Friday, 8 May 2015

Election 2015 analysis: my thoughts part 1

Early this morning, I was waiting in Hemel Hempstead's Sportspace, for a result that took nine hours to count, verify and finalise-even though the turnout turned out to be slightly worse than in 2010. In the end I polled 1,660 votes (3.34%), not enough to save my deposit-however in Hemel Hempstead, the Liberal Democrats also lost their deposit by dropping from 22.9% to just 4.8%.

I was visibly shocked, given opinion polls that had occurred in the last week, to see....the Conservatives scraping a majority in the House of Commons, as opposed to losing seats overall which I had predicted and hoped for. Even though it is only a small majority, David Cameron only has to bring the DUP to the table to retain power. To me, this is the biggest political shock since 1992, when a hung parliament was expected yet in reality the Conservatives retained power on a much reduced majority.

First of all, since I was a Green Party candidate, let us focus on how well we did:

Green Party (573 candidates across the UK):

Despite our best efforts, we could only obtain second place in Bristol West and third in Norwich South-possibly due to a Labour squeeze, our vote share actually dropped in Norwich South but we still pushed now ex-MP Simon Wright into fourth place. We eventually came only 5000 votes behind Labour in Bristol West, and pushed now ex-MP Stephen Williams into third place.

Also, in Wales and Northern Ireland, candidates saved their deposits for the very first time. Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey both passed the 5% threshold in North Down and Belfast South (more on that seat later in my analysis), and we saved three deposits in Wales: Chris von Ruhland, Daniel Thompson, and Ashley Wakeling saved their deposits in Cardiff Central, Ceredigion, and Swansea West respectively. Meanwhile in England, we frequently beat Liberal Democrat candidates, whose vote shares largely collapsed spectacularly (especially in seats once held by the Lib Dems), saved more deposits than ever before, and substantially increased our majority in Brighton Pavilion, from 1252 in 2010 to 7967 now.

We also finished second in Sheffield Central, Liverpool Riverside, and Manchester Gorton, and came very close to doing so in Hackney North & Stoke Newington. We also came third above the Liberal Democrats and UKIP in many more places than ever, such as Hackney South & Shoreditch, Holborn & St Pancras, and Camberwell & Peckham. Overall, the Greens managed 3.8% of the vote in the UK despite not standing a full slate.

Liberal Democrats:

The disaster story of this election-in fact their many losses played a key part in the Conservatives winning a majority in Parliament, for they gained as many as 27 Lib Dem seats. The only eight Liberal Democrat MPs remaining are Nick Clegg, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, Greg Mulholland, John Pugh, Mark Williams, Alistair Carmichael, and Tom Brake (the sole one of these eight to have been an MP before 2001). It was in Scotland that the Lib Dems' collapse was most spectacular-they only retained Orkney and Shetland, not by a wide margin, and 48 Scottish Liberal Democrats candidates (i.e. all non-incumbents) lost their deposits, including the candidates in the seats of Edinburgh South and Glasgow North which the Lib Dems had threatened to win in the past. The loss of 49 seats out of 57, as well as 341 deposits, will be a political black eye from which the Lib Dems might never recover, especially with more political parties on the scene.

Nick Clegg has resigned as leader, naturally-who will succeed him? I personally suspect it will be Tim Farron, as all the Orange Book West Country MPs, even David Laws, have all been defeated.

UKIP (standing across the UK except for two NI constituencies and 24 Scottish constituencies):

A mixed bag for them, mostly of disappointment. Only Douglas Carswell remains a UKIP MP, since Mark Reckless was defeated in Rochester & Strood by Kelly Tolhurst on her second attempt, and since Nigel Farage failed to win South Thanet by 2,800 votes. Whilst they have finished second and third in many constituencies of England and Wales, they failed to retain even one deposit in Scotland, and many UKIP candidates in Greater London lost their deposit as well and often finished fifth. Their vote share increase may have been instrumental in Labour failing to take some key marginal seats (or hold onto Southampton Itchen or Bolton West) but also helped Labour gain other seats from the Conservatives, such as Dewsbury and Wirral West. Their strong vote share overall does show, however, the need for electoral reform in the UK, as does increasing Green support.

Labour, SNP, PC, and the Conservatives:

Another big story was the huge loss of even the safest Labour seats in Scotland to the SNP. Only one Scottish seat, Edinburgh South, remained in Labour hands due to tactical voting by former Lib Dem supporters. Record swings of over 30% from Labour to the SNP were regularly recorded, which also meant that Mhairi Black, who won Paisley & Renfrewshire South for the SNP, became the youngest MP for 348 years, at age 20. The SNP also took all Scottish Lib Dem seats except Orkney and Shetland, and narrowly missed out on the sole Scottish Conservative seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. As a result of the squeeze, three Labour candidates lost their deposits. In total, the SNP won 56 seats, and interestingly achieved considerably lower swings in their favour in seats they already held as well as their top target of Ochil & South Perthshire. However, as the Conservatives have formed a majority government, the SNP's influence is more limited than it would have been in a hung parliament.

Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru usually made progress, especially in solid Labour seats like Rhondda (they achieved a 6% swing from Labour there), and Leanne Wood will surely be pleased that her party's three MPs also increased their majorities significantly. Despite their best efforts and anti-austerity message, they failed to win extra seats, falling just 225 votes short of winning Ynys Mon from Labour and only a few thousand votes short of winning Ceredigion from Mark Williams. It is clear a Plaid Cymru-Green Party pact would have been very useful, since such an alliance would surely have been just enough to win Ceredigion and challenge Labour in Cardiff Central (the only Welsh constituency where the Greens beat Plaid, although Plaid did save their deposit in Cardiff Central this time).

The Conservatives not only gained many Lib Dem seats, even supposedly safe ones like Yeovil and Twickenham, but also these key marginal seats from Labour (generally very narrowly indeed!): Telford, Bolton West, Derby North, Southampton Itchen, Plymouth Moor View, Morley & Outwood, Gower, and surprisingly the Vale of Clwyd. They also held onto many marginal seats which they should have lost, partly because in some of them Labour had selected previously defeated MPs such as Mike O'Brien, a rather unwise decision that shows they had just taken those seats for granted. Labour did however capture within Greater London Ealing Central & Acton, Brentford & Isleworth, Enfield North & Ilford North and avoided losing any of their Greater London seats to the Conservatives. They also gained Dewsbury (which had no UKIP candidate in 2010), Wirral West, City of Chester, Hove, Lancaster & Fleetwood, and Wolverhampton South West, but surprisingly not North Warwickshire, Stockton South, or Sherwood. It is clear that Ed Miliband's failure to provide any realistic opposition to the Conservatives' austerity mantra is the reason for Labour's very poor performance-who will take over now that he has resigned, however?

In any case, it is clear in my opinion that the Greens are now consistently providing the alternative narrative to the neoliberal consensus still gripping our country-our strong showing in so many places is just the beginning.

Alan.

Update: Edited to include analysis of Plaid Cymru-sorry if I accidentally missed it out.

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