So why did that happen?


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?



  1. Instant thoughts, spot on I think. Mixed messages involving fear and uncertainty. I would be interested to hear why/how the polls have missed their predictions (misleading) and how this affected each of the political party’s strategies. I would pay good money to know what role did Lynton Crosby play in the run up. A very interesting individual… and I see some of the press appreciating his efforts.

  2. I had some similar thoughts as the election campaign began and now borne out by the data. I think that the campaigning strategies were contributory factors to this scenario. The Tories use negative politics of fear to galvanise their supporters – they are well versed in the Daily Mail hyperbole. This is reflected in the Tory vote share – it didn’t increase significantly from 2010. What I couldn’t understand is why Labour used the same tactics – “don’t vote for the bogeyman or the world will end. Don’t vote for them, they betrayed you. Don’t vote for them, they’re too different from us.” That is where it all fell apart from my perspective because Labour lost votes and seats compared to 2010

  3. Hi
    It certainly concurs with the views in my household this morning. I think a fatal flaw of Labour over the past 5 years has been keeping too low a profile. They have let the Conservatives continue to ram home the false message that Labour caused the recession despite overwhelming evidence that no party could have done so. The largely right-wing press has pilloried Ed Miliband at every turn and the whipped up fear that if Labour get in, we will have more turbulent economic times.

    I hope it all doesn’t mean that Britain has lost all compassion – although if you are subject to the bedroom tax farce you may think so – and the number of votes caste against the Conservatives remain strong.

    It broke my heart to hear Ed Balls superb speech in defeat – but that has been assuaged by hearing that Nigel Farage lost – so a kick in the pants for the right-wing.

    Oh dear…..

  4. Certainly chimes with me – and I squarely identify with your category 2 scenario with a splash of point 5. Add to that sense of ‘nowhere for me to vote’ a big problem with the fact that in my constituency a vote for anything other than Conservative was largely wasted. If Labour had tried to sound more positive they may have got my vote – I wanted so badly to hear what parties would do, not why I should not vote for the others.

  5. I’d agree to an extent, Tristram, but

    1. the British Social Attitudes Survey suggests that the Scots and the English have little genuine difference of opinion and to say that the Scots are meaningfully more left-wing than the English is a misconception.

    What the SNP seems have done is largely hoovered up the entire Yes vote from the referendum last year (indeed, it looks like they got fewer votes in total than Yes did due to a lower turnout) under an ostensibly left-wing banner, whilst the other parties have split the remainder between them. it’s a remarkable piece of campaigning from the SNP and I suspect a model that will be examined closely, but not necessarily a victory for left-wing politics (although a lot will claim it is).

    2. Lib Dem Voice is clear that your analysis is basically correct, and with a shattered MP, MSP and councillor base, things will be hard for the Lib Dems

    7. A lot of the immediate post-election narrative, particularly from Lib Dem and Labour canvassers, is that the prospect of an SNP/Labour link came up very frequently on the doorstep. That suggests difficulty in trying to pull together a compelling progressive cross-border consensus, and that the Tories remain masters of populist narrative.

    8. You are entitled to mention it was a decent night for the Greens as well. No new seats, but viable challengers, especially in Bristol West.

  6. On (1) my guess is that it would be possible for a left of Labour English party to get rather more than the 3-4% that the Greens polled (or even the 8ish% that they were predicted at the height of the #greensurge). However most of these people have stuck with Labour so far in England. In Scotland they didn’t have to.

    • You’re probably right, but my gut feeling is that it will need a significant voter registration drive as I suspect this pool of support simply aren’t turning out for anyone at the moment.

  7. I’m still fuming with the Lib Dems to be honest and their naivity (being kind) or power hunger (being realistic) Clegg must have know he would alienate all left leaning voters and equally realise that those who were choosing Lib Dems over the Tories would revert to type next time. And whilst the grandees like Steel now look to distance themselves, or the workers like Cable provided a brief challenge at the time, they all got sucked into the chance of having their moment in the spotlight. Now that is all they have to look back on, no-one will remember how they moderated the Tories, simply how they went back on some core principles in return for a half hearted referendum on a half way house PR solution. And mean those of us who want to challenge the establishment have to find and build up a fringe party again (like Green) rather than be able to build on the position they had established in the 2010 election. And if I hear national interest one more time I will explode – surely they could have agreed to a confidence and supply agreement on the economy, which would have allowed them to be far more challenging on matters of social and liberal principle. I get no satisfaction from their implosion today, and feel their self interest in 2010 has actually contributed to a national lurch to the right along with some of the other stuff you mention Tristram.

  8. Like others, all of your points hold water for me too. I would imagine though that when the voting stats are broken down, you’re still going to see an overwhelming over 50 Tory vote and a youth vote (nowhere near big enough in total) much more split along ideological (to Green & Labour) and class (to UKIP) lines. There’s a battle of the generations which hasn’t been covered yet.

    Green voters last night must’ve been very hardcore. Going into polling day, it was very obvious that it would be tight and that every vote could count for a battle of legitimacy so to hold your nose and vote Green in places outside Brighton or Bristol knowing that could weaken a possible argument for a future Labour lead coalition took guts.

    I have to say that in the build up to polling day, I took a lot of comfort in the misplaced belief that some of the Tory manifesto plans would never see the light of day in a Coalition scenario but now they have a (slim) majority, some of what they could get through is worrying, especially to do with the welfare state.

    Where Labour go from here is anyone’s guess. On actual numbers of votes, we’re a very split country but, outside of the cities, it’s a world they just don’t seem to connect with. If they go left, they’ll find that a lot of their target demographic voted for UKIP never to return (and incidentally are all probably annoyed or disenchanted today by their 1 seat return), go for another Tony Blair and they’ll find that the Tories have moved the perception of the center ground to firmly under themselves. People were voting for £12bn worth of unspecified cuts last night without batting an eyelid.

  9. 1. Labour has no fire in its belly. Take a look at what Nicola Sturgeon has achieved. By god
    She roars, she inspires, she galvanises people just like Labour used to.
    2. Too many wishy washy uninspiring figure heads in the party, too middle class for many core voters.
    3. Trying to be all things to everyone.
    4. Need to have a leader as sharp as a knife, full of life, full of fight and we just don’t have it.
    5.All the above is unfair because non of it relates to policy but get the figure heads right and the
    Party will flourish.

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