What just happened in the UK election?

Read few comments.


1. In your opinion, what are the main reasons Cameron won and why would you say the polls before the election were so out of touch, when those Tory voters came from?

2. With those results we should probably expect for upcoming EU referendum and more tension between Scotland and London. Do you agree or you might see it differently?


Philip Catney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy (SPIRE), Keele University

The Conservatives appear to have benefited significantly from a combination of a collapse of the Scottish Labour Party in a traditionally rock-solid heartland, success in head-to-heads in key marginal seats in the Midlands and Wales, and the implosion of the Liberal Democrats vote across England, particularly in the West Country. Error in polling is not new: in 1992 pollsters similarly got the result wrong.Then, it was claimed to be both a bias in polling as a result of Conservative voters being reluctant to admit to voting Conservative, as well as last minute undecided voters being swayed to John Major’s Conservatives. On this occasion, it is potentially an issue related to the complexity of multi-party contests which has made predictive polling (as opposed to the more accurate exit polls). However, this is something that virtually all mainstream pollsters will have to examine carefully.

2.The EU Referendum will be a source of significant strain. While the Conservatives are increasingly Eurosceptic, the Scottish Nationalists are pro-European. For this reason that Nicola Sturgeon in the campaign argued that Scotland should have a veto in the referendum. The UK system of government is increasingly unstable and this is another potential source of conflict.

Chad Martin, Assistant Professor of History, University of Indianapolis

1. I don’t think anyone can answer why the polls were so wrong, at least not right now. The British Polling Council is organizing an independent inquiry into what went wrong in order to restore faith in the industry. Until that inquiry comes out, I think everything else is just speculation. However, I believe there are a couple of points to remember. a.) the polls weren’t entirely wrong, in that they successfully predicted the SNP sweep of Labour seats in Scotland. The polls missed out on the rest of the UK, but they had Scotland right. AND b.) this was a time of real flux – how badly would the SNP sweep hurt Labour elsewhere? How badly would the Lib-Dems do, and where would their voters go? How serious was the surge for UKIP? There were a lot more balls in the air than in a typical general election, and my feeling is that this foxed the pollsters.

Another point to consider is that there are two ways to poll in a general election. You can ask if people support a party or you can ask who they support in their constituency. When polled, people usually tend to support their constituency MP even if they don’t support that MP’s party nationally. This led the polls to seriously underestimate the damage the Lib-Dems would suffer, as people had turned on the national party even while continuing to voice support for their local MP. In the event, it looks like they voted based on the former rather than the latter, and now Paddy Ashdown has to eat his hat.

Another thing to consider is that the last time the polls were this wrong (more wrong, actually) was in the 1992 general election, where subsequent examination showed that up to 20% of the electorate made their mind up at the last minute – too late for the polls to register.

As to why Cameron won, my personal feeling is that it is more of a case of Ed Miliband losing. He was a poor leader and a poor campaigner. As soon as he defeated his brother for the leadership some were saying that the party had picked the wrong Miliband. He seemed to have no vision for Britain. Part of this is the legacy of Blair, whose “New Labour” restructuring stripped the party of ideology, and Miliband had no idea how to fill this void. He gave lip service to “socialism,” but didn’t lay out plans that would attract voters and instead this gave Cameron an opportunity to brand him as a spendthrift. On the right, Miliband was unsure of how to stop working-class voters from being seduced by UKIP’s unvarnished nationalism and xenophobia. On the left, Nicola Sturgeon – with her support for the NHS and attacks on austerity – sounded more like a traditional Labour leader than Miliband. After the first leaders debate, one of the leading Google searches in the UK was “can I vote for Nicola Sturgeon” – in other words, people in the rest of the UK wanted to vote SNP, not because they support Scottish independence but because the SNP seemed like the most credible progressive party.

Miliband was left making an argument that he could manage the country better than Cameron. Claiming to be a superior technocrat is hardly a stirring exhortation. Cameron could then campaign that Miliband stood for higher taxes to pay for vague proposals, and that was enough. People need a reason to take a risk on a new leader, and Miliband failed to give them one.

2. I think you have it right. Cameron doesn’t want Britain to leave the EU, but he felt he had to promise an EU referendum for fear of a UKIP surge. Now that UKIP is left with a single MP and there are 5 years until the next election, I don’t think he’ll push hard for it. If there is a referendum, I think it will be as it was during the 1975 EEC referendum, where all of the major party leaders campaigned to stay in. The only exception will be UKIP.

As for Scotland, there will obviously be tremendous pressure for the devolution of more power to the Scottish Parliament (which Cameron promised before the referendum), perhaps in exchange for Scottish MPs losing the right to vote in Westminster on England-only legislation. However, I don’t think there is the political will for another independence referendum this soon. As I mentioned above, much of the support for the SNP came from the fact that they were making an old-fashioned Labour appeal and attacking austerity measures. That, as much as their nationalism, accounts for why they claimed so many Labour seats. I think they are set to be the most consistent voice of the left in Westminster.

Also, you didn’t ask this question but it is worth pointing out that the election highlights the undemocratic nature of British democracy. The SNP received 4.7% of the overall votes and received 56 MPs. The Lib-Dems received 7.9% of the overall votes and received 8 MPs. UKIP received 12.6% of the overall votes and only received 1 MP. This is blatantly unfair, but I see no solution in sight given the failure of the 2011 alternative voting referendum.

Finally, the fact that a xenophobic party (with many openly racist members) such as UKIP could receive 12.6% of the vote is a matter of concern. There is a feeling of relief that the party did not increase its representation, but that doesn’t address the question of its appeal.

Robin Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Kingston University

It seems that the Conservative campaign of focussing on the ‘threat’ of the SNP working with Labour worked. Voters in England were worried about the SNP’s influence on a Labour government and voted accordingly.

On thesis of the polls, it seems that the way polls are done is based on the old two-party landscape, and they do badly in a situation where there are multiple parties competing. Clearly the polling companies have a lot of thinking to do.

2. There will most certainly be a lot of tension between London and Edinburgh. We are likely to see a government in London that has no MPs north of the border. That is clearly a big problem for the future of the Union.

On the EU, it appears that the Conservatives have for the moment defeated the UKIP threat. They may therefore be able to go slightly softer on the EU negotiations. They may not want to, but the Conservative are clearly in a much better situation than was expected. In the long term they may have a problem keeping their narrow majority together, but right now they are looking like big winners.

Mark Shephard, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Strathclyde

a) Shy Tory vote – this was very much like the 1992 General Election in which everyone thought the left would win but actually the silent Tory vote appeared. Tories embarrassed to say voting Conservative to liberally perceived academics/pollsters.

b) Fear whipped up by Conservatives of Labour coalition with the Scottish National Party (ie fear of UK dissolution)

c) Some UKIP voters returned to the Conservatives (there % vote was down on the day), UKIP return to Conservatives was over fear of SNP/Labour coalition + Conservatives had promised an in-out referendum on EU

d) Lib-Dem wipeout (Lib Dems invariably challenge Conservatives in seats in the south)

e) Ed Miliband factor (he was derided for being dull and nasal)

f) incumbency swing/advantage in closing days…albeit not for LDs as they u-turned on tuition fees and nobody can remember what deals they got from the Conservatives.

2. a) In-out EU referendum is likely to happen

b) Conservatives are going to have sort the internal constitution out. Only federalism can save the day (and it will have to be unlike any other system in the world – ie lots of powers to Scotland, probably all bar defence and foreign affairs). The Conservatives are likely to get the mood wrong and not deliver enough which means the SNP do well in 2016 Scot Parliament elections and call for another referendum

Katharine Dommett, Lecturer in the Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield

This election result was a real shock for political commentators and academics. The scale of Conservative support was not picked up in polling ahead of the election and this poses real questions about the reliability of existing polling methods. It would seem that Cameron’s Party did far better than expected in Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginals; taking seats off their coalition partners in far higher numbers than expected. The failure of UKIP to secure seats also meant that the right-wing challenge to the Conservative Party did not materialise.

2. Cameron has pledged a referendum on the EU, and hinted strongly in his statements today that he will seek to address the balance of power between Scotland and the rest of the UK. This means that fundamental constitutional reform is on the cards for the UK in the coming years.

Eric Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Stirling

Let’s take the question of the polls first. There are two possibilities, not mutually exclusive.
• Serious methodological problems with the polls. The main culprit is the well-known phenomenon of the ‘shame Tories’, Tory voters reluctant to confess to pollsters that they are going to vote Tory
• A late, last minutes surge, in party whipped up by the UK’s overwhelmingly right-wing and highly partisan press.

These are my views of why so many were deterred from voting Labour
(1) The issue of economic competence. The bulk of voters bought the Conservative narrative that the last Labour Government was responsible, through over-spending, for the financial crash – a view Paul Krugman called ‘nonsensical’ but which became undisputed wisdom in the UK.
(2) Immigration. Many votes, especially working class votes, who might have gone to Labour were captured by UKIP (which in terms of votes did very well) because of hostility to immigrants. The potency of this cannot be exaggerated.
(3) Miliband’s personality. Consistently Cameron held a long lead over Miliband as the person best qualified to be PM. Lots of people really disliked Miliband, not sure why.
(4) Welfare, specifically social security benefits. Most of the Coalition’s cuts (on the jobless, disabled etc) were popular. The claim that the country is divided between the ‘strivers’ and the ‘skivers’ has gained real traction, not least in the working class. The Tories are seen more as the part of ‘strivers’, Labour as the party of ‘skivers’

Note that the right-wing tabloids played a key role, over the years, in shaping voter perceptions of the above issues.

2. EU Referendum. This will be the Tories’ toughest test, since the party is deeply split. It intersects with the issue of immigration, for obvious reasons. Cameron will have big problems managing this.

Scotland and London. England, by itself, voted heavily for the Tories. In Scotland the Tories are still toxic. The two nations have drifted yet further apart. There will be discussions between the two governments about the devolution settlement, but this is a side-show, because people are bored by constitutional detail. What drives Scots, especially the Nationalists, are national pride, identity, history and tradition. Psychologically many Scots have already left the UK. The SNP are hoping that the UK votes to leave the EU, Scotland to stay in. They will then claim they have the right to a second referendum. If this is conceded then, oil prices allowing, Scots will probably vote for independence.

George JonesEmeritus Professor of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

1. (a) I predicted a Conservative win with a small majority. The polls were wrong. An independent investigation is going to find out why.  I suspect their methods were flawed.

(b) Cameron won because his party looked to the future with a message appealing to the people who had aspirations to improve the standard of living of them and their families.  The Government delivered an improving economy, and promises of lower taxation and fairer public expenditure. He looked prime-ministerial. Whereas Labour looked to the past, with a statist message, seeking to win not the centre but only its committed left-wingers obsessed with “cuts”. The Labour leaders were still blamed for damaging the economy, and they did not display confidence that they could be a competent Government.  It looked dominated by trades unions which are unpopular with the public.  Miliband never looked prime-ministerial.

2. You identify the two main tasks the Government faces. Much will depend on the diplomatic skills of the Government. I’m hopeful that Cameron, and his ministers chosen to conduct the negotiations, will succeed over Scotland and Europe.

Bill Jones, Professor of  Politics,  Liverpool Hope University

Why were the early polls so wrong? So far they don’t know but some suspect respondents might have lied to the pollsters or that there was a big last minute swing to the Tories which was not picked up. Party leaders: Clegg, LDs; Miliband, Labour and Farage, UKIP all resigned after woeful elections results. The SNP results are a minor revolution and mark the expulsion of the big UK parties from Scotland.

Issues Cameron must now face:
i) maintaining the uneven economic recovery about which he has boasted.
ii) Dealing with the irresistible rise of a new ‘one party state’ north of the border- SNP’s MPs have sworn to make life very difficult for Cameron.
iii) Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017. This will require a renegotiation of entry terms which leading members have already said they do not wish to change. If the vote goes against renegotiated terms, Cameron says he’ll vote to come out of the EU, something which business is hotly opposed to.
iv) with a small majority Cameron faces a difficult time from the outset.

The result of the election vindicates Cameron’s narrow and negative campaign, especially the advice of his Australian strategist, Lynton Crosby. He now faces another 5 years in power having disproved all his critics and destroyed the opposition, including, UKIP.




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