Well no one expected that result did they? Every poll in the UK General Election predicted a hung parliament. As it turned out we got a single party majority – albeit a small one of 11 for the Conservative Party – even more astonishing as it is only the second time the party of the incumbent Prime Minister has increased its number of seats after a full term in office since 1959 (also 1983). So what happens next? Here are some issues and questions that came out of the election.
1. Will the Conservatives behave themselves? The last two Governments with small majorities (1974-79 and 1992-97) ran into problems with rebellions from their own MPs and lost their majorities to by election defeats and defections. The 1992-97 Major government (the last majority Conservative government) was a shambles with the Tory right holding Major to ransom. Will they have learnt their lesson? The funny thing is Cameron’s majority is now smaller (10) than the one the previous coalition had (76). Will it last the full five years?
2. Labour are in a horrid dilemma. Iain MacWhirter in his book “Road to Referendum” said that “Scotland thinks likes Denmark and England thinks like the USA”. Labour lost in England because they were perceived as being too left wing whereas in Scotland they lost because they weren’t left wing enough. Whoever succeeds Ed Miliband has almost an impossible circle to square.
3. The union is in danger again. How on earth can you force Denmark (Scotland) to accept the USA (England’s) policies? You can’t. You also can’t force England to accept Scotland’s policies. I suspect it was the SNP threatening to force a Labour government on a Conservative voting England that drove enough English voters into the arms of the Conservatives to give them a majority. The only solution is either Boris Johnson’s idea of federalism or give the Scottish Parliament a veto on Conservative laws. If Cameron forces austerity on Scotland there will be a second independence referendum – and very soon.
4. Coalitions have no future in the UK. The decimation of the Liberal Democrats – down to 8 MPs compared to 57 – proves that the British people do not want coalitions. Coalitions mean broken promises and the UK people hate politicians who break their promises but if you are in a coalition you have to break your promises. Disraeli said that “England does not love coalitions” and what happened to the Lib Dems proves that. A consequence of the Lib Dem massacre is that no small party in the future will join a coalition because they now know they will get decimated.
5. UKIP could fade away. Nigel Farage failed to win Thanet South and promptly resigned*. The problem for UKIP is they are going to get what they want – an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU). If the UK votes to pull out of the EU UKIP have got what they wanted and I suspect the party will split as that is the only issue UKIP members have in common. If the UK votes to stay in the EU they might get the membership boost the SNP got after the Scottish referendum but I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprisesd if UKIP don’t exist in 2020 with their one MP Douglas Carswell – a maverick – standing in (and probably winning) Clacton as an independent.
6. But the Green Party won’t. The Green Party trebled their vote despite having an unimpressive leader in Natalie Bennett. if she has the sense to resign and make way for their one MP Caroline Lucas – whose Brighton Pavilion seat is now safe with a majority of over 7,000 – they could well get the anti establishment anti Tory vote. With the Lib Dems in meltdown and UKIP without the charismatic Farage the opportunity for the Greens is great as their environmental message could appeal to both fed up Conservative and Labour voters (for example current Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith used to be editor of the Ecologist magazine). I wouldn’t be surprised if during this parliament the greens go up in the polls and that Lucas might gain a colleague in parliament as they could win safe Conservative seats in by elections (as the Lib Dems used to do)
One thing is certain. The next five years will be crucial for the UK. The future of the UK in Europe – plus the future of the UK itself – could very well be decided during this period. It could be the most crucial Parliament the UK has seen since the October 1974-79 one – the last parliament both with a European referendum and a single party majority smaller than this one (3). By 2020 the UK could out of the EU. It might even cease to exist. Once the euphoria of his win has died down David Cameron has a series of huge tasks.
*Events have overtook me. Nigel Farage is still leader of UKIP after the party turned down his resignation.