Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It wasn't a jump to the left

Hell yeah. 

What a relief.  All but one of the opinion polls indicated a dead heat between the two main parties. The bookies saw a Labour minority government (propped up by the SNP and Liberal Democrats) as most likely.  The broadcasters were convinced that the odds of the Conservatives forming a government, a minority government, with the Liberal Democrats and maybe UKIP and the DUP, were not good.

Meanwhile, the hated Lynton Crosby had kept David Cameron on one message, and Cameron kept saying that the Tories only needed to win 23 more seats to govern alone.   Yet, with all of Labour's rhetoric about how awful the economic recovery had been for so many, and calling itself the "party of the many not the privileged few", it seemed inconceivable that with the sinking lid of spending cuts, that the government wouldn't lose seats.   325 seats is a majority, and it was thought that if the Conservatives got 290 seats it would be a good night for them.

Then it came at 10.02pm on Thursday night.  Exit polls predicted not only that the Conservatives would be the largest party, but would be two seats short of a majority.  So it was to be that this was too "conservative", and an overall majority would be won with 331 seats.  Why?

1. Ed Miliband, even those his net negative poll ratings improved in recent weeks, never remotely came close to David Cameron as preferred Prime Minister.   Cameron may be a professional spin doctor, he may have no strong philosophy, he may be (as Labour didn't tire of pointing out) a posh boy who went to Eton and belonged to the Bullingdon Club, but then Miliband was not so different. With the exception of a short guest lectureship at Harvard, his entire career had been to work for the Labour Party or be an MP.  He is a millionaire, who inherited an expensive home in one of the most upmarket parts of London (Primrose Hill), and was a Marxist academic.   Any accusations of Cameron not being "in touch" were easily redirected onto Miliband.

2. The economy, stupid:  With a drop in unemployment of 2 million, inflation at around zero, average wages growing above inflation, and the economy having grown faster than any economy in Europe in the past five years, the story the Conservatives could sell was positive.  By contrast, Labour had remained far behind in credibility on the economy.  Yes, the crash was a banking crash, but when Ed Miliband said that Labour hadn't spent too much when it was last in government, on BBC Question Time, the audience laughed at and ridiculed him.   If Labour couldn't show contrition for wasting money before, how could it be trusted now?  By contrast, the Conservatives had cut spending, albeit modestly, and the economy grew, rather than flatlined (as Labour said it would).  The state had shrunk from 45% of GDP to 40%, and Conservative plans to cut further, which Labour scaremongered over, didn't scare many voters.  

3. Classwar? No thanks:  Labour went on about a recovery that worked only for the wealthy, but for the 2 million who got jobs that wouldn't ring true.  Labour's rhetoric was constantly a refrain that was against wealth-producers, that rarely talked positively about business, that claimed the Tories were supporting the "privileged" few, unlike Labour, didn't wash.  After all, if the Tories were only for the rich, how could they attract support of at least a third of voters.

4. SNP: Polling for months had increasingly indicated Labour was going to lose a lot of its seats in Scotland, as a result a key plank of the Tory campaign was "vote Labour get SNP" given it was difficult to envisage Labour winning enough seats elsewhere in the UK to make up for the Scottish losses AND gain a majority.  As the SNP's policies were so clearly Scottish focused, and to the left of even leftwing Labour.  Even though Ed Miliband said "no deals" with the SNP, and at one point said he'd prefer a Tory government to doing a deal with it (which didn't help him in Scotland), nobody believed him that if the numbers stacked up, he'd do it and English voters saw a vision of a government beholden to handing Scotland more money, or another independence referendum.  The pro-Tory press (Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Times) all supported this.  Of course, with Labour losing all but one of its seats in Scotland to the SNP (and the Conservatives keeping their sole MP), it helped, but Labour + SNP is still only 288 seats.

5. End of the Liberal Democrats:  While the Liberal Democrats lost a significant number of its voters to Labour and the Greens (Labour had counted on winning the majority of them), the Conservatives hoovered up a fair share of the Liberal Democrat seats as well, including all of those in the southwest. Whilst the Liberal Democrats argued they would give the Tories a heart and Labour a brain, voters who leaned one way or the other simply decided to vote for one of the main parties.  Whilst Labour did gain from this, it lost due to...

6.  UKIP took from Labour.  The conventional view of Labour (and the Conservatives) was that UKIP would largely hurt the Conservatives, being, by and large, a mix of old fashioned Conservative resistance to the EU and immigration, and a scepticism of nanny state type solutions.  However, in the final weeks, the Conservatives successfully campaigned in their heartland to convince many UKIP voters to vote Conservative to keep Labour out.  This is what cost UKIP Rochester and Strood (which it had won in a by election), and stopped Nigel Farage winning South Thanet. This didn't work on UKIP supporters who had come from Labour in the north, who saw a party that talked to them in the way the Conservatives never could.  Labour lost seats due to UKIP, because its class war "metropolitan elite" rhetoric and narrative seemed fake, unlike the gaffe prone but straightforward talk of UKIP.

7. The polls worked for the Tories:  With almost all polls showing a very close race, there was genuine fear of a Labour government (not really a genuine fear of a Tory government) causing economic disruption.  Turnout was higher this time than in 2010.

8.  The shy-right:  One theory is that a reason polling looked low for the Conservatives compared to the actual result, was that many who hold "right wing" views keep them to themselves.  They are not activists, and those who are leftwing activists make it very clear how much they hate those who may support the Conservatives or UKIP, and are willing to vandalise, occupy or otherwise do violence or threaten those who disagree with them.  People are more hesitant to publicly support the right, than support the left, understating the views of the right.

So, a sigh of relief?  Yes.  Joy? Not really, except for the schadenfreude of the demise of multiple politicians, which is ALWAYS a joy.

To see Ed Miliband discover his party is more of the few than the many.  To see Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (and former right hand man of Gordon Brown when in government), Ed Balls removed from office, after his predictions of a flatlining economy, and that the Conservatives cut "too far and too fast", was glorious.  To see the odious felcher of dictatorships, George Galloway, ousted by a large margin, was delicious, as was removal of the anti-Jewish Liberal Democrat David Ward in the neighbouring seat in Bradford East.  To see oodles of green religion worshipping Liberal Democrats disappear, especially the arch-interventionist "Business Secretary" Vince Cable and subsidised renewables fanatic, Ed Davey, was wonderful.

Of course there is the claim that the Conservatives didn't win because the proportion of the vote won was far short of 50%.  This is true, but then had the UK had a form of proportional representation (noting voters rejected 3-2 a shift to a moderately more proportional system in 2011, by referendum) much would have been different.  Parties would have campaigned everywhere, not just the marginals. The SNP would have become much less relevant a factor.  More voters might have gone for smaller parties, and who knows how many voters it would wake up in "safe seats" who finally thought their votes would matter.  Regardless, adding the Conservative and UKIP vote would reach around 50% of seats, and adding a few Ulster unionists of both stripes would create a majority.   The left can't claim a majority.

In NZ the great fear of the "right" (I use the word liberally) was that MMP would mean permanent leftwing government.  In fact it has, but not by leftwing parties, rather the National Party moving towards the statist centre to occupy the majority ground.

So yes, there is a Conservative majority, it was won by a mix of sheer economic results, and fear of the left spending too much, interfering too much and wanting to take from some to give to others. There is reason to have some hope for the UK, but what of the parties that lost?

2 comments:

Mainstream Mike said...

what of the parties that lost? primarily Labour?

With the EU referendum, the biggest benefit cuts since Thatcher, and best of all redrawing constituency boundaries - Labour will never win government in the UK again

and that can only be a good thing.

As of today, David Cameron's Conservatives is as far left as the UK government will ever go.

Mainstream Mike said...

what of the parties that lost? primarily Labour?

With the EU referendum, the biggest benefit cuts since Thatcher, and best of all redrawing constituency boundaries - Labour will never win government in the UK again

and that can only be a good thing.

As of today, David Cameron's Conservatives is as far left as the UK government will ever go.