Who saw it coming? Not many I imagine. What happened? Why did it happen? Questions to be answered in the coming few days.
What a shift in the political landscape we have witnessed in only the last few hours, three of the leaders from the four biggest parties in England and Wales have stepped down due to pressure, disappointing results and the honoring of words. Never before has there been such polarization across the North/South border, arguably a clear indicator of how the Scottish people feel about their place within the future of the United Kingdom. One half of the last government’s coalition has now been obliterated into relative obsolescence, gaining less votes than the rising UKIP. And voter turnout, which, though higher than any election since 1997, was expected to increase by a much more significant figure, with a turnout rate of only 66%, meaning that a third of the population failed to voice their views.
Tragically, it would appear that the story of this campaign has been of scaremongering and smear being espoused by the right-wing media and the Tory party. People have had their senses inundated with messages of Miliband’s incompetence and the risk of another economic downturn at the hands of Labour if elected. It’s been persistent and ruthless, and even more tragically, like a lot of indoctrination, it has worked. Playing on people’s fears is effective, but more importantly, it is exploitative, and is indicative of the political debate that we have in Britain currently. And what is striking from the results is the apparent lack of hope within the English electorate, that they feel this is as good as it gets.
It is clear now that proportional representation is now no longer just an alternative electoral system, but a necessary requirement for our democracy if it is to regain some semblance of legitimacy. It is an affront to all voters that UKIP, whose policies though I do not advocate, received 12.6% of the total vote but gained only 1 MP of out 650 seats, equal to 0.15% of the vote, roughly 100 times less than what they achieved in reality. Whereas the SNP received merely 4.8% of the vote but 56 seats in Parliament. We can argue about whose policies are better and fairer, but what we cannot argue about is the injustice of the electoral process. Even the Conservatives, who achieved a majority of MPs, in reality, only received 36.9% of the vote, a mere 7% difference between them and Labour. If we therefore take that into consideration with the voter turnout, it shows us that not even a quarter of the voting-age population voted for the Tories. How legitimately can we then recognize this victory for the Conservative Party?
Throughout the campaign, there has been swipes between parties, each saying that the other “doesn’t believe in Britain”. But what the last 5 years can tell us is that David Cameron and his party certainly don’t believe in Britain. Austerity doesn’t constitute belief in its people or in its institutions, it indicates a lack of faith, epitomized by a lack of investment and an excess of cuts. Investment in Britain would have been a more long-term solution, yes, but a solution that the British people would have deserved. The fact that, instead, we have been made to feel that we deserved austerity is obscene. And how ironic it is, however cliche it may be, that it was bankers who brought about this recession, bankers who were bailed out, and bankers who will now reap much of the rewards of the fear that they created.
A discussion on the BBC this morning raised a sound point. It was said that although Miliband and Labour may have seemingly gained a resurgence during the election campaign, elections are not won during a few months, they are won over four years, and that seems to have been a large factor in explaining today’s results. Miliband was eventually impressive, but it seems to be a case of too little too late. Hopefully he is remembered as a man who tried, and though he failed, fought against the odds and fought the good fight.
With regards to the parting leaders, it is a somber moment. My brother earlier noted that despite their policies and their ideologies, it cannot be disputed that each leader who will be stepping down with immediate effect was in this job because they had the best interests of the country in mind, even Farage, who though I believe to be misguided, showed clear sincerity in his beliefs and his hope for this country. All three leaders, however, stand in stark contrast to the last man standing; David Cameron. How fitting it is that the man who was in it for his career was the only one who managed to keep it. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The big question is, however, in spite of the fact that the Conservatives have an official majority, will Cameron and Gove be able to maintain party discipline throughout the entire Parliament term with such a slender majority? In effect, the Tory party is now in an unofficial coalition between the centre-right Tories and the Tories further to the right of the spectrum, who will now have more influence over party policy with their newfound bargaining power, who in the previous parliament were not as essential to Cameron’s moderate policies as he had the support of Clegg and co. And if Cameron does succumb to the more rightist of the Tories, then that can only spell bad news for us all.
As an unashamed Labour supporter, one could have thought today’s results would have disheartened me and dissuaded me from engaging in politics, but rather it has had the opposite effect. It has galvanized and inspired me to do more, to pay closer attention, hold politicians to account to the extent that I can, and try to facilitate positive change. But this article isn’t about me, it’s about all of us and how we react to the results, even if you did vote for the Conservatives and are happy about the result, you still have a duty to make sure that those you elected to represent you and your needs. Although it’s tempting for those of us on the left to hope for Conservative failure during the next five years, we mustn’t let our egos cloud the truth, which is that the state of this nation is more important than any party politics and despite disappointing results we have to hope that the Conservative MPs show some humanity and make a conscious effort to do what they think is right for the people of Britain.
So, since all those weeks ago during the seven-way leaders debate, it was generally agreed that Cameron and Sturgeon emerged victorious, and after all this time, nothing’s changed. Will British politics ever be the same? Nothing is certain anymore it would seem.