The election result took many by surprise. As the results became clear, George Osborne briefly stated the Tory commitments to an essentially social democratic sounding manifesto, including more jobs, affordable housing, tax cuts for working people, help with childcare, improved educational chances for all etc, etc. He concluded that they had put it all in the manifesto and “it seems to have been warmly received.” Further detail was later spelled out by David Cameron in his victory speech outside No 10, a transcript of which follows.
It is possible there may be some misunderstanding. Osborne’s perception of a warm reception may be sadly mistaken. Prior to the election, extensive campaigning was focused on what appeared to be deliberate misinterpretations so as to spread misunderstanding and deliver tactical voting, ie voting not for what you believe in but in order to prevent what you actively reject. The result is uncertainty about the electorate’s true position.
The most actively rejected were, of course, the Lib Dems, followed by Labour. A rather non-scientifically designed survey sample, but nevertheless one of considerable geographic spread, is being conducted to identify reasons for that rejection, with some preliminary results are already to hand. In both Lib-Dem and Labour, the main cause emerging for their rejection was their failure to offer a real alternative to the Tory manifesto. The Lib-Dems were written off as having completely sold out. That may be grossly unfair, but that is the predominant reason being given by those former Lib Dems surveyed. Labour also lost support because of their failure to offer a significantly different economic programme. In particular, Ed Balls’ adherence to the Tory austerity programme in case Labour should be labelled as irresponsible, appears to have been a prime cause of frustration and rejection.
The Tory manifesto includes the creation of millions of apprenticeships, and millions of jobs, more help with childcare, improved education; cuts in income tax of working people, the building of affordable homes and such like. How could any socially minded Party offer a genuine alternative to such a programme? The survey raises this question and the answers are interesting. Basically people do not trust the Tory manifesto. For example, today’s apprenticeships are compared contemptuously with those demolished by the Thatcher government; the stats on delivery of jobs is loaded with part-timers and zero hours contracts; the Tory interference with both health and education have caused particular anger – free schools and academies are thought to be out of control, while successive reorganisations of the NHS, easing its privatisation, is held to be entirely destructive. And regarding the building of affordable homes – what stopped that over the past five years? As for taxation, the Tories have presided over the massive QE giveaways to the City of London funded by the tax payer, but have allowed the super-rich to maintain their tax freeing status as non-doms. Etc, etc. All these appear as sources of profound distrust and anger among the surveyed.
So why should the Tories enjoy such a resurgence in their support that they can resume as a majority government? The truth is they haven’t. They gained less than 1% above its 2010 vote when it had to rely on Lib-Dem support. The fact that resulted in a gain of 24 seats is a quirk of the first past the post system. It would appear that the Labour vote also remained stuck only 1.5% above its 2010 low point, but losing 26 seats again resulting from first past the post.
Those small changes in voter numbers disguise a lot of voter movement. In the survey, a substantial number of former Labour voters turned to UKIP and the Greens, where their substantially increased numbers produced no additional seats. The UKIP element was generated by a particularly frustrated and angry group of voters. Their losses to Labour tended to be compensated by deserting Lib-Dems, though the extent of that is less certain.
If the survey is truly indicative, we have an angry electorate, angry with all three, so called, ‘main’ Parties. The only big Party that appears to be pleasing its voters is the SNP. Its Scottish supporters voted that way because it offered the only genuine alternative to Tory austerity. They already voted on leaving the UK and, despite their deep disenchantment with the Westminster consensus, voted narrowly against. So where is the English alternative to austerity? The only party that addresses that issue is the Green Party of England and Wales, which despite having more than a million votes has only the one seat in Westminster.
This unsatisfactory picture is muddied further by the Tories’ muddle over what to do about devolution – see David Cameron’s confused exposition in his victory speech below. Then there is the Tory commitment to an in-out referendum on EU membership, this after having renegotiated the terms despite confusion over what is regarded as necessary. It looks like a rocky road ahead for Mr Cameron who may be as well intentioned as portrayed in his victory speech. Or he may be just the lackey of the self-perpetuating financial elite who he served in his first five years.
David Cameron’s victory speech in Downing Street, 8th May, 2015
“The government I led did important work. It laid the foundations for a better future and now we must build on them. I truly believe we’re on the brink of something special in our country. We can make Britain a place where a good life is in the reach of everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing. Our manifesto is a manifesto for working people and as a majority government we will be able to deliver all of it. Indeed it is the reason why I think majority government is more accountable. Three million apprenticeships; more help with childcare; helping thirty million people with the cost of living by cutting their taxes; building homes that people are able to buy and own; creating millions more jobs that give people the chance of a better future. And yes we will deliver that in-out referendum on our future in Europe.
As we conduct this vital work we must ensure that we bring our country together. As I said in the small hours of this morning we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom. That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country from North to South and East to West. And indeed it means rebalancing our economy, building that Northern powerhouse. It means giving everyone in our country a chance, so, no matter where you’re from, you have the opportunity to make the most of your life. It means giving the poorest people the chance of training, a job, a hope for the future. It means for children who don’t get the best start in life, there must be the best nursery education and good schooling that can transform their life chances.
And of course it means bringing together the different nations of our United Kingdom. I have always believed in governing with respect. That’s why in the last parliament we devolved power to Scotland and Wales and gave the people of Scotland a referendum on whether to stay inside the United Kingdom. In this parliament I will stay true to my word and implement as fast as I can the devolution that all parties agreed for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Governing with respect means recognising that the different nations of our United Kingdom have their own governments as well as the United Kingdom government. Both are important, and indeed with our plans the governments of of these nations will become more important with wider responsibilities. In Scotland our plans are to creat the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world with important powers over taxation. And no constitutional settlement will be complete if it not also offer fairness to England.
When I stood here five years ago our country was in the grip of an economic crisis. Five years on Britain is so much stronger. But the real opportunities lie ahead. Everything I’ve seen over the last five years and indeed during this election campaign, has proved once again that this is a country with unrivalled skills and creativeness, a country with such good humour, and such great compassion. And I’m convinced that if we draw on all of this then we can take these islands with their proud history and build an even prouder future. Together, we can make Great Britain greater still.