‘The election of the least worst party’. I believe that is a fair assessment of the verdict delivered by the British public this month.
The 2015 General Election saw the regionalisation of politics and a polarised electorate help the SNP sweep Scotland to steamroller Labour. The Conservatives gain an unexpected victory by attacking the seats of the Liberal Democrats, almost wiping out their Coalition partners in the process.
The political strategist for the Conservatives, Lynton Crosby, wanted a low-key campaign which focused on keeping under the radar, avoiding gaffes and the continued recital of the party’s key messages – the improving economy, and the ‘threat’ of the SNP.
This negative campaigning before May 7 had a big effect as the characterisation of a minority Labour government possibly beholden to the Scots appealed to English voters, especially the Conservatives, who love the Union and passionately dislike Alex Salmond.
With the leaders’ debates historically one of the most important influences on the voters in the UK, Crosby also wanted to dilute the potential effect of these. This is why David Cameron never went head-to-head with Ed Miliband, thus denying the opportunity of an equal platform to enable the Labour leader to look like a potential prime minister.
Although Labour did well in London, partly due to the ethnic vote, their left-wing agenda failed to resonate in other parts of the country and they failed to appeal to floating voters in the marginal constituencies.
While big business backed the Conservatives, I am not sure celebrity endorsements from Russell Brand and others, their pink battle bus and the now infamous headstone (or should it be ‘Edstone’) in any way boosted the Labour cause.
On the other hand, they could have exploited far more the Tories’ perceived weakness as the party of the rich and for the ‘few’.
The landslide victory for the Scottish nationalists, returning 56 of the 59 available seats, was a clear message of their dissatisfaction for what they believe is the legacy of last year’s referendum not having been adequately fulfilled.
Despite gaining only one seat in the new Parliament, UKIP have displaced the Lib Dems as the third party in British politics for the time being. This was regardless of a slowing down of the bus in the final few weeks, although the wheels did not completely come off as some might have imagined.
What now for the main parties?
The future of the Union / the Scottish question is one of the major issues for the new Conservative government, while there is also the promise of an EU referendum in 2016 or 2017 to decide our continued membership of the European Union.
Meanwhile Labour need a return to the moderate, centre ground and their choice of a new leader, be it Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna or any of the other names mentioned, will determine the future direction of the party.
They desperately need to appeal to aspirant, middle class voters and perhaps adopt some family friendly policies.
The best opportunity for a way back for the Lib Dems, and to reclaim some of their previous seats, is to return to a liberal agenda and take a principled stance on issues such as Europe and security.
If the Conservatives run this government well – and that is a big ‘if’ – this will really damage the Labour party in the longer term. This may offer a chance for the Liberals to take the centre ground as a result.