On the eve of the 2015 general election, this blog complained:
David Cameron, the Prime Minister I supported for much of these past five years – and for whose party I voted in 2010 – spent the last day of the election campaign not making a powerful case for real conservative stewardship of the country, but by indulging in petty scaremongering about a Labour victory and pre-emptive expectation setting around the “legitimacy” of rival claims to power in the certain event of a hung parliament.
Well, inspiring or not, the Prime Minister’s strategy worked magnificently. David Cameron may have failed to inspire the British people with a burning, urgent vision for conservative government, but at least he managed (through endless repetition) to remind us that the economy is growing again under the Tories, and that a Labour-SNP coalition could put it all at risk.
And now, where only hours ago we expected the political parties to be commencing the first of many fraught rounds of coalition negotiations, instead we see David Cameron being driven to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, while the other parties (save the astonishing SNP) quickly and mercilessly dispatch their failed leaders.
First and foremost, this election result is a resounding defeat for Labour, and the confused non-values it stood for during the 2015 campaign. Having both repudiated the centrism of New Labour and failed to return the party to its ideological roots, putting himself in the ludicrous position of being against the Tories but not for a tangible vision of his own, Ed Miliband has brought Labour to complete and utter electoral ruin.
Ed Miliband went to his political Armageddon today flatly refusing to accept that Labour had made any mistakes during their last thirteen year spell in government, at least as far as the economy and public spending were concerned. The electorate took one look at this outright denial of reality and determined that the Son of Brown could not be trusted to take stewardship of the finances again.
But almost nobody expected the Labour Party to perform this badly against the Conservatives – poll after poll showed the Tories and Labour in a virtual dead heat. So when the exit poll results were announced at ten o’clock last night, people scarcely believed them. Paddy Ashdown confidently remarked that he would eat his hat if the Liberal Democrats were reduced to ten MPs. They currently have just eight. UKIP supporters (including yours truly) were convinced that UKIP would win more than two seats, picking up at least Thanet South or Thurrock. But only Douglas Carswell now remains, cutting a lonely figure.
Why did none of the polls or pundits see this coming? Why was the Conservative vote so much higher than expected? The answer can only be that many people are unwilling to admit to pollsters – let alone family and friends – that they hold conservative beliefs. Labour inadvertently fooled themselves (and the rest of us) into believing they were in contention in this election by helping to create an atmosphere and national culture so antagonistic to right-wing ideas, so blindly accepting of left-wing smears that to be conservative is to be heartless and cruel, that people simply stopped reporting truthfully with regard to their voting intentions.
There is a false belief, widely accepted as fundamental truth in many strands of British society, that conservative policies are automatically selfish and mean-spirited, while left-wing policies are altruistic and generous. What should be portrayed as honest political disagreement about the best way to run the country, fund public services and empower the people is instead reported as a battle of Good versus Evil – the awful, murdering Tories on the one hand and Labour, faithful guardian of the dispossessed on the other.
This falsehood has always existed, but it reached a giddy crescendo during the 2015 general election campaign. Labour MPs and candidates, led by Ed Miliband, became convinced that they were fighting a battle of good versus evil, and in their eagerness to disparage right-wing ideas they were happy to impugn the reputation of anyone who disagreed with their big government solutions. Supporting the Conservatives or UKIP was no longer a matter of simple political disagreement, it was portrayed as some kind of grievous moral deficiency.
Faced with daily bombardment by the parties of the left and their celebrity endorsers, it simply became too costly – both socially and psychologically – for a large number of Britons to admit that they hold perfectly reasonable centre-right opinions. And so they didn’t admit it to anyone, leading Labour to believe that their own spin was working far better than it really was.
The Telegraph’s Janet Daley also picks up on this thread, with justified anger:
Why should such a large proportion of the electorate who are sane enough, and grown-up enough, and confident enough of the value of their political inclinations to vote as they think, be so intimidated that they cannot admit their voting intention?
There is something very ugly going on in our public discourse – and the Left-wing activists (and their media hangers-on) might ask themselves what they think they are accomplishing when they bully and ridicule that vast tranch of the country into being so secretive about their vote. What they have managed to achieve in this election is massive self-delusion.
Buoyed in part by this “shy Tory” vote, last night was an almost unimaginably good night for the Conservatives. But amid the celebrations it should not be forgotten that the only way they held on to so many tough marginals was by dressing up in Labour Party clothing.
When they weren’t hammering home Lynton Crosby’s disciplined “Long Term Economic Plan” mantra, the Tories went to extraordinary pains to tell voters that their real focus was on public services above all else, as though the sole reason to vote for a government should be a self-interested calculation about how much one can extract from the state.
And if you want proof of the degree to which the Tories have been willing to jettison conservative principles like cargo from a sinking ship in their fight for more Westminster seats, take the word of the Chancellor, George Osborne. From the Guardian’s election live blog:
George Osborne openly suggested that to be “right wing” is somehow to be against the “working people”. While this may be self evident to those on the left, it is astounding – and shameful – that a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer should casually suggest that to be truly conservative is to be against the interests of the working man or woman.
Five years of economic recovery and the tireless work of excellent Tory MPs such as Harlow’s Robert Halfon stand as proof that conservatism can empower and benefit normal families as well as the rich, but the idea that conservatism is selfish is so deeply engrained in our collective psyche that even David Cameron’s chief political ally appears to believe the propaganda.
The saga of UKIP and Nigel Farage deserves a blog post of its own – and will get one. But for now, suffice it to say that the end result – Douglas Carswell being the only remaining UKIP MP – sadly fell well within the bounds of reasonable expectations. Though some overenthusiastic grassroots supporters may have dreamed of tens of UKIP MPs turning up at Westminster, this was simply never going to happen – Britain’s punishing electoral system would always make sure of that.
But despite the anti-climactic feelings over the UKIP result – and this blog, after much soul searching, wanted UKIP to pick up many more seats from the arrogant and presumptuous legacy parties – it should always be remembered just how far Nigel Farage’s party have come in the space of five short years.
In 2010, UKIP achieved 3.1 per cent of the national vote, and were light years away from ever achieving an elected MP. But by 2014 the party became the first party other than Labour or the Tories to win a British election (the European election) in a century, and consolidated this remarkable achievement with the defection of two Conservative MPs later in the year.
In 2015, UKIP achieved 12.6 per cent of the national vote, a remarkable achievement and testimony to the fact that UKIP are no longer merely a protest party, doing well in local and European elections only to haemorrhage support at general elections. Douglas Carswell’s re-election in Clacton is therefore another significant step in the development of the party.
And the best news for UKIP was the fact that they scored second place finishes in 120 constituencies, making UKIP the “official” opposition in a whole swathe of seats across Britain. This is hugely heartening news for UKIP supporters, and should provide the party with a solid foundation and increased sense of legitimacy in future elections.
But there can be no sugar coating it – the fact that Nigel Farage lost his Westminster race is a blow, both for the immediate ambitions of his party and the self confidence of his supporters. Of course, Farage was true to his word and stepped down as UKIP leader almost immediately following the declaration of his result in Thanet South. Yet most do not want him to go – the party has gone from strength to strength under his leadership, though it is encouraging to see a deeper bench of talent emerging – including the formidable Suzanne Evans, architect of the UKIP 2015 manifesto, who will serve as interim leader while Farage considers whether to make another bid for the top job.
Neither did the Liberal Democrats deserve the total electoral humiliation they received. This blog vehemently disagrees with the LibDem’s lack of ideological commitment and the way the party flaunted the fact that their main selling point was to take the edge off already dull Labour or Conservative policies. But there should be space in politics for pragmatism too, and the Liberal Democrats are nothing if not pragmatists.
More worryingly, LibDem ministers have often been the last line of defence protecting the British people from gross infringements on our civil liberties that the more authoritarian Tories – like Theresa May, just reappointed as Home Secretary – have been itching to enact.
There has been a pattern in this election of political courage – from people of all parties – being harshly punished with the most cruel outcomes. Nick Clegg acted in the best interests of the country when he took the Liberal Democrats into coalition with the Conservatives at the height of the financial crisis. At his Sheffield Hallam count he looked a broken man, brought down by his policy reversal on tuition fees. But it was the braying mob who booed the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister who should feel ashamed, not Nick Clegg.
Mark Reckless made the brave decision to leave his home in the Conservative Party and defect to UKIP, but while his voters approved his decision in the following by-election they punished him in May 2015. Former Conservative Employment Minister Esther McVey took on a tough political brief almost guaranteed to incur national political blowback despite representing a marginal constituency, and paid the price for her efforts.
And then, of course, there is Nigel Farage – without whom we would likely not have been discussing Europe or immigration or defence policy during the campaign to nearly such an extent. Nigel Farage has, at times, played on people’s fears and prejudices, including his inflammatory comments about Romanians. And when he has done so, this blog has been among the first to criticise.
But overall, Farage has displayed immense personal and political courage in bringing unpopular and neglected issues to the fore, usually against the determined opposition of the other parties and the entire political establishment. The fact that he has become such a figure of hate to many on the Left says far more about their close-mindedness than it does about Nigel Farage himself.
Though UKIP has matured since 2010, there is not yet any other party figure with nearly the same level of charisma and media savvy. The vital cause of British euroscepticism can only be strengthened if Nigel Farage throws his hat back in to the ring and serves another term as UKIP leader, or at least maintains a highly visible role in the party through the planned EU referendum in 2017. In the meantime, our politics will be diminished by his absence from the stage.
In fact, we will be feeling the absence of many familiar faces in the coming days as we digest the surprising – but hopefully positive – news of this outright Conservative victory.
Ed Miliband – gone
Nick Clegg – gone.
Nigel Farage – at least temporarily – gone.
And in their place will come Alex Salmond and the SNP, marching on London with an army of 56 nationalist MPs fanatically opposed to any kind of fiscal restraint or limitation of the state – a Tartan Tea Party of the Left.
The party political makeup of Westminster has changed far more radically than many of us ever expected. But with relatively little to choose between the two main parties once the rhetoric is stripped away, and with the UKIP and Green Party insurgencies temporarily halted in their tracks, will any of this make a real difference to the future direction of Britain?
David Cameron has been rewarded – undeservedly, in the opinion of this blog – with a totally unexpected majority government. The Prime Minister must now prove himself worthy of this increased level of support by actually remembering to take his conservative credentials with him back into Number 10 Downing Street.