Thursday 7 May 2015

Election wishes and early reaction

I'm writing this around midnight on election night, as the results begin to come in and we digest that shocking exit poll:

I've said what I want in Cambridge: Re-election of Julian Huppert, our excellent Liberal Democrat MP. What about the UK as a whole?


In the classic choice between a rock and hard place, I would prefer the next government to be led by Labour, not the Conservatives.

I don't trust Labour to govern on their own. Ed Miliband has grown into his job somewhat, but he and his party are still deeply uninspiring. For Loki's sake, they thought putting "Controlling Immigration" on a coffee mug was a good way of getting votes. That said, I greatly prefer Labour to the Conservatives as a party of government.

My preferred outcome would be a Labour/LibDem coalition. (A LibDem majority would be nice, but let's keep this at least somewhat grounded in reality.)

This is less likely than a minority Labour government trying to pass legislation on a vote-by-vote basis. I'd be pretty satisfied with that too.

That said, if this exit poll is accurate, we will almost certainly see a minority Conservative government supported by some combination of LibDems, DUP and UKIP. That's very close to my nightmare scenario. Cameron can get Tory policies through, but only by appeasing the most reactionary elements of Parliament. We would also be subjected to two years or so of an EU referendum campaign, possibly followed by a British exit. It's a depressing prospect.

SNP surge

The BBC exit poll predicts the SNP to win every single seat in mainland Scotland, with only Orkney & Shetland being retained by the Liberal Democrats.

I supported a No vote to Scottish independence, but this isn't a repeat of the referendum. It's about electing representatives to govern the UK, including Scotland. I've recently argued the SNP are a responsible, moderate, social democratic party and should be treated as such.

If the SNP aren't devils, they aren't angels either. I am deeply skeptical of their claims to skip past thorny practical difficulties with nothing but the power of good intentions. Like all politicians, they are prone to duplicitous behaviour and convincing themselves that what's good for their careers is good for the country. If there is one thing we should have learned from Tony Blair and New Labour, it is to be cautious around leaders who say they are "whiter than white."

It's hard to remember after the Iraq War and financial crash, but there was a period from about 1995-2002 when Blair and New Labour were enormously, genuinely popular. The SNP has borrowed heavily from the Blairite "things can only get better" playbook. Neither Blair nor Sturgeon would appreciate the comparison, but it has substance.

In its day, New Labour was a formidable election-winning machine, and so it is with the SNP. They have done well in government at Holyrood, and in the general election have run a smarter and more principled campaign than Tories or Labour. They deserve to reap the benefits.

I am a little concerned about the prospect of a wipe-out for other parties. The SNP are competing in a four-party system, and could take a clean sweep of seats on, say, 48% of the popular vote. It would be a very impressive achievement, but the other 52% would still deserve representation. The system would be letting them down in a big way.

On the UK stage, my optimistic hope was that the SNP, for all its faults, would be a progressive influence on a minority Labour government. If we see the extreme scenario of big wins for Conservatives and SNP, the SNP will have very little influence on UK government policy, and both parties will actively exacerbate divisions between Scotland and England. I don't believe that would help either nation.

Still, we should be patient and wait for the full results to come in.

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