Friday, May 06, 2011

Election 2011: The UK results and analysis

Well, it is the morning after the long night before. There were surprises, but mostly expectations met. Many analysts predicted a bad night for the Liberal Democrats. The party had decided to join in a coalition government with the Conservatives as their junior party: the first time the party had been in power in many decades. Tonight, the Liberal Democrats have paid a very heavy price for this decision.

The majority of results will not be known until much later today, but a virtual electoral revolt against the Lib Dems has clearly erupted across the country. The party leader, Nick Clegg, will not find the results easy reading. The party has suffered major losses across England, Wales, and Scotland. Labour has won several prized electoral scalps, including Clegg's home city of Sheffield. An even bigger prize has been the loss of Bristol. At present, more than 200 seats have been lost and it is likely we will see at least 600 Liberal Democrat candidates lose their seats in the local elections. This will be the single biggest defeat in the history of the party.

The news will likely become even worse before it gets better. We also await results on a referendum. The Liberal Democrats agreed to enter the coalition on the grounds that there be a referendum to change the voting system from FPTP (first past the post) to AV (the alternative vote). All indications predict a major defeat.

The party will surely lick its wounds and consider its options. One increasingly likely outcome will be Nick Clegg's removal as party leader. He has become a kind of national whipping boy -- the candidate who went from zero to hero and then to villain -- and he has taken much of the public anger over government funding cuts. However, the party will need to do much more than find a new figurehead. Recall Clegg's message of "no more broken promises": well, the compromises the party made have been widely seen as breaking too many promises that were well worth keeping. The party need more than a new leader: it needs to renew public trust. This will take time and it will be difficult to make sufficient gains before the next general election.

Otherwise, it was a terrific night for the SNP who look to win an outright majority in Scotland. Labour had a good, but not great night with many gains in the North of England and possible control of the Welsh Assembly (although not as good as a night as party members had hoped). Perhaps surprisingly, an ok night for the Conservative Party. It appears that what seats they lost to Labour have been largely recovered in wins from the Liberal Democrats.

What to do now? Well, the Liberal Democrats have paid a very heavy price for their part in the coalition. Now that the referendum is past, the only thing that will keep the party loyal to the coalition agreement is the fear of a general election. Tonight may be a bad night, but at least they have kept their Westminster MPs. This fear may be enough to keep the party loyal without the Conservatives having to make any further concessions.

The Liberal Democrats said that they were the more kind and progressive face of the coalition. Perhaps they have improved coalition policies. The only problem is that this seems to be benefitting the Conservatives and proving damaging to the Liberal Democrats. Clegg's gamble (deciding to join in government rather than remain a protest party) has not paid off. Or at least not yet.

No comments: