UK Election Raises Immediate Questions
Early morning results from yesterday’s general election have provided a number of surprises and raised some important questions.
At the time of writing, Sky News is projecting a slim majority of just two seats to the Conservative Party, with 365 seats won. The same projection places Labour on 235 seats, in a result that represents a huge and largely unexpected blow to that party.
Arguably, the biggest winners, after the Conservatives, were the Scottish Nationalists who won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats. Their huge and historic gains came at the expense of the Labour Party in particular and the Liberal Democrats.
Sky News projects the Liberal Democrats will enter the next parliament with just eight seats. The United Kingdom Independence Party, who have finished strongly in second place in many seats, will likely win two seats at most.
On a personal level, Ed Balls, former Labour leadership contender and shadow Chancellor, lost his seat. So too have all of the LibDem coalition cabinet ministers, with the exception of Nick Clegg, who must now consider his position as leader of the party. The LibDem situation represents the largest loss of sitting ministers since 1997.
On a human level, it is always moving to watching sitting MPs, particularly those among their parties’ leadership, conceding defeat live on TV.
Questions will be asked about the Labour Party’s performance, especially when independent polls as well as internal party polls suggested a very strong showing. Pundits left and right were predicting a grubby end result, with any viable government only being formed as a result of extended negotiations in darkened rooms across Westminster.
The vote turned out to provide a different scenario – though governing will be difficult with even a slim majority, if that transpires. Five years is a long time in which to have to constantly do deals, especially on contentious policies.
Labour suffered from the rise of the SNP, but it is likely also being held to account for not being up front about previous governments’ over-spending and its role in producing the recession.
In coming days there will inevitably be questions relating to the impact of the results on the Scottish question. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said several times – and again this morning – that the question of another referendum has not been the major issue for this election. Yet one can’t help but wonder how long it will be before there are calls from its new MPs for another independence vote. Independence is, after all, a key plank of not only the SNP manifesto, but its raison d’etre.
It will be interesting, too, to see whether former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, newly elected to Westminster, will effectively pull the strings of SNP parliamentarians, given that he is in London while Ms Sturgeon remains in Edinburgh.
For now, Tories will lead the next government, though whether it does so with a slim majority is not yet clear. They will carry with them a fairly credible claim to a popular mandate.
However, after the previous coalition arrangement, this next parliament will not see anything like a return to single party government of the old type.
Horse-trading will still be the order of the day on a great many issues. That may not be such a bad thing; it may mean that the leading party’s convictions have to be thought through very carefully before being offered up as potential legislation.
A side issue in this election, but an important one, relates to the polls. The exit poll on the day of the election was the only poll that proved an accurate reflection of the end result. It predicted a strong result for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tories, while all other polls predicted a hung parliament and a result that might not be known for days or weeks.
Polling has never been a thoroughly reliable “science”. It is, in effect, a form of educated guesswork – albeit well-educated – shaped by projections which are based on opinions from fairly limited samples. And, to be fair to the pollsters, human beings will often say one thing to a pollster and then do another in the privacy of the polling booth.
However, professional pollsters – and there are now more of them than ever before - must face up to some serious queries about their methods and whether they ought to spend more time and money on improving these than on marketing their services to television and the press.
Whatever the final shape of government, whether it produces stability will depend on the goodwill of individual MPs and their party machines. Let’s hope they keep faith with the public.