David Cameron has won an electoral victory, securing an overall majority that was predicted by few, if any, commentators. Importantly, a number of his key rivals – from Ed Balls to Vince Cable – have been vanquished, leaving a very changed political map. North of the border the SNP took all bar three seats, defying even their most ambitious expectations. Meanwhile, in South Thanet, Nigel Farage was defeated, with UKIP taking just one seat nationally.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been devastated, with the latter down to just 8 MPs, prompting Nick Clegg to step down. Ed Miliband chose the same route, with Harriet Harman taking over as interim leader.
While Cameron will no doubt be delighted by the strength of his victory, he faces the serious challenge of how to unite a country that looks thoroughly divided. Speaking from his Witney constituency the Prime Minister suggested that he wanted to “bring our country together, our United Kingdom, implementing as fast as we can devolution for both Wales and Scotland. I want my party and a government I would like to lead to reclaim the mantle of one nation.” Boris Johnson, newly victorious in Uxbridge, echoed these sentiments stating that “there is scope for a federal offer to be made to Scotland.”
With Scotland seemingly impervious to the Conservatives, it looks like the next Cameron government will seek to cut its losses and radically reform the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. Though critics will no doubt argue that this risks the very future of the United Kingdom, with the SNP in such strong ascendancy there seem to be few alternatives to a more substantive devolution settlement.
The Conservative’s success seems to vindicate Lynton Crosby’s approach to strategy and the decision to position the Tories as the only viable alternative to an ‘illegitimate’ Labour government propped up by the SNP. Tellingly, in Labour/Tory marginals across the Midlands and Yorkshire it was those in blue rosettes who came out on top.
In contrast, Labour’s ’35 percent strategy’ and focus on social policy, fell flat. Unable to appeal to the aspirations of the electorate, Ed Miliband seems to have repeated the past mistakes of Neil Kinnock and it is likely that the party will now enter a period of soul searching as to its future direction. Perhaps fittingly Douglas Alexander, the architect of Labour’s electoral strategy, was ousted by 20-year-old politics student Mhairi Black of the SNP.
However debilitated they feel, Labour supporters may take a crumb of comfort in the fate of the Lib Dems who have returned to the status enjoyed by the Liberals in the 1970s. Like Labour, the Lib Dems will now look to reevaluate their policy platform.
Finally UKIP, such a talking point since the European Election, won just 1 seat, with Douglas Carswell holding on in Clacton. Their charismatic leader Nigel Farage fulfilled his promise to step down if he was not elected, but left the door open to competing in a future leadership race. Although clearly a set-back for the party, that they managed to claim some 13 percent of the total vote will not doubt raise new questions as to the strength of the first-past-the-post system.
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