The fix is in, Hypothetical Audience, the ballots have closed and the votes have been counted, the 2015 UK General Election has come to an end. The results? For me, at least, down right disappointing. Despite opinion polls to the contrary, things went the Conservatives way, allowing them an actual majority this time around, meaning 5 more years of David Cameron in power, but this time, with him having actually won, no other party involved to get in the way of his schemes. As someone who’s been pretty much opposed to most of the coalition government’s goings on since 2010 this has not been the result I was anticipating. Not in the slightest.
The sudden Conservative majority was not the only electoral goings on by a long shot, other fairly major changes happened too. Of no surprise was the fact the Liberal Democrats, once the eternal third wheel in British politics and who had been pretty much the junior partner in the previous coalition government, had their support pretty much destroyed. No, really, previously they’d held 57 seats in the House of Commons, after Thursday they now only possess 8. Quite a change of fortunes for the party that technically held the power in the previous election, but probably a testimony to how unpopular previous leader (we’ll get on to that) Nick Clegg was for throwing his lot in with the Tories.
The other mass change in fortunes, and again an unsurprising turn, was in Scotland where the pro-independence, relatively left-leaning and technically progressive Scottish Nationalist Party managed to take all but 3 of the 59 Scottish seats in Westminster. After the almost-too-close-to-call No result in last year’s Independence Referendum, the Coalition Government promised further devolved powers to the Scottish Government that have failed to materialised so far, so the general feel in Scottish politics has been an understandable resentment towards the traditional Westminster parties. This resentment was being reflected in the opinion polls, and boy did it get those who rely on the powers that be scared. In the run up to the election a large amount of column space in the right wing press, as typified by Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun and The Times as well as the Barclay Brothers’ Daily Telegraph, were being dedicated to informing their readership how dangerous they should consider the SNP and how scared they should be at Scotland exercising it’s democratic right to have representation in our national government. Clearly it didn’t work, as the results have shown us, and now they’ve technically leapfrogged the LibDems to become the second largest party in government, despite not having a single MP south of the Anglo-Caledonian border.
There were a couple of surprises in the results, though. Firstly and perhaps most worryingly was the surge in support for the United Kingdom Independence Party. UKIP’s entire schtick was playing upon the vaguely-to-moderately overtly xenophobic knee-jerk fear of change, often using migrants and the European Union (and recently the Scots) as scapegoats for whatever problem is facing the country at any given time. As can be imagined this has attracted a lot of racists and other bigots to them, but the real shock was that nearly Four Million of my fellow countrymen voted for them, making them the third largest party on votes, although due to the way elections in the UK are set up and use the First Past The Post system (again, more on that later), means they only got a single seat. The general feel from the press on both sides of the line (except Desmond’s Daily Express) as well as general feeling from the online discourse was that not many supported their cause. The fact eight percent of the electorate, according to the BBC’s numbers, did is both astounding and terrifies the hell out of me.
As the results came in there was also a sudden outbreak of resignations of party leaders, claiming 3 high profile victims. The least surprising of this was king of the Kippers Nigel Farage, mostly because he had publicly stated he’d do so if he didn’t win his seat. Which he of course didn’t. Then there was LibDem and 2010-2015 Deputy Prime Minister Without Actually Winning Anything Nick Clegg, a man who managed to both get pally with a government that hasn’t been that popular and in doing so likely destroyed the minor surge in support his party got 5 years ago. Given the absolute drubbing his party received in the polls and the loss of 49 seats I’m honestly surprised it took him as long as it did. The real surprise resignation was Labour’s Ed Miliband, a man who if you ask me looked like an escapee from Aardman Animation’s Wallace and Gromit. Whilst I didn’t particularly like the man, and coming from an Old Labour family I’ve never really gelled with what happened to the party after Tony Blair got his hands on it twenty years ago, the fact that towards the end of campaigning he was beginning to pull it around in the polls, and had actually managed to start shaking off the “awkward weirdo” image that the right wing press had been laying on him. Generally losing an election, especially one that was so closely ran up until the very last minute, hasn’t been a career killer in the past, so I do wonder what was going on behind the scenes at Labour HQ to prompt this.
Late update: since finishing this post yesterday evening, it transpires that the UKIP national executive committee has not accepted Nigel Farage’s resignation, meaning he actually remains party leader and we’re not rid of him after all. No I have no idea how this works either but here we are.
The biggest surprise was, of course, the sudden majority that the Conservatives managed to pull out of nowhere in the English and Welsh seats. Up until the very night before the count, opinion polls were predicting neither of the big 2 gaining a majority at all, and the results beyond that being almost a dead heat between them meaning another hung parliament. As the exit poll came in it suggested a slight tilt to the Tories but few, myself included, believed it, probably out of high spirits at the prospect of getting shot of them. As the dust settled the high spirits died. How did things go this bad? Well the instant first responses I saw was Labour supporters going “Oh the SNP handed the country to the Tories” or “those green voters” and so on, but I reject this idea. If we were to go on the opinion polls before time, the rise in support for both the SNP and the Greens was expected, and still the Labour and Conservative numbers were about even. More than anything it’s clear a switch from Labour to Conservative with a lot of voters made the change.
But then, what could possibly be responsible for this shift? Traditionally, Labour voters have very little in common with Conservative policies, and it would take a great deal to shift from one to the other (or indeed vice-versa, but that’s not the issue here). Perhaps the way the press had been exploiting people’s fear prior to the election is responsible here. For the fortnight preceding the election every right-leaning newspaper was running headlines stirring up fear of what would happen if Labour got in. A popular line was using the idea that the SNP would have become the holder of power if a hung parliament came about and that this would be a very bad thing (with a lack of irony regarding how the previous coalition happened too I might add). As I said earlier, the concept of a pro-Scottish independence, left leaning party deciding the fate of the nation, even when democratically elected, has scared the establishment.
Then there was also Labour’s plan to remove the capability for Non-Resident British Citizens to move large sums of cash away from the UK more or less tax-free, which got in the way of the press Barons, who are mostly non-resident British Citizens with lots of money. These two fears of the establishment combined to create a scheme to instil fear in the populace, suddenly the English press became very concerned that the SNP would dissolve the Union if Labour got the vote. “Vote X Get Y” became the slogan of choice as the papers on the right started printing tactical voting guides to keep the union together just in case Scotland dared use their democratic vote to make their own desires heard in Westminster. Fear makes it easier for a population to be control, and fear mongering is the thing some of our press is best at. The actions of the press more than anything else seemed to have swayed this election if you ask me, and it’s Murdoch, Lebedev, Barclay and Barclay that won it, not David Cameron.
Another issue raised in the aftermath of the election that I want to touch on briefly (and may write a more in depth post on in future) has been the quite genuine unfairness of the First Past the Post system. As has been often pointed out these last few days, despite the fact over 50% of the population didn’t vote for them the conservatives got in anyway, and while nearly 4 million voted for UKIP and over a million voted for the Greens, both only won a single seat whereas the SNP got 56 seats with 1.5 million. This has led to renewed discussion in electoral reform, something I genuinely believe needs discussing. The current talk has been greatly based around replacing the FPTP system with Proportional Representation, however this is not something I believe should be made of our only elected governmental house. You see, Proportional Representation works well on a national scale, but here in the UK our General Elections are not national, more 650 local based ones for individual seats. While this does lead to some farcical vote number vs. actual victory numbers, it does mean we have a local representative to harangue when things are going odd (which doesn’t always work, speaking from experience).
Since we only elect a single house of national government, I feel it is important to retain that level of locally-accountable representation, which switching to a Proportional House of Commons would lose. But, as I said, the system is clearly broken, however if we are to only address the brokenness in a single aspect rather than the whole damn thing, I think a switch to preferential voting may be more prudent for a government where we elect locally. At least then we’ll be able to have a bit more control over who represents us than we do right now. In an ideal world, I’d say go for a proportional house on a national level and a separate house with representatives elected locally, but that’d require an overhaul to the entire system that’s probably too deep to go into in just a couple of paragraphs.
So, that’s how things have gone. We’re stuck with the Conservatives for five more years, only this time without whatever kind of balancing edge the LibDems may have potentially provided. So where do we go from here? Personally, I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the last 5 and be a vocal opponent of the government’s policy, and a supporter of those who wish to change things for a more progressive, diverse and inclusive society. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get through to them. If not, I’ll see you all in 2020 when we get to have one more go around the circus that is the British Political System.
Until next time, folks
—I want a government that believes in people, not power and money.