Sunday, 10 May 2015

A result nobody predicted and a future we should all worry about.

The 2015 general election produced a result that nobody, including the main protagonists, could have predicted.

When the polling stations closed on Thursday night everyone who was anyone said that the race would be neck and neck with the Labour Party, propped up by the SNP, nosing ahead to form another coalition. The edit polls said something different, they said that the Tories would be the largest party and might even get a working majority; but nobody believed them.

Along with Paddy Ashdown we thought that if that came to pass we'd make a midnight snack out of our collective hat, smugly certain that something else would be on the menu; events, the long time enemy of political certainty proved us wrong.

David Cameron's Tories didn't just emerge as the largest party they gained a majority that will allow them to govern without the inconvenience of having to keep the Liberal Democrats or any other coalition partner happy. This could lead to an avalanche of austerity policies that should give everyone without a trust fund cause for concern.

How on earth did we get here? The good lord alone knows and he's keeping quiet, the best I can do is examine my fragmented impressions of the campaign ans see if anything like an answer emerges.

For a long time it seemed like 2015 was an election of tranquillizers, there was lots of talk and photo opportunities, but none of it seemed to catch the public imagination.

The debates between the party leaders, or rather the squabbling about who was going to take part, where they were going to stand and whether or not the prime minister was even going to take part occupied an inordinate amount of space in the media. When they finally happened the debates were damp squibs, telling us little we didn't already know about the leaders of the three main parties, they did though introduce Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon to a wider public, with the latter taking the resulting publicity and running with it like a star quarterback.

Like any election the campaign created winners and losers before a vote had been cast and for a long time it looked like Labour leader Ed Milliband was going to be one by the simple expedient of doing better than anyone expected him to.

He seemed to grow in stature and confidence as David Cameron by contrast looked ever more stiff as he trundled from one staged appearance to the next. Unfortunately in a way that is all too sadly familiar to anyone who has watched his tenure as a party leader Ed Milliband then contrived to start getting everything wrong just when he most needed to be getting things right.

First of all he agreed to be interviewed by tedious faux revolutionary Russell Brand undoing in the process much of the status he had built up during the campaign. Then in the most barmy election stunt of all time he agreed to be photographed next to a huge stone slab with Labour's election pledged carved upon it which he said he would erect in the garden of Downing Street if he won the election.

The Ed stone as the press rapidly dubbed it has become something of a minor obsession for me, where has it gone? I have this fantasy where some twenty years from now Red Ed has it installed in the garden of his retirement bungalow was a, literally, concrete reminder of how badly he messed things up.

The real star of the campaign was, of course, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, she emerged as the full political package, someone who can be photographed walking along a balance beam at a primary school answering questions about taxation from the press pack without looking absurd. There are some people who say she might even be the best prime minister Britain never had.

Election night itself turned out to be one surprise after another as heads, those of Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls to name a few, rolled like something out of a Tudor court. The SNP marched on unstoppably north of the border and the Tories defied all expectations south of it and everywhere the Liberal Democrats were pounded into the ground.

Where do we go from here? Now there's a question to rank alongside anything Hamlet asked as he trudged the battlements.

As they gawp at the magnitude of their success it must seem to the Tories, to quote an appropriate eighties musical reference, that the only way is up. They're certainly in a strong position, but there may be problems ahead.

Europe is still the elephant in the party's drawing room and David Cameron could be pressured into calling a referendum early and then having to live with a decision he doesn't want, namely a call for the UK to withdraw. Five more years of austerity will dent their new found popularity and this time the Liberal Democrats won't be there to take the flack.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats need to find a new leader and, more importantly a new sense of purpose. Simply climbing onto the centre ground and hoping for the best isn't enough, they need to provide an alternative that is more inclusive and offers the people hit hardest by austerity some kind of hope.

The most important thing we need though is a comprehensive reformation of the voting system, at the election just gone millions of people who live in constituencies that aren't marginals or simply support parties other than the big three cast votes that didn't count, an experience that can only deepen existing feelings of disengagement.

Whatever happens over the next five years as the ancient Chinese curse would have it we are about to live through interesting times.

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