Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The 2015 General Election: how did the Conservatives win?

In the cold light of day, it is clear that the Conservatives' election strategy worked. Their aim - which seemed hopelessly fanciful when said by David Cameron during the campaign - was to win around twenty seats; what was need to achieve a bare majority. In that simple aim, the Tories were even able to exceed their wilder expectations (given the polls), producing a - precariously-small -  majority government.

The Tories are masters at winning elections, having been doing it on a regular basis since the 18th century. For this reason, to many people, they seem the "natural" government. The thirteen years of Labour government could be seen an aberration, only achieved by the Labour leadership under Blair by accepting many of the basic tenets of Thatcherism, the Conservatives' longest-serving leader of the 20th century. Meanwhile, the "post-war consensus", that saw the Tories move closer to the left than they have ever been, could be seen as the Conservative Party showing its chameleon-like ability to adapt to survive. Then, when the economic crises of the 1970s happened, the Tories under Thatcher seized on the opportunity to re-define and remake their party in its more traditional guise, and quickly shedding its support for the "consensus". Whether or not these facts are "fair" or "just" feels like a trivial point. The hard truth for those on the left is that, when it boils down to it, England is a "conservative" country in many ways.

This is a simplification, though. As we have seen, the election has shown us that the UK in 2015 is now more politically-fractured than ever before. The main point is that in spite of the fracturing of the political faultlines, the Tories still - in spite of everything - know how to keep their nose ahead of the rest to get over the finishing line first.

All part of the game

This author has talked before about the plethora of "dirty tricks" and negative campaigning used by the Tories in the 2015 election campaign. And the nakedly-cynical "divide and rule" strategy over the "threat" of the SNP - which even some Tory elders were warning of the dangers of - worked with clinical effectiveness at the end of the day. In the end, it was the Tories' sway over the "marginals" that ensured that Labour's result in England was no better than what they got in 2010, putting Labour's number of English MPs on the same level as what they got in 1992.

A BBC "Question Time" special on the day after the election provided some particularly insightful moments of analysis. Paddy Ashdown agreed wholeheartedly to the brutally-effective supposition put to the panel that the LibDems were punished for the mistakes of the Coalition, while the Tories were rewarded for its successes. As Alastair Campbell put it more bluntly, the Tories won because they were "ruthless bastards". Francis Maude, the Tories' member of the panel, kept quiet while these points were being made. His silence told its own story.

The LibDems, post-election, are - ironically - now having their biggest surge in membership in living memory. A wit might argue that this was many English voters now feeling guilty for realising that they had been savagely punishing the wrong party for the Coalition's errors. Certainly, Paddy Ashdown's indictment of how his party was punished for doing what it felt had been the right thing for the country was a very powerful point.
While the "divergence" of the two Coalition parties had been going on more at least a year prior to the election, it was Francis Maude - the Tory - who complained of the Coalition partners not "being fair" to the government. He should have known better, and Paddy Ashdown put his squarely right in his place. The Tories - and Cameron in particular - were shamelessly claiming credit for popular ideas (such as raising the income tax threshold) that were really LibDem policies that had never been in the Conservative 2010 manifesto.
But this is part of a trend with the Tories: to stab you in the back, and later harmlessly claim it was "part of the game" of politics.

This attitude is symptomatic of how people like David Cameron and George Osborne see politics not as a force for good, but as "sport". The two of them have made duplicitous, cynical and savage attacks on their opponents (and segments of society), but later on brush it off being "heat of the moment" stuff. A common accusation made against Cameron is that in spite of appearances, he never seems to take things very seriously. This feeds into a feeling that many of the Tories involved in politics still think they are playing by "boarding school rules"; certainly, the way that some of their MPs in parliament behave at times reinforces the view that Westminster is all "old school tie" and a callous "establishment" that treats democracy as an inconvenience to be tolerated

With this level of cynicism evident in the ranks of the Tories, it is no wonder that more and more people see the electoral system as a "fix". When things are constructed like this, how can they lose?

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