Lessons Learnt: General Election 2015

Here are five things that we have learnt from the general election 2015:

1. Results

Conservatives took 330 (plus the Speaker)

Labour took 232 seats.

The SNP received a landslide 56 (all but three Scottish seats).

Liberal Democrats were cut down to just eight (from 57)

The Democratic Unionist Party received eight seats.

Plaid Cymru managed three seats.

UKIP only managed to obtain one seat.

Greens also only received one seat.

2. Serious thought needs to be given to voting reform

Amongst the many stories that were flying on the night of the general election, was the discontent of the minor parties (Greens and UKIP) regarding the resulting injustice of the current ‘first past the post’ system. Sky have shown that UKIP received more than 3 million votes, coming second in near on 100 seats – yet they only managed to hold one seat.

Sky’s live news service termed this a problem of “conversion” of votes into seats. This does not seem a very helpful analysis. It misunderstands the point that the minor parties (might – should) be making: it should not be the problem of the voters to vote tactically. The first past the post system is an archaic fossil of a different political landscape, and should be seriously re-considered. This is what would have happened with proportional representation.

3. Polls need to be revised

British Polling Council (an independent inquiry) are going to examine “apparent bias” in the polls. In the lead up to the vote, major national polls predicted a neck and neck between Labour and Conservative – in fact, there had been some indication that Labour were one point ahead. This is not what happened. Only the exit polls (which tragically enough, all the leaders said must be treated with extreme caution)

Some have argued that there was a problem of methodology; that telephone polls had highlighted a stronger Tory vote than others. This does not seem enough to explain the massive lead of the Conservatives because similar demographics were touched by both polls. Others have said that there was a massive swing at the individual level; yet this should have been caught by the methodology. Questions remain unanswered.

4. Changes to the Election Campaign Trail

Two changes occurred in this election: (i) TV debates have become institutionalised and (ii) massive spending on American spin doctors.

On the first, the crucial point that it can be made is that it puts more emphasis on leadership; and if this is one of the areas which let Labour down they will have to re-think their approach.

On the second, the Economist have referred to the global nature of spin doctors involved in the election. Two advantages must be highlighted: (i) the fact that it brings a new point of view and (ii) that it spices up discussion (e.g. the dead cat approach).

5. Consequences for the Parties

A. Conservatives: (slim) majority. Conservatives backbenchers will have a significant influence; this will nevertheless be a better situation than having coalition partners, as at least the Ministerial seats will be of one stripe.

B. Labour: four factors militated to cause its loss: (i) leadership problems (ii) taking the party too far to the left rather than occupy the centre left (iii) were targeted by negative campaigning – fears that voting for Labour would mean either a Labour/SNP or Labour/Lib Dem coalition and finally (iv) there was no . Each will have to be addressed before Labour can reform. However, there cannot be too short a reform system; a weak leader elected quickly will not guarantee a strong base moving forward.

C. SNP: heralded by many as a landslide victory, their extraordinary result in Scotland should be understand in the context of the rest of the election. It is clear that many who voted for them were doing so because they did not seriously believe that the Labour party would be able to beat the Conservatives.

D. UKIP: will be the party (along with the Greens) calling for electoral reform. Crucially however, they will have a powerful platform to re-engage with the electorate during the (promised) 2017 referendum. Farage has not ruled himself out, after all.

E. Lib Dem: the fundamental problem was one of confidence; the student vote which propelled them to power was lacking in this campaign after the increase in tuition fees. After such a poor result, it would not be surprising if they joined calls for a proportional representation system.

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