16 Things You Need To Know About What The Election Results Mean
It's been quite a night. Here's what we've learned as a result.
1. The Labour party has undone all of Tony Blair's electoral good work.
The former prime minister's greatest electoral achievement was to make affluent middle-class English people feel entirely comfortable with voting for Labour. Those gains have now been undone, and spectacularly so. In target seats like Nuneaton and Battersea, the Tories were able not just to hold on but to extend their majority. Even in defeat in 2010, Labour felt it had a core vote that provided a platform for recovery. Who knew the party had further to fall?
2. Britain has a presidential system.
Until the experts dig into the data, we can't be sure exactly why people voted how they voted. But the fact that voters – especially former Lib Dem voters – broke for the Tories in such significant numbers seems in large part to David Cameron's commanding personal appeal. Although Ed Miliband's popularity spiked dramatically, he was still – despite the best efforts of the Milifandom – a man who just didn't strike many Britons as prime minister material.
3. It's also a nation of nationalists.
The parties that did best in terms of raw vote count – the SNP, the Tories, UKIP – were those that made an appeal to an atavistic sense of national pride. The parties that want us all to hold hands and sing kumbaya – the Lib Dems and the Greens – didn't do so well. That has interesting implications for the prospective EU referendum, and indeed for how these assertive national spirits rub along with each other.
4. The press still has power.
Yes, that power is less than it was, as BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, noted. But in that personal battle between Cameron and Miliband, it still obviously helped the Conservatives to have the majority of the press telling millions of readers, day after day, that the Labour leader was an ungodly fusion of Karl Marx and Mr Bean who couldn't be trusted to brush his teeth, let alone run a major economy. It even took a strategically vital chunk out of UKIP's support, at least according to Nigel Farage.
5. Shy Tories are still a thing, and the polling companies have questions to answer.
No one expected the scale of the Tory success, but some people were paid to. None of the polls came even close to predicting the result. Was this a sudden late swing? Or have we returned to the days when lots of people will quietly, shamefacedly tick the box for the evil posh bastards, on the grounds that it is the evil posh bastards who will cut their taxes?
In the polling companies' defence, they couldn't have predicted the sheer volatility of parts of the electorate – especially in Scotland, where the swings were literally off the charts. Speaking of which...
6. Scotland. Bloody hell.
Constituency after constituency, tens upon tens of thousands of votes: The SNP's victory north of the border was awesomely comprehensive. "You're all-powerful in Scotland," David Dimbleby told Nicola Sturgeon. The question now is whether Scotland can possibly co-exist comfortably with an England that seems solidly and happily Tory and a Tory government committed to further cuts.
7. Expect a devolution revolution.
If David Cameron wants to save the union, he needs to address the England/Scotland divide, and fast. As he said in his victory speech in Witney, that will very probably mean pushing ahead with the devolution proposals that have already been put forward, or even flirting with full fiscal autonomy, not least so Scots aren't able to pin the blame for their troubles on him any more and have to start looking closer to home.
8. UKIP's future may be as an alternative to Labour, not the Tories.
In the last couple of years, a party founded on the principle that the Tories weren't right-wing enough has found a fertile hunting ground among those convinced Labour isn't left-wing enough – voters in the old industrial heartlands who felt betrayed by the party's metropolitan leadership and its casual embrace of immigration. Even as UKIP was failing to cost the Tories as many seats in the south as predicted, it was peeling off votes from Labour in Wales and, especially, the north of England, where long-term antipathy to the Tories and the collapse of the Lib Dems mean there is a vacancy for a party of opposition. In short, the movement's future is as much Paul Nuttall as Nigel Farage.
9. Grey power beat youthful passion...
The Tories offered guarantees on the state pensions, a hike in the inheritance tax threshold, and the preservation of old-age benefits. Ed Miliband offered lower tuition fees, more houses, and to tilt the generational balance – while offering interviews to YouTube stars and Russell Brand. While we don't have detailed voting breakdowns yet, the results seem to bear out the age-old maxim: Older people vote, young people don't.
10. ...but it might not always be that way.
The one chink of light for Labour was that in constituencies with a younger and more ethnically mixed population, the party did better than it did nationwide – a phenomenon that was especially noticeable in London. Like the Democrats in the US, Labour still has an advantage among the voters of the future. It's just the voters of the present it's got to worry about.
11. There was only one winner from the coalition.
"We were acting in the national interest," was the refrain of Lib Dem spokespeople last night. The voters didn't seem to care. This was an absolutely brutal night for Nick Clegg's men. It wasn't just in their strongholds in Scotland and the southwest that they got savaged, it was right across the board. The Lib Dems have some very serious thinking to do about how they can come back from here. The Tories will probably still want them as partners, but could they really join back up with the party that reaped the gains of coalition at their electoral expense?
12. Expect the cries for voting reform to grow louder.
UKIP got more than 10% of the vote (on current estimates) but ended up with one seat and counting. The Lib Dems also got more of the vote than they had seats, and the Greens have cause to be upset as well. In short, there are quite a lot of people who feel that there's something a bit wrong with what first-past-the-post is delivering. Just take a look at this Financial Times chart:
13. Labour is going to start looking for a new leader – and someone with TV skills is a must.
Hello, Chuka Umunna. (Although in the name of fairness, the bookies' early favourite is Andy Burnham, with Yvette Cooper on his shoulder.)
14. Britain really doesn't care about the world.
People on Twitter briefly got upset about this scornful CNN caption, but it's not like we had much interest in the outside world ourselves. Foreign policy and defence policy were the dogs that didn't bark during the election campaign, which focused relentlessly on domestic issues such as the economy and the NHS. Vladimir Putin, ISIS, Libya, and Syria hardly got a mention, and neither did climate change and other global issues. Even the fact that Britain may soon be out of the EU – a seismic change by any standards – was barely mentioned.
15. It might not all be over.
The Tories have done better than anyone imagined. But depending on how negotiations go, David Cameron will still be hostage either to the demands of his backbenchers (some of whom absolutely loathe him) or his coalition partner or partners. On present form, a coalition with the DUP would give him a majority of 16, but that's John Major territory, and look how tough he had it. True, there doesn't look to be a way that Labour can form a government. But whether the Tories can form a genuinely stable one is still very much up in the air.
16. Whatever happens, British politics is set for a period of hideous uncertainty.
There will be leadership contests among the Lib Dems, and possibly Labour, UKIP and the Greens. There will almost certainly be a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU – that's one promise David Cameron really can't get out of – and very probably another referendum on Scotland's membership of the UK. And the Tories are committed to further cuts that are bound to whip up significant opposition. Oh, and Boris is now on the green benches, ready to stir up trouble the moment things look a bit dicey for the PM.
Cameron should be congratulated on a performance that exceeded almost everyone's expectations, probably including his own. But this may be an election that, with hindsight, he wishes he'd lost.