The dust has settled and all the seats are decided, but the analysts are still recovering from their shock. Instead of the neck-and-neck result everyone (including me) had predicted, the UK ended up voting in a Conservative majority. David Cameron has already formed his cabinet, and will be able to lead without any help at from his former coalition partners. So who are this election’s winners and losers? It’s not just the parties themselves…
David Cameron will be over the moon. Instead of having to fight for his political life in coalition bargaining he’s simply settling back into Number 10. His stubborn insistence before the vote that he would win a majority turned out to be correct, with the Tories winning 331 seats. His austerity program has been given the seal of approval, and he’ll be looking now towards the EU referendum in 2017. He’ll be hoping that he can negotiate a deal with the EU to give the UK enough exceptions from the EU rules (like freedom of movement) that he can campaign for the UK to stay.
Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party is the other big winner. The SNP won every single seat in Scotland bar two, completely demolishing Labour. This wasn’t necessarily a nationalist result, but a vote of confidence from a leftist Scotland for a leftist party seen as being able to stand up to the Conservatives. However, with 56 seats in parliament, she’ll still be pressing for more and more autonomy for Scotland – including full power over taxation and government spending.
Ed Miliband is already gone as Labour leader. After believing so strongly that the election would be close, even the chance of a post-election coalition bargain was ripped away. Miliband led his party to an even greater defeat than Gordon Brown did in 2010, losing nearly all their seats in Scotland. Some experts even believe that Labour now faces a structural and ideological crisis. That might be going a bit far. With the economy recovering, it was always a tall order to convince the public to change governments. However, it will be still a challenge for the new leader to develop a strategy for victory over the next 5 years.
Nick Clegg is also gone, after his Liberal Democrats were destroyed in what was probably one of the worst nights of his life. From kingmakers in the last election they’ve dropped back to 8 seats and no importance. It’s hard to see where the Lib Dems go from here.
Nigel Farage is at least temporarily gone, after stepping down as leader of UKIP until a leadership contest after the summer. UKIP won only one seat, and Farage failed to get into parliament. When the EU referendum is held, they’ll merely be standing on the sidelines. The frustrating thing for UKIP is that they got 14% of the national vote, meaning with a proportional representation system (like the Netherlands) they would have been the third biggest party. Under such a system the results for all parties would have been very different. It is slightly funny that traditionalist Farage is now campaigning for reform to the centuries old British system though.
The United Kingdom might end up being the biggest loser of the night. Just a look at the electoral map shows that Scotland and England are now almost completely divided. What legitimacy does the conservative government in London have when almost the entire country of Scotland is opposed to their program? And what legitimacy do the leftist Scottish MP’s have to vote on English matters below the border, where the Conservatives won? One solution would be to totally divide up taxation and spending, meaning Scotland shares essentially only foreign policy and monetary policy (currency and interest rates) with the rest of the UK. Six months after Scotland voted to stay in the UK, they seem to be further apart than ever before.