So we have a winner. It was a complete surprise to me. All of the time that I’ve invested over the last six weeks in checking and double checking the May 2015 website was entirely wasted. The polls clearly got it very wrong. I’ll be interested in hearing more about why they got it wrong from a methodological perspective. However, this is clearly not the main issue for most voters.
The media have been loving this. Everyone likes a twist in the tail, but I think that a lot of the early analysis is jumping to some conclusions that I don’t think are fully supported by the evidence. So I thought I might try and summarise how I think that the election went in a series of propositions. I’d be interested to hear whether people agree or disagree with my propositions.
- People in Scotland are fed up with being ruled by English governments that they didn’t vote for. They are consistently to the left of England and have voted for a party which they believe will focus on Scotland but also challenge a number of orthodoxies about the economy and social policy.
- The Liberal Democrats have collapsed. The Lib Dem vote was always much softer than the Labour or Conservative vote and after five years as junior partners in the coalition no one knows what they stand for any more (or cares). They are no longer a generic party of protest but nor do they have any clear position – so most of their voters went looking for somewhere else as their home. I suspect that it will be difficult for the Lib Dems to pull back from this.
- The Labour Party failed to put a coherent message to the electorate or to inspire anyone. As a result their vote frayed around the edges to UKIP and Greens. They also failed to win over enough Lib Dems or any Tories. The narrative that the media is pushing is that they moved to the left and were punished for it. However, I don’t think that anyone really believed that Ed’s party was actually left wing. They weren’t really anything, that was the problem.
- UKIP polled pretty well despite only getting one seat (Thanet hasn’t announced yet). Although I don’t have any time for their solutions to the countries problems, they are clearly connecting with a substantial minority of voters. Theirs is the politics of disgruntlement. The assumption that someone somewhere is doing better than you are and that it isn’t fair. In fact they are mostly a social and economic conservative party, but their voters are more complex than that. My guess is that many of their followers will continue to move around the political spectrum.
- There is a vote to the left of Labour in England and Wales. It isn’t very big, but in the Greens it has a real electoral manifestation for the first time. How Labour relate to this is likely to be important to how the party develops post-Ed.
- The UK electoral system (and wider constitution) is no longer fit for purpose. It might have worked in a largely two party class-based system, but it is no longer functional. Sooner or later this will have to be looked at through a process of constitutional reform. I think that this has now moved beyond an issue for political geeks.
- The Conservatives eventually found a message that connected with some people. This basically went “don’t rock the boat, Ed is weak, the Jocks are coming to get you”. I don’t think that this election is a big victory for Cameron’s vision of Britain, but it has shown that the Conservatives continue to have good populist instincts.
So how does that work as a summary?