Monday, 25 May 2015


So a couple of weeks on, then, and the first noises are already being made about 'changing Britain's relationship with Europe', Nigel Farage having to applaud, to his own apparent surprise, from the sidelines in the meantime. With a referendum on that relationship with Europe surely now a matter of time, Cameron is making it pretty clear from the first days of this government what it is that people have voted for.

So what happened? Has the country lurched to the right? Is everybody simply voting with their wallets, as I've maintained has been the case since the Thatcher years, now the economy seems to be improving? And why did the fully expected bashing meted out to the Lib Dems seem to benefit the very party they were being punished for getting into bed with?

The only predictable bit was what happened to the Lib Dems. As I wrote here some time ago, vote Lib Dem, get Tory, was never going to wash with anybody who'd put their cross in that particular box last time round. Paddy Ashdown's infamous claim that he'd eat his hat if their showing was as bad as exit polls suggested and Clegg's tearful, apparently shell-shocked resignation speech seemed to suggest that the retribution they suffered came as a horrible surprise to them, if nobody else.

You might have expected Labour to be the main beneficiaries of the collapse of the Lib Dem vote, but that's not what happened. The votes all seemed to go elsewhere - the gigantic swing to the SNP in Scotland, for example, decimated Labour in an area where the Tories only had one seat at stake anyway. And to anybody not voting Tory, the south of England makes for depressing map making. Head south from London and only my home city of Brighton & Hove breaks the blue monopoly. Those disaffected Lib Dems certainly didn't vote Labour.

For those of us not of a politically blue persuasion, there were still highlights, still things to please. The main one, of course, was the defeat of one Farage, N., in Thanet. There's no arguing with the number of votes UKIP gleaned overall - a worrying and slightly depressing sign that many Brits may well be blaming all our problems on immigration and a possible, if seemingly implausible, answer to that question of where the Lib Dem votes went. But their winning of only one seat, and Farage's failure to take his, are cause for some hope. Farage's predictable u-turn on his resignation, though, demonstrated that he'll still likely feature on the newly blue political landscape, even if it's only as a mouthy observer. George Galloway losing (and by 'losing' I mean being completely thrashed) Bradford West was also to be celebrated. Abominable man.

Where now for Labour? Realising, five years too late, that they should have elected the other Miliband, should prove sobering to the rank and file. David Miliband always had more charisma than his sibling, and his brother's campaign, essentially moribund, reflected that lack. In this era of personality politicians, where image is so much more important than manifesto promises that are no longer worth the paper they're printed on, he simply never inspired people. A genuinely fresh face is needed. I'd rather hoped my own MP, Chukka Umunna, a man seen as a rising star of the Labour movement and, importantly these days, regarded as pro-business and not too left wing, would be the new leader. He pulled out, though, feeling the need in the process to deny that an 'unwelcome press story' was his motivation for doing so. Odd.

Whoever they do choose this time, they have to get it right because they've got a lot of ground to make up - we've now got five years of Tory control with a small, but workable, majority. Five years during which the Labour leader will have to prove him/herself as a plausible alternative to the incumbent PM, probably campaign on a hugely important issue like EU membership, and try to find at least some common ground with a party which wants to break up the Union as it stands, if any credible opposition to the Conservatives is to be offered.

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