• Conservatives win majority for first time since 1992
• Cameron to see the Queen at 12.30
• Labour stunned, Miliband has resigned, Harriet Harman to take over as interim leader
• Liberal Democrats decimated, Nick Clegg has resigned as Lib Dem leader
• Nigel Farage not elected in Thanet, has resigned as UKIP leader
• Ed Balls loses his seat
• Sturgeon to fly to London this morning
David Cameron is Britain’s Prime Minister for another five years. And this time, he does not have to worry about the Liberal Democrats. Despite all the polls and the general feeling that the campaign was more beige than blue, the Conservatives have not just prevailed but seen Labour and the Liberal Democrats completely mauled. This is an exceptional result for the Conservatives, who secure their first overall majority since John Major’s in 1992. It is a worse result for Labour than Gordon Brown’s in 2010. But at least that result was predictable.
The gains that the pundits, pollsters and Shadow Cabinet thought would happen after a good campaign by Miliband and a feeling that the electoral cycle was turning in their favour simply did not materialise. In fact, Labour went into reverse, being slaughtered by the Scots and pushed into miserable second and third places by secret Conservative voters. In fact, UKIP seem to have damaged Labour more than the Conservatives.
One twitter pundit said that observing Labour last night was like “watching a snuff movie”. And he was one of the kinder ones. So why did a bland Conservative campaign win so emphatically against a policy-driven, buzzy Labour one?
Perhaps the secret was in that blandness. Looking back, can you remember the Conservatives talking about anything other than the economy, the EU referendum or the NHS? Can you really remember any policy detail at all? Of course you don’t! In a master-class of subliminal messaging, it transpires that we’ve all been listening to three really rather positive messages. One is evidence based, revolving around the economy (on arguable stats, of course), one is about freedom to choose (that old Tory mantra again) regarding the referendum on EU membership and the other is about confidence. They are saying the NHS is not a disaster and it won’t be one in the future either.
In contrast, looking back, many of Labour’s messages were defensive, negative and appeared to hark back to the bad old days of nanny telling the punters that the Government knows best. On the economy, Labour knew that the electorate still don’t trust them. And the electorate knew that they knew. That was not a great starting point, especially with Ed Miliband stating boldly in the TV debates that he did not think Labour had spent too much in office and Ed Balls focussed (to no avail) on his own survival. It is clearly still too early for Labour to build credible ground following the global banking crisis and the and the sustained, if underwhelming economic growth of late (growth that is in fact lower than at the time of the last General Election). On the EU, Mr Miliband said he knew best about having a referendum – the public, however saw right through it – they knew it was because he feared he would lose.
Europe – the final countdown
A European referendum in 2017 is a certainty. He has the mandate in his manifesto, an overall majority to secure it and a new intake that while younger and more diverse than previously, is expected to broadly support his position on Europe – that change is needed but, ultimately, Britain should retain its membership.
What also seems apparent is that the English fear of the SNP entering Downing Street was greater than the Scottish fear of the Conservatives remaining there. The Conservative fear machine was extremely effective at portraying Mr Miliband to be in the SNP’s pocket and this will have resonated throughout the Shires and towns. As for the Scots, they may not mind Act 2 of a Cameron administration especially if he accelerates the devolution of powers to Scotland which would keep the SNP busy and disadvantage Labour’s recovery north of the border.
Bye Ed Miliband
In his resignation speech, Mr Miliband defiantly declared that: “Britain needs a Labour Party – but it’s time for someone else to lead it”. He said that the contest would start straight away and that he would formally resign once he has finished his last official engagement this afternoon, which will be with the Queen and other political figures. Mr Miliband said that “the fight will go on” and that Labour would once again be “a force for change and progress again” before apologising again for the result. Front runners for the top job would be Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Andy Burnham or rising star, Liz Kendall.
Bye Bye Nick Clegg
Mr Clegg’s speech was as thoughtful as it was articulate. To many, it was an emotional explanation of what liberalism means in 2015 and his concerns for its future. He pointed to the many people he had hoped to have helped during his time in Government, expressing pride in Conservative policies he had reigned in or seen off. But while he acknowledged that Government had taken its toll, he said the party would return stronger, having learnt lessons. It can hardly get any weaker. We are assuming Tim Farron will take over and move the party further toward the left to reclaim some of their lost members and lost votes. Mr Clegg concluded with the hope that history would look back on the Liberal Democrat’s five years in power as an example of “fairness and liberty that will stand the test of time”.
Bye (for now) Nigel Farage
The former UKIP leader looked relieved not to have won. With typical English understatement, he referenced the plane crash that nearly killed him on Election Day in 2010 as having been a worse day than today. In an unexpected move, he suggested that he would consider standing again for UKIP at a later stage, but would take the summer off, before concluding that “a huge weight” had been taken of his shoulders and that he “had never felt better”.
But here is the rub.
John Major’s 22 seat Conservative majority of 1992, began one of the most wretched periods of Government in the UK’s post-war history. A massive economic crisis isolated to just the UK (unlike the global recession that fried Mr Brown) led to issue after issue after issue. Mr Cameron will remember those days with horror as he was a special advisor in the heart of Government at that time. He will remember seeing the tiny majority crumbling with one by-election or defection after another. Most of all, he will remember the sheer hard work and graft that goes into keeping Governments that will always be teetering on the brink afloat. But the Prime Minister is no Margaret Thatcher, working away with a glass of whisky into the early hours. This will be a real test of grit for a presidential Prime Minister who, and we’re being kind here, doesn’t really like the dirt or the detail of being PM.
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