloc garner.  Labour deserved their defeat too.  Their campaign was better than Cameron’s, but the failure to rebut the Labour/SNP coalition story cost them as much as their inability to lay a finger on Cameron. 

The Conservative’s election victory is entirely down to the pattern set since Thatcher in the 1980’s – that unpopular governments no longer lose elections but attractive governments in waiting win them.  For all the fury at the performance of the SNP – Milliband, Balls, Alexander & co never ever looked like the next British government.

This post first appeared on Dispatches From Paisley, please read the originial post: here

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General Election 2015: The Tale Of The Tape


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