Election postmortem

The General Election is mostly over (Northern Ireland results won’t be known until later today but as they have an entirely different election over there with local issues predominating they can safely be ignored). Labour has been returned with a 66-seat majority, thus making this the first time that Labour has won three consecutive General Elections.

Labour, of course, is harping on that record: three consecutive terms. They are (conveniently) ignoring the fact that Labour has gotten a pasting at the hands of the Liberal Democrats, the Tories, Respect, and any number of independents.

So what do the numbers mean, in my humble opinion.

First, for the Liberal Democrats, the surprise was that they were taking more seats from Labour than from the Conservatives. Charles Kennedy expects to be the official opposition within an election or two; I don’t think he’s close enough yet but, with 59 seats, he has equalled the last major Liberal vote around 80 years ago. What’s more worrying for me (as a LibDem) and what ought to be worrying Kennedy, is the type of seat he’s won and what people are thinking of the LibDems.

Simon Hughes, my local MP, has had a scare as his share of the vote went down this time. Last election he had an absolute majority due to scandals associated with the Labour candidate that time; this time Labour ran an unknown just-graduated student and went up about 5%, dragging Simon down to a “first past the post” win (abbreviated FPTP from now on as my fingers like to type “poast” for some reason). Turnout was also down. Lessons Simon has to learn are: (1) Do a better job at mobilising his workers and voters. I got a call a few days ago asking for my help on Election Day and giving me an address near East Street. I went over there in the afternoon (as arranged) and rang the doorbell. A young man came to the door and when I said that I was there to volunteer, he replied that everyone was gone except him and there was nothing to do. I left my name and phone number so that they know I was there, but it seems to me that the volunteer coordinator for his campaign needs to examine how people are mobilised and where they help out and what they’re to do, and (2) Simon has to start thinking about the succession here. Not that he’s going to retire any time soon, of course; he’s still in his mid 50’s. However, this seat will turn Labour again if he were to retire at the next election. The local party organisation needs to be shaken up and refreshed for the fights ahead. This is one of the LibDem’s most public seats in the centre of London. They need to keep it and build on it.

I’m glad that Simon won, of course; he’s a good MP and a good man, and is a credit to this area (where he grew up–in contradistinction to the constituencies of many MP where they visit it for the first time when selected). Long may he wave.

The trend that I see happening is that a great reorganisation of UK politics is about to happen, and it could go either way. Absent the distortion of the Iraq war, the electorate probably would have kept the LibDems at about the same level as they were. Taking seats from Labour is starting a trend of seeing the LibDems as the party that is left-of-centre, with Labour and the Conservatives fighting for the centre and centre-right. The old union members, who are dying off in their thousands, would vote Labour if they ran an amoeba. However, younger voters who are not tied to Labour by the umbilical cord of “The Red Flag” and who remember Margaret Thatcher dimly, if at all, should be the LibDems target voters. By doing that, they will deny these voters to Labour and will nail themselves to the left side of British politics. Ignore these people, and they will lose all their gains (and more, perhaps) at the next election.

The good thing about the LibDem results is that they are now seen as viable candidates, even a viable government. This will help them in constituencies where the mantra has always been, “A LibDem vote is a wasted vote.” The BBC, in their lamentable “Swingometer”, has for the first time included the LibDems in a “Swingometer” of their own, where swings of percentage are analysed to spot national trends. A visual where the three main parties were seen as thirds of a “pie”, and where the seats were located on their individual sections as to their danger of being lost to the “adjacent” party, is also a first.

Come on, Mr. Kennedy: Build on this foundation, and build well! Examine your policies, make sure that they are not only good for elections but good for government, and lead your people, don’t follow them. If you do this, next time around it’s possible that a hung parliament might give you the entry into government you need to get proportional voting passed in this country. Oh, and enjoying a dram is OK, but moderation in all things except your passion for public service would be well-received by all.

Second, for the Conservatives. Yes, they have done well, and taken back some seats that are naturally theirs. Enfield Southgate is an example: Stephen Twigg, he of the eye-roll in 1997 when he swept Portillo away, looked haggard and unwell as he stood listening to the returning officer send him into premature retirement. I’m sure there will be a few before/after pictures of him at the two elections this morning.

However, Michael Howard is not necessarily the architect of all this. He didn’t win over Labour; Labour lost to him. He would have gotten these seats anyway, I think. There are probably a lot of electors who voted for Conservatives because they were not Labour. This will come back to haunt Howard at the next election, assuming he will be able to lead the Tories into it. He is getting old for a sitting politician (and don’t mention Churchill, who was ga-ga for most of his second stay in Downing Street, as a contrary example) and, while he seems in good shape, being 68 or so at a general election can take a lot out of you, and leave you too exhausted to form a good government. Even Iain Duncan-Smith, lamentable as he is, probably would have won more seats from Labour.

The second problem is in the House of Lords at the moment. Margaret Thatcher, milk-snatcher, Reagan-lover, privatiser, still lives on and on. Until she is “most sincerely dead” and the little Coroner has said so, her shadow will continue to blight the Conservatives. In death there is hope, it is said.

Howard’s relief must be that so many new MPs are coming into Parliament to dilute the mass of vipers who have, up to now, ensured that most Conservative brain power is taken up with plotting against the leader. There will be no plotting this time around, I believe. However, there is also no logical successor who is not tinged with the Curse of Thatcher. Redwood is bizarre. Ken Clarke is too busy keeping Big Tobacco afloat. Portillo has the TV career to look after (and thus did not stand). Rifkind has a safe seat but was again a Cabinet Minister in the last Tory government. Ann Widdicombe is too flaky to be leader, although I admire her outspokenness, rare in a serving politician. She once repeated to a larger audience Cardinal Hume’s private opinion of Archbishop Carey’s personality; Hume was not amused.

I think that the Tories need one more election loss to finally shake off the dust of Maggie from their sandals. By the time the next election but one arrives (2013 to 2015, depending on when the next two elections are called) almost all of the previous government’s ministers and minions will have left politics and new Tories, unencumbered by Maggie, will be standing for Parliament. This is exactly what happened with Labour: hardly anyone from the previous Callaghan government was returned in the 1997 election. The advantage to this is that the Tories couldn’t point to Labour and say that they were the people who’d ruined the country in the 1970’s. The disadvantage is that hardly anyone in Labour had ever served in even a junior ministerial post in government and they needed some seasoning.

I will post separately my thoughts on what Labour will do; I’m very tired from being up until 3:30 and then waking at 7:30 and need a bit of a rest.

3 Responses to “Election postmortem”

  1. spwebdesign says:

    I guess I had better get to work understanding the British political system. Almost all of that went right over my head.

  2. chrishansenhome says:

    That was a really good picture to go with your comment.

    I started reading the Economist back in the early 90’s when I was living in the Bronx. I kept reading it through Chicago, San Francisco, and now in London. It has very good coverage of the British political scene and (if your plans go as you want them to) you may have access to it when you get here.

    Otherwise, watching the news on BBC America will help. A primer on British politics would be too long to put in a livejournal entry, unfortunately. There may be books on it; I don’t have any but there are several political bookshops near me in Westminster and they may have something, if you’re really interested.

    As an Italian citizen you will not be able to vote in General Elections here but you will be able to vote in local elections and European Parliament elections.

  3. anonymous says:

    Dear Mr.Hansen,

    Forgive me for using your blog to contact you, but we have a number of Christopher Hansen’s who are subscribers.

    I was sorry to hear of the poor delivery of The Economist during the recent strikes. It was a huge challenge for us. I would be grateful if you would email me (ollycomyn@economist.com) your phone number so I can explain, apologise, and make it up to you.

    Many thanks, and sorry for the intrusion.

    Best regards,

    Olly Comyn
    Publisher UK
    The Economist