Where We Stand Now
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or possibly the Hartley library, you won’t have failed to notice that David Cameron & Nick Clegg have formed a coalition government.
This was necessary after the general election on May 6th failed to return a majority for any single party. This state of affairs, dubbed a hung Parliament, creates difficulties because the largest party may not be able to pass legislation unless they can rely on their opponents to support it.
So in the aftermath of the election, while the country waited, somewhat confused, for its new Prime Minister, party officials met behind closed doors to thrash out a deal. And in the end, even the resignation of Gordon Brown was not enough to tempt the Lib Dems into a ‘rainbow coalition’ with Labour and some of the nationalist parties. Clegg sided with Cameron, creating a coalition with a majority of 37. Under the agreement, Clegg becomes deputy Prime Minister, Vince Cable Business Secretary and four other Lib Dem MPs join Parliament.
The terms of the deal have seen concessions from both parties. Perhaps most significantly, an emergency budget, due within 50 days, will see an estimated £6 billion worth of spending cuts, aimed at reducing the deficit immediately. The Lib Dems were notoriously quiet about the extent of cuts they had planned during the election campaign, but it is unlikely they would have gone for so much so soon.
However the Lib Dems have secured a deal to work towards raising the tax threshold to £10,000 to protect lower income workers, and managed to persuade the Conservatives to drop their unpopular inheritance tax break for multi-millionaires. Other Lib Dem policies to disappear include scrapping trident and University tuition fees, while the Conservatives have kept their policies of allowing independent schools in the state sector and tax breaks for married couples. The Lib Dems were probably prepared to make these sacrifices in return for a promised referendum on voting reform. Other notable policies include a cap on non-EU immigration, abandoning the proposed third runways at the major London airports and dropping Labour’s plan for ID cards.
One of the most controversial decisions of the new government is to lift the number of MPs required for a ‘vote of no confidence’ to 55%. A ‘vote of no confidence’ is where Parliament votes to remove the government and a new election is called. It is a well established principle that this requires a simple majority of MPs (50% + 1). Parliament, as our elected representatives, occupy the highest position in the political system, and should be able to vote out the government by a majority. Changing this represents unprecedented constitutional reform that goes right to the heart of our system. It is no coincidence that the combined percentage of non-conservative MPs is 53%. If this law passes, along with the new rule of fixed term Parliaments, we will be stuck with the Conservatives until 2015, regardless of the success of the coalition.
The Results From Southampton
In the marginal seat of Romsey and Southampton North Liberal Democrat Sandra Gidley fell to Conservative Caroline Nokes by four thousand votes after a swing to the Tories.
After the result, Gidley commented, “Unfortunately, the Conservative campaign has been negative and personal, and it only demonstrates that the Tory party, at heart, has not changed at all. However, I wish the people of Romsey & Southampton North all the very best, and wish them well with their new MP.”
In Southampton Itchen, John Denham of Labour held on by less than 200 votes after a massive swing to Conservative Royston Smith. This may be due in part to Denham’s expenses, which included £2479 on two chairs and a rug from John Lewis. The Liberal Democrats were third with nine thousand votes, but were a long way from winning the seat.
In Southampton Test, Labour MP Alan Whitehead hung on more convincingly, but a swing to the Conservatives of 6.9% was still above the national average. The minority parties failed to make an impact in Southampton despite some strong campaigning and student support.
In Eastleigh, Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne was elected and now becomes the Energy and Climate Change minister in the new coalition government. Many green campaigners at the university will relish the oppurtunity to grill the local MP when he begins his new role.
Finally, in the local council elections, the Conservatives retained a majority winning 28 of the 48 seats. In student areas, Liberal Democrat councillors fared notably better, with Adrian Vinson winning the Portswood seat, Maureen Turner winning in Swaythling and Paul Clarke coming within two hundred votes in Basset.
The Lib Dem’s Non-Revolution
After the first leaders debate, it almost felt like we didn’t need a general election.
The whole country, at least half of whom probably didn’t know his name a week before, loved one man. Nick Clegg. With Vince Cable, he suddenly became the real alternative for those disillusioned with Labour and the Tories.
But on election night, something strange happened. It started with the exit polls which had Clegg’s party doing worse than they did in 2005, and then as the results came in, it became obvious. This was never a three horse race, it wasn’t even close to one. So what went wrong for the Liberal Democrats?
The answer isn’t as simple as some are claiming. They didn’t just lose out to an unfair voting system. With such a large swing away from Labour, a 1% increase in their votes doesn’t represent success.
It’s not that they lacked substance either. While the others offered empty talk of ‘change’ or ‘fairness’, the Lib Dem manifesto clearly identified areas they would cut, and those they would protect.
But it does seem they suffered from an age old problem. They spread they’re appeal to widely. Students liked the idea of ending tuition fees. Tax payers didn’t. Low income families liked the tax reforms. Rich people didn’t. Left wingers liked the look of scrapping trident, but were turned off by Clegg’s talk of cutting the public sector, and praise of Thatcher. Right wingers took the opposite view. In the end, everyone found something they liked and something they didn’t. And that’s not enough to win over millions of voters.
In addition to that, many Lib Dem seats are Conservative marginals. The swing to blue meant they were losing these seats, even though their share of the vote actually increased.
Finally the effect of the media cannot be written off. Some papers turned into election pamphlets for the Tories or Labour, but Clegg had little support. And if there is one thing we can learn from this election, its that a lot of people doesn’t listen to their heads, they listen to Rupert Murdoch and the ten o’clock news.
What Happened To The Minor Parties?
This may have been the opportunity for many minority parties to make a break through.
With so much disillusionment following the expenses scandal and the recession, none really managed to establish themselves. UKIP earned nearly a million votes nationwide, comfortably the most popular party after the big three and the nationalist parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However they did not gain a single seat, Nigel Farage’s much publicised campaign in Buckingham almost ending in disaster when a banner-carrying light aircraft he was in crashed into a field.
The Green Party registered the only significant success for a minor party, with leader Caroline Lucas gaining the party’s first seat in Brighton Pavilion. However, given the wide spread concerns about climate change and the lack of solutions from major parties, less than 300,000 votes nationwide, a drop on last election, does not represent success. The Respect coalition, an anti-war party, also fared relatively poorly, Galloway’s seat in Bethnal Green and Bow falling to Labour. This may be due in part to both the war dropping off the election agenda for many people, and Galloway’s disastrous performance on celebrity big brother.
One good thing to come out of the night was the shambolic performance of the BNP. Griffin failed to come close in Barking, losing out by more than 18,000 votes, the party lost all its councillors and failed to gain significantly on its votes nationwide, despite the obvious fillip of success in the European elections and disillusionment with the major parties. Hopefully the irony will not be lost on them that their type are clearly not welcome in our country.