Mixed Blessings and Mixed Feelings

It’s just before 10am on Friday morning and, as I sit here, the Conservatives have 291 seats, Labour 247 and the LibDems a mere 51. It’s been a mixed night, with all the parties taking some comfort and some pain. What has happened?

have no mandate. Gordon’s main source of comfort is that there has not been the anticipated meltdown. Labour are still the main party of opposition, at least in terms of voes cast. However, the warning signs are still there: the reasons for some of those votes are more worrying, if only because the party’s ABC strategy seems to have (just) worked. This is one reason why Labour can claim some sort of victory: they haven’t won, but the have prevented the Conservatives from gaining one. Many potential Lib Dem voters did switch, and many waverers still saw Labour as the best means of preventing a Conservative victory under the current system. And Ed Balls held his seat, but Charles Clarke didn’t; this was quite amusing.

are the largest party, but they have no mandate either. Because over 60% of those who voted didn’t want a Cameron-led Conservative government. Given the buy-in from the right-wing press and the power of the party’s marketing machine this time round, that must be a worry for them. Cameron said today that the people want change. This may true, but people clearly don’t seem to have much of an appetite for the kind of change that they are offering. After investing so much in David Cameron’ presidential posturing that must ring some alarm bells in Conservative Central Office. If they can’t deliver a knock-out punch in the current circumstance will they ever manage one?

Liberal Democrats
are, of all the parties, the most disappointed of all. One voter in 4 liked what they were offering, but they’ll end with barely 10% of the seats available. It’s hard to see how this is in any way equitable. They certainly suffered from the Brown pincer movement, with many potential supporters going to Labour at the last minute to prevent Conservative wins. This certainly seems to have happened in some marginals that were key targets for the Cameron team. With the system as it is now, this is a persistent danger for them. And Evan Harris didn’t make it in Oxford; a real shame. Lembit Opik lost his seat too.

The Greens finally have an MP (in Brighton). The BNP has trebled its share of the vote, with half a million people gifting them their mandate. These numbers are [relatively] small, but still a source of major concern to anyone further up the evloutionary chain than a tree shrew. UKIP managed to perform respectably, though not spectacularly, which suggests they have a core vote but little else.. And Esther Rantzen didn’t win in Luton; thank God.

What does it all mean?
Your guess is as good as mine. After all the hype, the turnout was still only 65%. This is very worrying. Engagement with the electorate hasn’t really got any better, in spite of the media’s attempts to portray this election as a game changer. Weirdly, everything and nothing has changed overnight. It looks like Cameron may get his coveted keys to Downing Street, but it also looks like he’s going to be seriously constrained in what he’ll might be able to get through Parliament. Even with Unionist support he’s still going to fall short of a majority. And his refusal to countenance electoral reform may yet come back to bite him hard. The problems with polling have also shown that something needs to change there too, and there may yet be legal challenges to results.

Another source of depression is that the media have fallen into the Presidential trap, predicating the campaign’s coverage on the public personas of the party leaders. It has given them a nice, tidy narrative to package and run with but other campaigning and, more importantly, many of the issues, have been hidden in the perfect storm of the cult of personality. It’s only going to get worse now the debate genie has been unleashed, when the focus isn’t on what was said, only who won the debates. Then there was last night. The TV coverage was awful, with the Beeb using a hailstorm of hyperactive graphics in the style that were presaged back in the 1990’s by The Day Today. It was still funny seeing Teresa May extrapolating a Tory victory fomr the swing in Sunderland South just before 11 o’clock though; this is the reason why coverage like that is rapidly become a one-note joke. Channel 4 had a brave stab at something different but I’m not convinced it really worked, more’s the pity.

Meanwhile, in Whitby and Scarborough, the sitting Conservative was returned with an increased majority, though it was heartening that the Lib Dem candidate (even though finishing third) was pretty close to a deeply uninspiring Labour candidate. The BNP managed to poll 1445 votes but still lost their deposit, thankfully.

What this election has shown is the public’s dissatisfaction with the current system. In spite of the much-trumpeted importance of this plebicite, a third of those eligible still didn’t think it important enough to register a vote. The anger is clear to see, but the political classes seem to be either oblivious or indifferent to it. Something does have to change and this election is perhaps only the first sign that some sort of shift is coming, however slow and painful.


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