2015 United Kingdom general election
|Ravishing guide to|
|God Save the King?|
The 2015 UK general election was one of the more surprising results in recent history – the incumbent Conservatives managed to increase their numbers despite ramming through punishing spending cuts ('Austerity') while their former coalition partners (the Liberal Democrats) came close to electoral death for the exact same reason. The main 'winners' here were the Scottish National Party; who managed to take almost all the Scottish seats, which made the 'continuing New Labour' under Ed Miliband score the worst results (in seats) since 1987 — which was also the last time (to this point) where the ruling party managed to increase their majority in a general election (something also achieved in 2019). It is, however most notable for being the direct prelude for the political bowel obstruction which became Brexit, as well as being the first in which social media played a significant part of campaigning.
Under Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats bet their very political lives on one fundamentally flawed assumption and for the throwing of a single die. The assumption was that the previous election had heralded the start of a 'new era' of three-party coalition politics at Westminster, and their die was to be a referendum on their generational pet project — that of electoral reform. If one or both worked out well, they would be forgiven for supporting the Conservatives under David Cameron while they adopted slash-and-burn tactics on the welfare state on the premise that the debt-loads incurred during the previous government was not due to banking greed and mismanagement but in fact there being too many libraries in Wolverhampton[note 1].
Alas, events turned out differently.
The Conservatives did not believe political coalitions would become the norm going forward, which granted them the freedom to politically fuck over the Liberals — which they did, with near impunity. They also managed to 'square the pitch' in their favour before the Referendum by picking the worst alternative to 'first past the post' to be on the ballot: that of 'Instant Runoff Voting' termed 'Alternative Vote'.[note 2]. The result was predictable; the Liberals promptly lost over half of their public support for going directly against their previous policies repeatedly and then lost the Referendum by a landslide.
Meanwhile, when not trying to sabotage their coalition partners, the Conservatives were busy showing their true colours; ditching 'the green crap', slashing social spending while trying to fob off the duties onto charities and/or volunteers ('The Big Society') while admitting it was ideologically-motivated and to be permanent and pandering to the followers of Mr Farage by turning up the heat on good-old xenophobia. Whether it was merely an attempt to steal UKIP's clothes or an organised effort to distract the plebs from a sluggish economy with stagnant living standards, increasing inequality and declining public services remains debatable.
Now, Labour should have been the folks to directly oppose these policies, but they failed to do so, partly because they generally agreed with most of them but more critically that their 2010 defeat had knocked the stuffing out of them and like the Conservatives after 1997 they had no real guiding philosophy or new ideas to offer the nation despite having the evidence of failure in front of them. Which meant that in Parliament, the main opposition to Austerity came from the SNP (6 seats), Plaid (3 seats) and the sole Green Party MP. Behind that stood Farage and his cranks and loons on the right, who were having a grand time portraying the country as having too many immigrants and encouraging a 'zero-sum mentality' regarding things like housing, service provision and employment.[note 3]
The other political event of note was that of the Scottish 'independence referendum' of 2014; it can be assumed that Cameron believed he could stitch-up Alex Salmond in a similar manner he did Clegg; however, while they managed to score a victory with 'Project Fear' the blade ended up going into a flailing Scottish Labour's back than anything else. It also perhaps convinced the Conservatives that binary-choice referenda was the way to deal with prickly political issues; like the fact they'd been trailing in the polls since 2011 by 5-10 points to Labour…
Once again, all three main party manifestos were pretty samey; Labour criticised the various cuts but supported Austerity, while the Conservatives assured folks they'd be more cuts to come. Liberals tried to play some perverted 'false balance' game between the pair, which entailed supporting Austerity but not promising more cuts — yeah, this was one depressing election. In their carbon-copy of Blair's 1997 'Five Pledges',[note 4] Miliband decided to do similar, but this time with a massive bit of granite as backup. Naturally, this ended up being mocked and called 'the Ed Stone'.
Polling was suggesting another 'hung parliament', experts predicting that chances were the Conservatives would be the largest party, but Labour would have more options for partners; leading Cameron to decry a possible Labour government as a 'coalition of chaos' while he would be the 'strong and stable' option.. Which was truly, deeply ironic due to the storm Cameron kicked off in early 2013…
Feeling the breath of Farage on his neck (UKIP scoring 15%+ in polling) and the tips of the Tory Right's blades in his back, Cameron decided on another wheeze — the promising of an 'in/out' referendum on British membership of the European Union in the next parliament. At the time, it looked like another 'smart move' from the shiny-faced pseudo-commoner; making it somewhat 'difficult' for UKIP to be a spoiler against sitting Conservative MPs, yet allowing them to continue doing so in traditional Labour areas, particularly in her 'Rustbelt' — where hordes of disaffected voters were open to the appeals of economic populism, nationalism and bashing of 'elites'.
The previous election had set the precedent of having 'leaders debates', but not the format. And some of the leaders didn't really like this and decided to dick about with the negotiations… ah, who am I kidding, it was Cameron. In the end, the country ended up with a 'non-debate' where Miliband and Cameron got a solo interview with renowned anchor Jeremy Paxman, then a 'seven-way' debate in which Cameron either 'won' or 'lost', depending whether you suspect he was hoping to fly under the radar as it turned into a shouting-match or desiring to look all alpha leader-like while the others appeared as spoilt children.
As the final days came around, all the polls were saying the same thing; the election was simply 'too close to call'.
The polling results were incorrect in this case; folks spoke again of the 'shy Tory factor', last seen in 1992. Even more oddly, it turned out that they'd been under-estimating the scope of the Liberal collapse, as well as some London-centric myopia regarding how high the SNP had been riding in Scotland post their failed Independence referendum. Anyway, the result was that the Conservatives had a 'working majority' of 14, something surely Cameron was more than happy to possess, even if it was brought on the back of a mighty swing of... 0.7%.
How this came about was in fact more complicated than this. The implosion of the Liberal Democrats gave the Conservatives all their gains; for many seats had been held by the 'lending' of votes from Labour supporters because their first choice was weak locally (and thus weren't going to make that mistake again). Labour in fact made some headway; not just increasing their vote-share but also gaining 20 seats in England and Wales. However, it was Scotland that ruined it; Nicola Sturgeon managed to assemble a combination of ardent Independence supporters, anti-Tories, anti-Austerity and disgruntled Labour supporters who'd felt taken for granted for generations into an SNP coalition which scored a whopping 30% swing, a near-majority of the popular vote and an overwhelming haul of MPs.
In other areas, UKIP turned out to be a 'not quite'; it became the third-largest party in vote-share (12.6%), but only got a single MP. Alas, the perils of being the protest vote along with Cameron's referendum promise. The Greens suffered similar on a smaller scale; over tripling their raw numbers, to have the same single MP. The only other real shift of note was the total collapse of the BNP, which gained fewer votes than that electoral powerhouse known as the Christian People's Alliance.
- Aka that it was classic 'government overspending' rather than having to bail out private concerns which had become 'too big to fail' which had caused the issue.
- 'A miserable little compromise' - Nick Clegg
- The idea that there is a finite and fixed amount of supplies, and so to give more to another means less for you.
- Perhaps the granddaddy of inane soundbite pledges.