Wednesday, 12 August 2015

General Election 2015 - what really happened?

It is now just over three months since the General Election result and the political landscape has been transformed.  From a position of a virtual dead heat the Conservatives are now the dominant force in British politics with no serious opposition, the Labour Party are disintegrating, the LibDems have been reduced to a pile of rubble, no-one quite knows where UKIP are, and Scotland is virtually a one party state.  

In these last few months I have had time to read a lot, think about what has happened and look at the stats.  Not least, I have had a look at some of the things the British Election Study has identified about the motivations of the electorate.  Before the myths and legends of election 2015 take root I wanted to jot down a few things I believe to be true in understanding the drivers for the electorate at this election and where I think our politics are at.

A crucial thing to understand about General Election 2015 is that the Conservative Party did not see a significant increase in their support and there was not a return to 2 party politics.  Nor was there a significant reduction in Labour support from 2010 over the country as a whole.

The key dynamics were in fact the disintegration of LibDem support, the SNP landslide in Scotland and a large anti politics UKIP vote, although to negligible electoral effect. The Greens also had a larger vote than in previous elections, although less than they might have hoped.

 Source: Electoralcalculus

The Labour result was in fact a disaster saved only by defecting Liberal Democrats. This was made worse by the realisation that they were the opposition to not altogether popular government after five years of austerity in a financial crisis struck world.

One of the main features of election 2015 was the SNP tidal wave in Scotland where they won nearly all the seats and 50% of the vote.  The 2010 Labour voters who went over to the SNP were the most concerned by cuts in public spending, the least convinced about the need for deficit reduction, and felt that if we did have to address public spending it needed to be by tax rises and not cuts.

For left of centre inclined voters, the most effective thing to do in terms of electoral positioning was to be apparently centrist, anti-austerity, and economically competent.  This worked well for the SNP.  For Labour on the other hand, having a position which seemed to be austerity-lite did not work.  They probably needed to appear anti-austerity while economically competent to be more successful. 

In Scotland, Labour particularly lost out on not seeming anti austerity enough and the nationalist / anti politics sentiment grew.  

A paradox in Scotland that sealed the SNP rout of unionist parties was that a segment of Independence Referendum No voters voted SNP to take their popular vote to an unprecedented 50%.  This crucial group were partly looking for an anti-austerity proposal and were particularly beguiled by the prospect of a Labour minority administration given what they perceived as back-bone by the SNP. A smaller group were disappointed as they perceived there were not enough new powers for Scotland on offer when in fact significant powers had been brought forward and precisely according to the timetable promised.

In the election campaign there were a mass of contradictory claims, seemingly badly costed, confusing and complex.  Therefore, it was impossible to discern what the best deal was.  When the voting public is hit by conflicting claims of an unclear message they fall back on other simpler things to make up their minds. This means their view on the party leaders.  This was crucial.

The view of party leaders in comparison with Ed Miliband helped David Cameron.  It was also another factor which helped the SNP. 

What the LibDems were offering or what they were even for had become unclear and people had stopped listening to their leader some time before election.

The Greens fell back from a promising pre-election position because of this compounded by credibility of economic competence which unravelled somewhat for them during the campaign.

The Conservatives stuck very narrowly to a mantra of having a long term economic plan.  Economic competence, at least in contrast to Labour and their leader being relatively well thought of, again in comparison with Labour helped the Conservatives maintain and very slightly increase their 2010 support.  While this was not that impressive given 2010 was a disappointing result for the Conservatives as they failed to gain a majority after 13 years of Labour and an economic crisis, it was impressive given the rise of UKIP collecting anti politics support to their right.

The Conservatives were able to tactically cannibalise LibDem seats and squeeze enough LibDem voters and UKIP voters in key seats to win a majority under our First past the Post system.

The British Election Study found limited evidence of a fear of a Labour-SNP coalition driving votes to them.  However, both the Conservatives – who operated some very sophisticated voter modelling – and the LibDems found movement at the end of the campaign in LibDem seats to the Conservatives on this very fear tipping key seats into the Conservative column and ensuring the LibDem meltdown.

Interestingly, the Conservatives had some success moving UKIP supporters their way in key seats.  This did not happen in the north where UKIP were Labour facing.  However, this meant that while UKIP did well they only won one seat even though nearly 4 million voted for them.

So in short, an election where Labour lost on perception of economic competence and their leader but also for positioning themselves as austerity lite.  An election where the Conservatives won no ringing endorsement but won a majority under our system by a narrow message of competence or at least having a plan and a very effective tactical squeeze of LibDems and UKIPers in key seats.

But overall an election where the key dynamics were actually the destruction of the LibDems and the irresistible rise of the SNP.

I leave you with a question.  Is there a parallel between Scottish Nationalists and the Irish Nationalists of 1874 who came from nowhere to get 60 seats and it never went back?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The SNP's double paradox

    It has been interesting to see those celebrating the Greek vote on their financial crisis are a mixture of various nationalists, and the hard left and Greens.

    This highlights a paradox as far as the SNP are concerned.

    The SNP are not a hard left party and their anti-austerity line has been no different than social democrats'.  In fact their anti-austerity line has been more talk than action.

    There is also a paradox with regards to Europe.  As nationalists maybe their belief in Europe is more convenience than conviction.  The thinking of many of the supporters of the SNP is muddled at least.

EVEL is a terrible idea

My gut instinct is that David Cameron is foolish on devolution and that EVEL (English Votes for English laws)  is a terrible idea.

Ever since he made that ill judged speech on the morning of 19 September 2014 he has been playing fast and loose with Britain.  I like devolution.  I think decentralisation is good and that Britain is particularly well suited to it.  It is the natural order of things.

Indeed the natural conclusion of all this is devolution in some shape or form throughout the UK with Westminster becoming the national parliament.  The federal parliament if you like.

Some sort of devolution or decentralisation within England would be best for this to work and to be sustainable otherwise we just become England with some semi-detached add-ons like Scotland or Northern Ireland.  

Yes - EVEL creates 2 tiers of MPs and it makes it unlikely that a Scot or Welshman could ever be PM or a senior minister.  It turns Westminster into the English Parliament, which it is not.  And all this increases the chances of independence.

What then is the way forward?  I accept that the development of a full federal structure will not happen overnight but there are already some ideas on parliament, to work with as an interim step, within the Mackay Commission.   Developing wider decentralisation within England probably has to start with developing localism, regional structures like 'Northern Powerhouse' and empowering county authorities.  But that is so British.  Quirky and organic developments.

The Smith Commission and the Scotland Bill making its way through parliament gives us a strong devolved Scotland. Stronger even than German Lander and very much as promised during the Referendum campaign, however the nationalists try to spin it.  

The key for devolution to work within the United Kingdom is getting the UK level right and getting devolution right for England.  But EVEL is a terrible idea and the Conservatives are clueless about how the union and further devolution can work together.