Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
A few months ago, we wrote that the 2015 UK General Election would be one of the most uncertain ever to take place in British history – and that is exactly what happened.
One thing we found out was how wrong the polls got it before polling day. The final polls saw Labour and the Conservatives virtually neck and neck, fighting to be the largest single party without winning a parliamentary majority. But then the shocks came: not only did the exit poll show that Labour would suffer a drop in their number of seats, but it showed that not only would the Conservatives increase their number of seats but also potentially be able to command a majority by themselves. This led to the unusual phenomena that a governing party actually increased their share of the vote after a term in office.
And where the Tories found success, their former coalition partners the Lib Dems found only despair. In many seats across the country, Lib Dem support all but collapsed, giving way to the Tories and Labour. The Lib Dems went into the election with 57 seats and now have just 8. The Tories won not so much because of a surge in their support, but simply because support for the Lib Dems collapsed. After all, the Tory-LibDem coalition had 363 seats after the 2010 election, the Tories alone have 331 seats this time around.
Whilst the Tories won a surprising majority in the election, Labour had a dreadful night in that they actually lost seats rather than gained seats. In fact, Labour did so badly, they won just 24% of the vote in their traditional heartlands of Scotland, the worst result the party has seen since it started out in 1918, and were almost wiped out there. Before the elections, Labour had 256 seats and, given they were expected to win seats nationally, the Guardian newspaper considered a result of 270 seats as dreadful for Labour because it would mean they would be unable to form a governing coalition with the SNP, yet overall they lost 24 seats, leaving the way clear for the Tories to govern alone thanks mainly to English votes.
And boy did heads roll: the Lib Dems lost Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy. Labour lost its shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander and its leader in Scotland Jim Murphy. And you knew it was going to be a bad night for Labour when Ed Balls, the man who was set to be chancellor in case Labour found itself as the largest party, was himself voted out. And merely hours after the result of the election was known, three parties leaders resigned – both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband resigned despite winning their respective seats, whilst Nigel Farage resigned after once again failing to win a parliamentary seat for UKIP – although his party seemed not to accept his resignation, so he’s still around.
The real standout performance from this election though must be that of the SNP. They entered this election with just 6 seats but went on to win 56 out of 59 seats up for grabs in Scotland, leaving just one seat each for Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems. Thanks to the likes of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon as well as the aftereffects of the independence referendum, the political scene in Scotland has been massively energised – something that is still yet to be seen in England and Wales. And how a SNP governed Scotland will present itself in Westminster will be something to be seen.
This does however present its challenges, which David Cameron was keen to address very early on: the Tories derived their support overwhelmingly from England, the SNP has a near monopoly of representation in Scotland, whilst the Tories are outnumbered by anti-austerity parties in Wales. The divide in party choice is uncomfortably running along geopolitical boundaries, so David Cameron will have to work hard to keep the country united. Jasper’s hometown of Brighton on the other hand has recently declared itself a “People’s Republic”, being the sole Green and Red dot in a sea of Tory-blue domination across the south of England.
Another thing we saw from this election is how the First Past The Post voting system massively skews the results of votes: the SNP for example got approximately 1.5 million votes and won 56 seats. The Greens on the other hand got about 1 million votes and won just a single seat in Brighton Pavilion, whilst UKIP came third in terms of national vote share by winning approximately 4 million votes but won just 1 seat. And yet the Conservatives, who only got 37% of the vote nationally, won more than half of all seats up for grabs, allowing them to govern the country with a majority Conservative government.
And this also produces its challenges – no-one was expecting any party to have a majority and it probably surprised even David Cameron himself when his party found itself in a position to govern alone. Conservative politicians most likely drew up their manifesto and took positions in such a way that they would have policies to bargain away in order to create a stable and functioning coalition government. Yet David Cameron and his Conservatives now need to deliver on things they probably weren’t planning on carrying out – one probable being the promise of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, something which in itself sent shockwaves across the European press.
In any case, the next five years are likely to be very different to what we expected it to be before the election. The campaign over Britain’s membership of the EU has already begun and many other little grassroots campaigns are beginning to take hold in light of the surprise Conservative victory. How the next 5 years will go remain to be seen, but despite David Cameron’s election victory, he will be presiding over a country that has never before been so divided.