Don't Be Downbeat, Nothing's Happened Yet (And Other Election Ramblings) - Thoughts Of A First Time Voter
In the last 48 hours since the election results began to roll in, I have seen a lot written about what the result means for the country. The vast majority of these, mainly from those outside of the main journalistic sphere, have been scathing criticism of not just the Conservative Party, but of the British public itself and include such things as “The Conservatives do not care about the poor.” This is one of the more common complaints, but it is part of my aim to address this complaint, along with a few others, and to look a bit more in depth on what the election results could mean for the political landscape of our country. The criticism of the public is one I feel is most unjustified. We live in a democracy, and people have a right to vote for whoever they want, and just because they believe something different to you doesn’t make them uneducated or unintelligent. Not everybody’s the same, life would be pretty damn boring if we were. As an undecided voter until the moment I cast my ballot, and as someone who feels they are relatively politically neutral, I hope I can bring an unbiased and measured approach, especially in contrast to some of the things I have seen written recently.
When the exit polls were released, I, like many, were shocked at what they showed. From Labour and the Conservatives being neck and neck in the polls in the run in to the election, to show a 7% lead for the Conservatives was almost unbelievable, and it looked as if something had been horribly miscalculated. However, as usual, the exit polls got it almost spot on. This became more and more evident as the seats were declared, and big name after big name lost their seat and were now out of a job. The complaints that have followed have been swift, ruthless, cruel, but most importantly for me, premature. The new Parliament hasn’t even been sworn in yet and people are talking as if our health system is turning into the Americans before Obamacare, that it will lead to people dying in the streets and that millions upon millions of people will be worse off. None of this is known, and although party manifestos may show policies, they do not show results. They do not show the possibility of a backbench revolt, as David Cameron has been regularly faced with in the last five years. I hear that “The Conservatives only care about the rich and not the poor.” But to this I say, people go into politics because they care, and are passionate about the country and about the people who live in it. They, like you or I, want to make it a more prosperous and successful nation. They want everybody to be better off. They are not evil people who want to see others suffer, and if at all possible, they would all love to see poverty, homelessness and crime eradicated. What differs, is their approaches to try and tackle these things, but to say they do not care, is not only wrong, it is incomprehensible and ignorant. A democracy is a democracy, and a day after democracy has been witnessed to the fullest extent it is in the UK, I would wait a few months, or at least days, before shouting from the rooftops that we’re all doomed. One thing for me though is certain, British politics will never be the same again.
One of the main reasons for this is the incredible success of the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon, along with Alex Salmond, are fantastic public speakers; enthusiastic, articulate and motivational. When they talk, people listen, and it is something that hasn’t been seen in the UK for a while. But even they didn’t predict the landslide that there would be, with swings of up to 30% and victories in all but three of the seats that they stood in. This success is encapsulated by the victory of Mhairi Black over Douglas Alexander, the former shadow foreign secretary. For a 20 year old still at university to defeat a well-known and successful politician was massive, and hugely unexpected. If you had said to anybody in politics a month ago, that the Conservatives would have as many MP’s in Scotland, they would have thought you were mad. But that is where we are now. David Cameron has already stated that the process of devolution will now be extended and quickened, but I feel as if this won’t be enough to stop another referendum being held in at the least the next 10 years on the issue of Scottish independence. The defeated leader of Scottish Labour, Jim Murphy, has already said he will stay in his role, but his task will be an uphill battle, and I believe he will struggle to have any significant success north of the border, or even no success at all, such is the success and support for the SNP. The union seems to be on its last legs, and even though polls seem to show that a referendum would be defeated again, with the anti-Conservative feel in Scotland, I feel that the polls will soon show something different. Trident will become a bigger issue once again, as the SNP, firmly against the programme, now have a huge backing to try and remove it from their shores. North Sea oil revenue is another bit of tension that will be brought up, and both of these issues will increase the divide between the nations, and could well be the tipping point for independence.
Another major result from the election was the decimation of the Liberal Democrats, and one which has again altered our political spectrum. I believe they have been unfortunate, and like Nick Clegg said, history will judge them kinder, especially compared to the ruthless electorate in the seats that they previously held. In the 5 years of coalition government, the country has become more prosperous, more people are in work, the deficit is coming down, and the economy is growing. For a party in government to have been wiped out in this situation, they must have done something horrendously wrong, which I don’t believe the Lib Dems have done. One issue where they did screw over their voters was over tuition fees, perhaps showing that the worst thing a politician can do, is not fiddle with their expenses, not commit a crime, but to break a promise. Now it’s not as if the MP’s that lost their seats had been badly behaved; Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy were victims of the SNP rout in Scotland, despite Alexander being at the forefront of the recovery. Simon Hughes and Vince Cable had represented their constituencies and constituents with distinction for many decades, and one of the worst moments of the election for me, was when the camera was focused on Hughes’ face as it was announced he had lost his seat. A man trying to hold it together after he’s been told he’s out of his job for 32 years is not a nice sight. Even the lesser known MP’s such as Stephen Lloyd in Eastbourne, a place I had driven through just 4 weeks previous with Lib Dem placards seemingly placed on every driveway, had lost his seat. It was at that moment I thought that the Liberal Democrats were going to be over as a political party. If they couldn’t hold seats with candidate who seemed incredibly popular with their own constituents, what hope did they have anywhere else? But hearing the words of Paddy Ashdown on Question Time on Friday evening, there was still a sense of hope, and it seems that they still have a chance to rise again. Although I doubt they’ll want to be a coalition ever again.
A big issue in British politics is whether we should move away from simple plurality and the First Past the Post system (FPTP) to one of proportional representation (PR), an argument the Lib Dems have been voicing vociferously for years, although they now don’t have the numbers to be as vociferous. UKIP have now picked up that mantle, with the Greens not too far behind. I believe I am one of a few who actually thinks that although PR may actually be a fairer system, I don’t think it is a better system. There’s the arguments of FPTP causing voter apathy and wasted votes, but the majority of European countries use PR and turnouts are very similar to ours, in fact we use PR for the elections to the European Parliament and turnout is around 30%, hardly giving life to that argument (I know very few care about the EU elections, but perhaps if more voted then the argument would stand stronger). In addition, the only wasted votes are ones you don’t believe in. They may not result in a politician being elected, but they will help change develop. It may take time, but it will happen, and smaller parties can win seats with a very good candidate, shown by Douglas Carswell in Clacton (although he did previously hold it as a Conservative) and Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion. FPTP usually creates a strong government with a majority, as the election has shown. Italy has had 12 changes of Prime Minister since 1991, and that uncertainty is something we desperately don’t need. We need a strong government in this country to get things done, as people disagree about almost everything, and without a strong government we can hit gridlock. Just imagine if the Conservatives, UKIP, Lib Dems and DUP all had to agree on a policy. We would get absolutely nowhere and nothing would be achieved. FPTP creates efficiency, a better link between candidate and voter, and it may mean well be different to other European democracies, but we are different, and there is nothing wrong with that. It may not be as ‘fair’ as PR, but ‘fair’ means different things to different people. What’s the point in having fairness if your country is going nowhere? There is one thing which will make me re-evaluate my stance on this, and that is the boundary changes which are likely to be enacted now that the Conservatives have a majority. Although hopefully reducing the number of MPs to 600 (this is still a number far too high for a nation of our size) it could create a situation in which no party has any chance of overturning a Tory majority, which would make our politics completely blue for the foreseeable future. There does need to be boundary change, but if it goes too far, then we could have a problem of a government so overbearing and so strong, that we’re back in the days of Blair and an ‘elective dictatorship’.
Finally, the way in which Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage all resigned within an hour of each other, and before all the seats had even declared their result, is astounding. The process which these three parties, particularly the first two, will go through will be decisive for the future of their parties. Think back to Labour choosing Ed over David Miliband, a man who most likely would have been far more successful had he won the leadership, and the effect that this has had on British politics. Nick Clegg’s performances in the election debates in 2010 was a key reason behind their success in that election, and Nigel Farage has almost single-handedly brought UKIP from being a small protest party for the old and disgruntled Tories, to a party winning a seat at Westminster and winning the third largest proportion of vote. Although Farage has stated he may run again for leadership following the summer, the other two will be replaced, and the parties need to decide what direction to move in. Tim Farron is the overwhelming favourite for the Lib Dems, while Labour could look to others who lost out in 2010, perhaps former Health Secretary Andy Burnham, or Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper. Whatever direction the parties go, and whoever they choose, one thing is for sure, an earthquake has happened in British Politics, and only time will tell what the consequences are.
So my last message is to let time pass, let the furore of the election go down, and don’t go jumping to conclusions about the “disastrous, selfish and arrogant country we now live in” but rather be optimistic. We have, as a country, prospered in the last five years, and as a country, together, we can get through pretty much anything. If that doesn’t help, here’s something for even the most left-wing of you. You got through Thatcher, you can get through this.