As the dust settles after a night and day of high drama David Cameron has the seats required to form a Conservative majority government. It certainly has been an unpredictable 24 hours. The results have been drastically different to the countless polls which put the Conservatives and Labour neck at neck. So what happened?
The Scottish National Party knew they would do well but none could have predicted success of this magnitude. During the campaign Nicola Sturgeon hoped for 30-40 seats from the Scottish electorate. To win 56 out of 59 contestable seats in Scotland is a shock both to political commentators and those within the SNP themselves. The swings in certain seats have been breath-taking, sometimes reaching 30%-35%.
There is no doubt that the SNP is the leading party in Scotland providing a bloc that will make sure Cameron cannot ignore our cousins past the border. Sturgeon would have hoped the election would be close enough for her bloc to become the power which would decide who would enter 10 Downing Street. The fact that the Conservatives have instead won a majority makes the SNP’s victory somewhat bittersweet. Importantly the SNP enjoy two important commodities – time and a strong mandate – making it anyone’s guess when, or even if, Sturgeon will push for a second referendum on independence.
Labour’s Damp Squib
The election has been a disaster for Labour. When the exit poll at 10:00pm last night indicated Ed Miliband’s party would gain less seats than under Gordon Brown it brought shockwaves and disbelief amongst both politicians and the press. They proved to be remarkably accurate with Labour’s big hitters throughout the night losing their seats; Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. These influential players – some of whom have been part of Labour’s senior circle the last ten years – were swept aside by a tidal wave of Tory support in supposed safe Labour seats, with the party losing all but one Labour seat in Scotland.
Ed Miliband has had no option but to resign as leader. Going to the left of centre might have turned off the voters along with the perceived risk of a potential alliance with the SNP, loudly reinforced by the Conservatives and certain media outlets. The question now is – what now for Labour?
A new leader will have to be elected but for now Labour will have to sift through the wreckage a period of reflection will be needed to analyse what went wrong. It’s been a long and sad night for Labour that started with hope and ends with a dethroned leader.
One wonders what David Miliband thinks of all this…and what might have been had the trade unions got their way…
Cameron’s Joy & Dilemmas
David Cameron will be ecstatic at gaining a second term especially when the polls indicated a hung parliament. However, joy will quickly turn to reflection, as two problems now lie immediately at his doorstep.
Firstly, Cameron will need to deal with Nicola Sturgeon, as the SNP has destroyed Labour’s base in Scotland. Sturgeon’s anti-Tory rhetoric has been notable during the campaign but pragmatism will be the course of the day should Cameron and the SNP try to co-exist – even if both Cameron and Sturgeon differ widely on several things like austerity and Trident.
Secondly, Europe could serve to define Cameron’s second term in office, especially as he has pledged a 2017 in/out referendum on staying in the European Union. Conservative backbenchers have pressured Cameron for years on Europe but it will be interesting to see if fissures and factions occur on this issue like in previous Conservative administrations.
The Liberal Democrat Massacre
It has been a bloodbath for the Liberal Democrats who paid the price for a coalition government with the Tories. Only 8 MPs remain, a far cry from the 57 achieved five years ago. Senior members were cut down at the ballot box – Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Energy Secretary Ed Davey all lost their seats. One group of voters – the students – may have enacted their vengeance after the Lib Dems reneged their pledge of tuition fees, arguably the defining moment in the Liberal Democrats time in office as part of the coalition.
Nick Clegg may have held his seat but the massacre has been as such that Clegg has also been forced to resign, leaving the Liberal Democrats to pick up the pieces. It is possible that they will not recover from their heavy losses for decades to come.
As for the smaller parties UKIP may have won only one seat but finished in second place in several constituencies, winning an impressive 13% of the electorate’s votes (That translates as third in the entire general election). While Farage has stepped down as leader of the party he has not ruled out standing for re-election in September, and given his charismatic performance in the election run-up, it is hard to see how the party will be able to replace him. As for the Greens there were no changes with Caroline Lucas retaining her seat. Leader Natalie Bennett failed to win over her constituents but will be heartened that her party won over a million votes overall.
The big winner out of this is David Cameron. Very few expected him to get a parliamentary majority, including himself. But that is just what he did. And that is a brilliant achievement.