The general and local elections are finally over. Whilst I’m relieved that I’ll no longer be getting 50+ emails a day, and don’t have constant campaigning demands on my time, the results have been sobering. After a fairly intense few months campaigning, casting my vote on Thursday had felt somewhat anti-climatic. It was hard to get excited about a best case scenario of changing to a Labour government implementing austerity at a slower rate (and hopefully being moderated by an increase in Green, Plyd and SNP MPs). Even so, I was in no way prepared for the horror of a full Conservative majority government.
I worked a night shift that Thursday and watched the BBC election coverage live as the votes came in (between pushing sick people around – obviously). I sympathised with Ashdown’s sentiment of eating his hat if the exit poll was acurate. Surely it couldn’t be. The two main parties had been neck and neck – with Labour seemingly slightly ahead – in almost all the polls. But as the results from more and more key marginal seats came back showing Labour failed to make progress in England, it became clear that the exit poll was right. In fact, as the final result showed, even this had underestimated the extent of Conservative success.
Understandably (in light of what the majority of the polls and pundits were suggesting would be the result) the Conservatives have been quick to jump on this as a major victory and endorsement of their ‘Long Term Economic Plan’. This is all spin. In a normal election such a slender majority would be considered a disaster. The Conservatives haven’t managed to significantly increase their vote share, other than scooping up more socially conservatives Lib Dems as their party has been effectively obliterated (for the forseeable future at least). Labour’s vote actually increased more than the Conservatives, going up by 1.4% to the Conservatives 0.8% increase. Due to the unrepresentative nature of First Past the Post this resulted in Labour’s number of seats decreasing by 6.2% whilst the Tory’s increased by 3.7% (don’t feel too bad for them, First Past the Post still massively skews the results in their favour compared to the smaller parties)
Tory vote: 10.7 million, 36.1%, 306 seats.
Labour vote: 8.6 million, 29%, 258 seats.
Tory vote: 11.3 million, 36.9%, 331 seats.
Labour vote: 9.3 million, 30.4%, 232 seats.
My friend Samuel Bernard does a fantastic and more indepth look at these numbers, and where Labour went wrong here at: http://ceborgia.tumblr.com/post/118524860951/observations-on-the-2015-uk-elections
Labour did manage to gain some seats in England (largely at the expense of the Lib Dems), but this was massively offset by the loss of all but one of their Scottish seats. Already there’s been a plethora of Labour voices blaming the SNP for their defeat. Here’s John Prescott in the Mirror for example: “Just as they did in 1979, the SNP stopped a Labour government and helped the Conservatives”. This is patently untrue. Had Labour won every single seat in Scotland but the results in the rest of the UK had stayed the same, the Conservatives still would have won. Labour lost this election in England. Obviously their chances of an outright majority were severely curtailed by the loss of 40 Scottish seats, but it was their inability to win their key English marginal target seats that prevented them from even being in the position to work with other anti-Tory MPs in Scotland and elsewhere.
This was a terrible result for ordinary people in this country. We’ve empowered the Conservatives to do some horrible things. As a NHS worker, with a disabled mum, and friends and family from disadvantaged backgrounds, and generally as someone with compassion for my fellow man, I fear what a majority Conservative government will do over the next 5 years.
However, some slight solace was provided by our fantastic results in Bristol. We ousted Steven Williams, and although we (Greens) didn’t win, Darren Hall received a historic upswing of 23% in Bristol West, taking our vote to 26% and second place behind Labour (and well ahead of the incumbent Lib Dem on 18%). We also increased our vote by 9% in Bristol South, by 6.5% in Bristol East, and by 4.5% in Bristol North-West. The best news was on the council elections. We retained our seat in Ashley with an increased majority, and gained 7 new council seats (very narrowly missing out on an 8th in Bedminster, with some impressive finishes elsewhere), taking us to 13 overall. Despite only being a paper candidate, I even managed to double our number of votes in Hengrove from last year (not hard when you’re starting on such a low base).
Whilst the Green surge unfortunately failed to materialise into increased Westminster representation, our general progress was encouraging. Caroline increased her majority to 14.6%. We saved 123 deposits (compared with just six saved in 2010), we came second in four constituencies (Liverpool Riverside, Sheffield Central, Manchester Gorton, and of course Bristol West), and third in many more, and we beat the Lib Dems in 135 seats – compared to just 1 in 2010 (though this may have more to do with their collapse then just our strength). Overall our total vote quadrupled. This is a positive trend I hope continues.
What really struck me about the election was the turnout. Billed as the closest election of our generation, where each vote counted more than ever (under FPTP) turnout was expected to be much higher. In Scotland where people are still mobilised from the referendum, and the SNP offers a credible electoral alternative of hope to the fear and austerity of the Westminster parties, the turnout was very high (reaching as much as 80% in places). In England, where the main choice was between Conservative austerity, and Labour austerity-lite (with Ed Ball’s saying “There was nothing I would reverse” in Osborne’s last budget and all but 5 Labour MPs voting for Osborne’s austerity charter in the last Parliament) there was no change. Turnout seemed much lower than everyone expected.
As Sam points out, the vote in Conservative strongholds had been predictably high, “the Tory core voters are usually the demographic most engaged by the system and most motivated to vote. This isn’t a new story”. Continuing a trend of recent general elections, turnout in Labour centres was much lower. It seems that just keeping the Tories out wasn’t a good enough reason to get a sizable minority of Labour supporters out to vote. This is hardly surprising when Labour were essentially offering watered down Conservative economic policy as their alternative to Conservative economic policy. Sam again lucidly explains:
“In this scenario Labour fails to activate their traditional voter base in sufficient numbers. Keeping the Tories out provides inadequate a motivation to bring people to the polls for Labour. This supposition is supported by the Ashcroft polling showing that 24% of Labour voters this year had previously voted for the Lib Dems, a very significant number. Only 64% of Labour voters this year voted for Labour in 2010, while 68% were traditional Labour voters. This compares to 81% and 70% respectively for the Tories…
Trailing Tory discourse on austerity, Labour sets themselves up as austerity-lite. This isn’t especially appealing to those damaged by the cuts, and to the middle voter Labour do not have the credibility to be able to institute such policy when the Tories are already there, doing the same job, and have demonstrated their ruthless capacity to follow through. Voters that consider austerity either never necessary or now no longer necessary made up 83% of the Labour vote, 55% of the Lib Dem vote, 54% of the UKIP vote, 81% of the Green vote, and 89% of the SNP vote. Considering how much support Labour lost to UKIP, Greens and the SNP this could have made a big difference in challenging the Conservatives, both in holding on to voters as well as activating the same fresh voters they did. Labour have to buck their internally dominant right wing to turn this around.”
This (much more eloquently then I could have) outlines much of my own thinking as to the main thing that went wrong for Labour in this election. The last sentence seems most interesting in relation to Labour’s future and the potential growth of the Green Party. Already the right within the Labour party has been shouting about how they lost the election because Ed was too Left, and too close to the unions (despite them all calling on him to reverse policy to no avail) and that they’ve distanced themselves too much from Tony Blair and New Labour’s record. I have a strong suspicion they may use this electoral defeat to move the party even further right. Already the Greens are gaining increasing support for our stance on social justice and support for ‘Old Labour’ policies like renationalising the railways and utility companies, redistribution of wealth, and opposition to austerity, etc. If Labour moves further right this could well alienate more of its core demographic, and could enable the Greens to gain more and more support.