I stayed up until about 1 am this morning, when the early results seemed to be suggesting that the swing to the Tories would be enough to give them a slim majority, sending me to my bed in despair. I avoided listening to the radio first thing this morning, to put off the bad news, but when I did eventually tune in I found that my less gloomy predictions had in fact been more or less right as far as the national results go, apart from the Lib Dems only improving on their 2005 share of the vote by 1.0%, which, thanks to the vagaries of our electoral system, meant they actually ended up losing 5 seats rather than gaining the 20 to 30 they had hoped for. Labour were down 6.2% and the Tories up 3.8%, leaving them 20 seats short of a majority.
Up here in Scotland the Labour vote bucked the national trend by rising 2.5%, as their warnings of the threat of a Tory government resonated with an electorate that still remembers the horrors of the Thatcher years. The Tories stumbled to a single seat and 16.7% of the vote north of the border, compared to their national result of 36.1%, raising the question of whether a London Tory government has a mandate to rule Scotland, an issue that will undoubtedly have a major impact in the Scottish Parliament elections next year. That said, the SNP had a disappointing night, their rise of 2.3% less than they had hoped for, and overall the result in terms of seats was exactly what it had been in 2005.
There wasn’t much to cheer those to the left of Labour; the various organisations which stood candidates mostly polled under 2.0%, with Respect losing their only seat. Even the Greens only managed 1.0% nationally, though they did pull off the coup of winning their first seat, in Brighton. The far-right did a little better, with the BNP on 1.9% and UKIP on 3.1%, though they made no major breakthroughs.
Now the horse-trading has started, I’m still expecting the outcome to be a Tory minority government. The Lib Dems may turn out be a bit less attached to their principles once they get a sniff of actual power, but I think they would be reluctant to enter a formal Con-Lib coalition, if for no other reason than wanting to avoid being too closely associated with the Tories’ cuts agenda, which is bound to be enormously unpopular, when we might be returning to the polls in the not-too-distant future. Labour are going through the motions of tempting the Lib Dems with offers of electoral reform, but I wonder if their real strategy is to regroup in opposition in preparation for an election in 18 months or so. I expect Brown will have to resign, but I’m sure that reports of the death of the Labour as a party of government are very premature.
The Tories’ austerity measures, when they come, will surely generate a lot of opposition in working-class communities, so there will be opportunities for growing the left, though we clearly have our work cut out, not least because the fascists are waiting in the wings. The next couple of years could be one of those periods, like the early 80’s, where the political life of this country changes dramatically, and we have to do our best to make sure that this time round it’s for the better.