Just some thoughts on this year’s General Election. First off though may I stress I am not a party political man. I did once dabble from time to time but there were aspects of party politics that put me off any of the parties.
When asked I say I am an impartial observer, a “constitutionalist” or, if feeling mischievous, a Whig (annoyingly there has been a recent rebirth of the Whigs so I may have to stop doing that).
I have sometimes considered not voting (in line with Mr Waugh’s quote: “I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants“) but I always feel if I have chosen a candidate I must vote since I would hate it if s/he did not win and it was marginal.
Up to and including Polling Day my gut feeling had been a minority Conservative government which would try to weather the storm but ultimately would fall. This would either have meant a new government led by Labour or ultimately another General Election. So I was astonished when the BBC’s exit poll was published and even more astonished when I woke up at 6am on the Friday to see the adjusted forecast.
From midnight it started to have a feel of 1992: all the polls suggesting a Labour win but Major’s Conservatives came through with a majority of 21. I’m sure the Lib Dems now know what 1997 felt like for the Conservatives!
So, ignoring the party that actually won, the result, I feel, is very good constitutionally – we have a government that can govern, can get its mandated programme through but has a slim majority which could cause it problems. It would need just a small backbench rebellion and suddenly the balance of power looks very different. Therefore, we don’t have a government that can ignore Parliament. Parliament has a chance to perform some proper scrutiny.
This is good for government, Parliament and the country as a whole.
So, the impact of result?
David Cameron may well go down in history as the man that saved the Conservatives in 2015 but he has the chance of being the last PM of the UK.
The Prime Minister will have to sort out the West Lothian Question once and for all. The SNP have practically taken over Scotland and now have a major influence in Westminster. Both the Conservatives and Labour have effectively ignored Scotland one way or another and have now paid the price. If the Union is to survive we’ll need a Royal Commission into the Constitution exploring options such as a fully federated UK.
The Liberal Democrats may very well be finished as the third party, or at least temporarily; however, I don’t see UKIP or Greens necessarily taking their place.
Europe will become a bigger issue and we will have the trials and tribulations of the In/Out Referendum. This could be very divisive and will draw many parallels with the Scottish independence referendum last year. If a In vote is the result that could trigger the end of David Cameron’s Premiership and possibly a change of governmnt as a whole; an Out vote – well who knows? I suppose one result of an Out vote would be UKIP could dissolve itself, but would the existing parties continue? Would they fracture along pro/anti EU lines? Would parts of the UK that had voted In break away (the SNP feel Scotland would vote In) from those that had voted Out?
We’ve been spoilt in some ways that almost all post war Parliaments were not hung. The rise of small parties is interesting and in some ways we are returning to the 19th and early 20th Century “norm”: lots of parties and most Parliaments being, as we call them today, hung. Whether this will become the standard or whether we’ll return to two party government remains to be seen. I am just not sure which two parties it would be!
I shall finish on share of votes and seats. Has this election strengthened the argument for AV or a form of PR? Certainly our Simple Majority system which has evolved since the 14th Century has some quirks but ultimately it elects representatives from whom a government is chosen and that government is formed from a majority of those representatives.
I did hear arguments for PR because of the expectation of a hung Parliament. PR would increase the chances of hung Parliaments; it would benefit the smaller parties – but would those parties then hold too much sway? The Liberal Democrats effectively chose who was in government in 2010 while being the third party. I think the biggest quirk this election is the comparison of SNP and, say, UKIP.
While it isn’t quite fair to compare them, since one is a regional party and the other national (UKIP was the only party that stood in all four parts of the UK) it does seem odd for one party to receive 5% nationally and get 56 seats and for another to get 13% but only one seat. It demonstrates that concentrated support in certain areas can win you more seats than a general level of support across the nation: something the Lib Dems suffered from in the 1990s (only really winning in the Celtic fringes). I did some maths.
If this election had been carried out under a PR system, assuming no minimum threshold and using the share of the vote across the UK, then the state of the parties would have been thus:
Note, no Northern Ireland parties would have been elected, no seats for Plaid Cymru, both Labour and Conservatives down, the Lib Dems and UKIP way up and the SNP not so much a factor. This would have been a definite hung Parliament with a coalition of Conservatives and UKIP forming a government. So, for some, a nightmare situation! Nigel Farage would not only be an MP but possibly in the running as Deputy PM. (Note if Lab had UKIP support (admittedly unlikely) it would only need the Greens to get a majority.)
Of course, this is slightly unfair due to the special nature of Northern Ireland and so it is quite likely that a PR election would actually be more regionally based. To keep it simple I split the UK into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland though it is likely England would be split into regions as it is for European Parliament elections. The seats fall as follows:
The SNP not as big in Scotland, with the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems having some proper presence there. Interestingly, Labour won 25 seats in Wales and so would suffer a great deal, compared with the 15 projected above, perhaps demonstrating Labour’s Welsh support is concentrated in certain parts of Wales. Here again a Conservative/UKIP coalition could be formed but with support from the DUP needed.
So, PR wouldn’t have changed the result. I don’t think this election necessarily debunks Simple Majority but does add some weight to considering PR. I will be honest (and those that knew me in Mr Death’s politics classes will know this): I am not a fan of PR. As someone who distrusts political parties I like the fact that MPs are our representatives not the parties’. I feel PR, in particular Party List, makes MPs representatives of the parties and an important constitutional link is lost. But I am pragmatic – it may be time to really consider the electoral system and if PR was to come I would plump for the Additional Member System since it retains that MP constituency link.
While the election is over (the next is pencilled in for 7th May 2020, campaign will be starting 2016…..) there will be some interesting times ahead. Quite what government would appear then is anybody’s guess.
Comment 7th May 2020
This post was written back in 2015. As I reviewed this site, I noted the fact the next general election would be 7th May 2020 due to FTPA. Today is the 7th May 2020 and in that time we have had a roller coaster ride of a few years with a referendum, the end of Cameron’s premiership in 2016, May’s troubled premiership including a mis-judged call for a general election in 2017, Johnson’s rise to No. 10 and subsequent general election in 2019 and Brexit occurring, after a number of extensions, in 2020. That’s not even considering COVID-19…