GE2015: The Autopsy

When there’s something puzzling or suspicious or unnatural about a death, there’s an autopsy. Sometimes it’s obvious what happened, sometimes it takes time and tests to discover the truth; just very occasionally it’s not possible to determine with certainty the sequence of events.

Before 10 pm on Thursday night, we were all wrong; and immediately afterwards, only John Curtice was right. He was so very right that Paddy Ashdown said he’d eat his hat, and Alastair Campbell said he’d eat his kilt. The two were then presented with these sartorial accessories on Question Time. Meanwhile, the rest of us, people, politicians—including David Cameron—and writers of blogs (mea maxima culpa!) wondered what had happened. And with three party leaders falling on their swords, there was a lot of blood on the floor, even if one of them hoped to make another comeback.

There are some preliminary findings from the autopsy; these are being digested, the organs and tharmes are being examined, and the remains will be fed into Mystic Meg’s Crystal Ball, so that ‘lessons can be learned’. The forensic examiner has more questions than answers at present. Here’s a few:

  • How did the opinion pollsters get it so comprehensively wrong? Why wasn’t there a hung parliament? Can we ever believe the pollsters again?
  • The SNP, the DUP and the LibDems might well have hoped to exploit a hung parliament; will the Tories pay any attention to them now? What political leverage do these, and the other parties, now have?
  • Why didn’t the metropolitan elite notice what was happening in Scotland, even if the pollsters did?
  • Why were the LibDems so punished for their time in government? Was it the broken pledge on student fees? If so, why weren’t the Tories punished for saying there would be no rise in VAT (which was raised) and no top-down reorganisation of the NHS in England, which there was? Was it because Clegg apologised, breaking the ‘never explain, never complain, never apologise’ rule of public life? Or do the public simply expect the Tories to be ‘lying bastards’?
  • Was Red Ed too red for England but not red enough for Scotland?
  • Will the future really look on the LibDems kindly? Will we see that they actually did put some ‘heart’ into the Tories? What about the ‘seven laws’ that didn’t get passed?
  • Do the Tories have any hidden policies, like privatising the NHS as has already been mooted in the Torygraph, which are already prepared and waiting to be served up? Does anyone know where all the ‘welfare’ benefits cuts will come from?
  • Are we really entering a period of stable government? John Major had a 30-seat majority in 1992, and a fat lot of good it did him. His backbenchers, the ‘bastards’ made his life a misery, specially over Europe. Is this also to be Cameron’s fate? How many Tory dinosaurs are there? And where will the other parties be?
  • There will be a EU referendum before the end of 2017, and probably earlier. England might well vote to leave, Scotland seems certain to vote to remain in. If this happens, will there be another Scottish referendum? And will David Cameron find himself as the last prime minister of the UK, and Nicola Sturgeon the first prime minister of a newly independent Scotland? And where will N Ireland be in all this? Still part of the rump of the UK, busily erecting border posts and customs stations? (As an aside, I’ve only recently noticed something that’s been staring us all in the face for yonks; look carefully at the Union Flag. The English cross of St George is clearly in front of, on top of, the saltires of Saints Andrew and Patrick. Is this a subliminal message, showing where power really lies?)
  • Did Rupert Murdoch really win it for England and for Scotland? Or was it Lynton Crosby, the ‘wizard of Oz’?
  • Both UKIP and the Greens had a sizeable popular vote that wasn’t turned into seats, each party winning only one. If first past the post is fine when there are only two parties, should the UK, now that we seem to be in multi-party politics, move to a proper system of PR, such as STV?
  • Voter registration was changed in the last few years; in the past everybody in a household could be entered on one form. Now each individual must register. Although this can be done online in Britain, it’s not possible yet in N Ireland. Why do so few young people vote, while so many pensioners do? Should voting be compulsory?
  • In N Ireland, do we still vote along tribal lines of orange and green? Is there really a third grouping of ‘neithers’? Will we really get an extra billion, or will the welfare ‘reforms’ now bit hard here?
  • And should half of us move to Scotland (or Brighton) while the other half goes down south?

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  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Good questions about the future, Korhomme, but we’re no longer at the start of the 20thC. If we were the answers would be a lot easier.

  • Britain as a whole constituency seems difficult for Labour to adopt a uniform party agenda. Scotland, northern and southern England, and London, seem like they each require a different type of Labour Party.

    I don’t think it’s out of the question to suggest that the Scottish Labour Party could do with officially breaking from the UK Labour Party and its Westminster-centred leadership, and form an independent pro-union centre-left party to combat the SNP in the Scottish arena.

    The impending fight for the Labour leadership will make for interesting viewing. Burnham seems associated with its northern base, whilst Umunna appears to represent the London metropolitan support.

  • In December, student registration in Oxford was 40% down on 2014. By April it was still 25% down. It is the disenfranchisement of those who have not yet permanently settled in one place that led to the Conservative victory, just like Republications do in parts of the USA.

  • Korhomme

    The answers are easier because we know what happened. But answering the questions ‘in real time’ is far, far harder.

  • Korhomme

    The cynic will say that the changes in registration, to make it harder, were deliberate because the young are firstly, left-wing, and secondly, so many of them are politically disengaged. But pensioners do vote, hence policies are directed towards them; and pensioners are settled in one place. The young are mobile.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You said that here will be a referendum in 1917.

  • Korhomme

    I did, but it was a senior moment, a ‘brain fade’. (Thanks for pointing it out, now fixed.)

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Aw, I’d thought you’d invented time travel. If you do, take me along on a return ticket. I’ve a few things I want to fix.

  • AndyB

    I identified exactly why things played out as they did at a fringe event to the Alliance party conference in March, albeit that I was only partially correct.

    The bit about which I was correct was that UKIP would not do as well as they would like for two reasons.

    Firstly, their support was too thinly spread. Getting seats under FPTP requires a decent concentration in that constituency.

    Secondly, and at least also partly due to FPTP, there are a lot fewer protest votes at General Elections where history shows us that voters will gravitate to the two big parties of the day enough for them to gather more seats, unlike in local elections and, as we know, also in European Elections.

    This is what caused the Lib Dems to suffer in the 1980s, and I correctly identified that it would also be UKIP’s problem in 2015.

    I also correctly predicted the collapse in the Lib Dem vote, but anyone could have told you that they would be punished for being perceived to have done too little to rein in the Tories.

    Of course, I failed to identify the extent to which my thesis would play out. That may be personal bias in hoping for any PM other than Cameron or Farage.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    The UK will vote for an EU exit in 2017. Scotland will vote the other way and a 2nd referendum will take place and Scotland will exit the UK, causing a constitional crisis. The Tories will win a 3rd term as Labour will descend into political infighting and pick another dude – they will learn nothing from this go around – old Labour/new Labour, years of reinvention. Whatever, the next ten years are going to be fun. As for NI, well, EU, Scotland, or no, we have only ever been heading in one direction….

  • Korhomme

    I’ll buy the first part of your argument; a Brexit, a Scottish secession. Not so sure about what happens after that. The Tories as an ‘English National Party’ perhaps. And as for N Ireland; will we unite with Scotland as some sort of mythical Dalriada; will we unite with the Republic? We can hardly go it alone.

    “May you interesting times” an old Chinese saying, and a curse.

  • Gerry Lynch

    The Tory vote came out; Tory to UKIP defectors came home while Labour to UKIP defectors stayed; the undecideds broke heavily for the Tories, partly because Labour had no answer to claims they would be in the SNP’s pocket and no answer to “did you learn from your economic mistakes in the late 2000s”.

    While the Tory majority is wafer thin and the Tory backbenches will be fractious, there are many fewer by-elections than there were 20 years ago, because MPs are younger, more likely to be female, and much less likely to be chain-smoking heavy drinkers than they were in the mid 1990s, when the Tory benches in particular, were stuffed with men in their sixties who’d spent a goodly chunk of their adult lives guzzling wine and cigars in the House of Commons bars.

  • smcgiff

    Excellent analysis… Carry on. 🙂

    Just one thing to add. I think the sound bite on the BBC where one English voter said of Labour, ‘ They [Labour] were willing to go with Scotland [not even mentioning the SNP, but SCOTLAND] to get into power was very telling about the English/Scottish split.

    If I were the SNP I’d have the soundbite on a loop.

    I still think Scotland is a distance away from 50% +1, but the Hardcore pro independence is solid, whereas the No side seem to be up for grabs.

    Will a practically All Scotland representation in Westminster be ignored? If they are and the SNP can exploit it, and they seem to be very canny, then… we could be seeing another Indey ref within the next 5 years or so.

    Especially if they are not being offered it and the Scot Nats take a leaf out of the old Irish Nat politicians and start interrupting (filibustering). Should make for an interesting few years.

    SF and the SDLP need to figure out how to become relevant to a disenfranchised NI electorate. And I think SF taking up their seats in Westminster and become the vocal NI version of the SNP is what they should do. Alas, SF don’t seem to have the bottle for that.

  • smcgiff

    What Scottish Labour Party, surely you need more than one person for a PAR-TAY! 🙂

  • Sergiogiorgio

    “A change is as good as a rest”, old Belfast saying.

    ?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    You’ll see an Indy ref in the next 3 years, post the Conservative promised 2017 vote for an UK exit from the EU. Scotland will vote to stay in EU and subsequently secede.

  • smcgiff

    I don’t think the UK will vote to leave the EU. Cameron doesn’t want the UK to leave and when it comes down to it people will vote to stay. Imo.

  • Korhomme

    Cameron looks to renegotiating some parts of the UK/EU agreements. If he gets what he wants, then he will stay. But if he doesn’t, then what? There’s quite a few ‘bastards’ on the Tory backbenches who are eurosceptic. All of UKIP is; it could be that England will vote to leave. Scotland and NI will vote to remain, and then we could have a major constitutional crisis. And Cameron doesn’t want to go down in history as the prime minister who ‘lost’ Scotland from the union in the way that Lord North did when he ‘lost’ the American colonies.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Gents – Labour got destroyed because the UK electorate understood that they were and are incompetent financially. Objectively the European experiment is failing and continues to do so. I’ll put my trust in the British electorate to see that reality also. I’m so confident I’ll be placing a bet tomorrow.

  • Korhomme

    It was the perception of financial incompetence that did for Labour. Chuka Umanna did admit that Labour should not have had a deficit in the immediate 2008 crash years, the first time I remember any Labour politician saying this—it’s Keynesian orthodoxy. Labour didn’t cause the banks to fail, or for RBS to come within hours of collapse, though the Tories have been very successful at painting Gordon Brown as being entirely responsible for what happened—and it’s weird that Labour didn’t shout that accusation down. Personally, I think it was Fred the Shred that did for RBS.

    But Labour got labelled with the financial problems, and though they were doing reasonable well until 2010, the Tories self-inflicted austerity made things so much worse—Osborne effectively did a U-turn in 2012. But then, the Tories are into a ‘small state’ with private provision of services (and enrichment of their chums).

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Your peception, my reality Korhomme. Labour controlled the FSA when the banks failed, and continued to build the deficit through those “good times”. Labours total abrogation of responsibility for the financial crisis “did for them” at the election. Labour have financial “form” in government. I remember the power cuts as a child of the 70’s – the 3 day week, rubbish festering on the pavements etc. Socialists “don’t do” the economy, just cast your eyes toward France. The EU experiment is at an end and should be taken out and put down like an old dog.
    BTW, Chucks is a liability. He’s not particularly bright, he’s “new money” (ref his Ibiza faux pas) and he’s not white, which is too much for old Labour.

  • Korhomme

    Gordon Brown suffered from the delusion that ‘boom and bust’ had been eliminated from the economic cycle; a
    continuing, steady growth and thereby increasing tax revenues would allow continued borrowing.

    The Tories mistake was to believe that ‘austerity’ would deliver growth; just look at what the IMF did to Greece. Even the IMF now recognises that austerity is an error.

    Yes, I remember the 3-day week; and I also remember the 1970s and the ‘who governs Britain’ campaign.

    I’m not a natural Tory nor a natural Labour supporter; I’m more of an observer looking at what’s happened and trying to make sense of it.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    The UK/NI stuff makes absolute sense to me KH. As for the geopolitical stuff, if frightens the living daylights out of me. Good luck to all.

  • Mirrorballman

    Cameron has no chance of getting any meaningful concessions from the EU. For changes to occur enough to satisfy the English right-wing treaty changes would be needed. Treaty changes that would have to be approved by all 28 members. That means at least a referendum in Ireland…no chance – Brexit is coming.

  • Korhomme

    That is certainly a distinct possibility. There’s also another Irish dimension; the Tories want to dump the Human Rights Act and replace it with a ‘British’ Rights one. But the HRA is in the Good Friday agreement; and the government of the Republic are also involved in the GFA. How are the Tories going to get round that?

  • scepticacademic

    Agree with most of that. The two key factors (with hindsight) for me would be: (1) Labour lost the economic argument, not in the campaign but throughout the last Parliament, and (perceived) economic competence is a major factor for swing voters; (2) Milliband was never seen as a credible alternativee PM by most voters in key marginals. These factors trumped issues like the NHS and inequality when it came to the crunch.