Many people were shocked and disappointed with the result of the General Election, where it seemed unbelievable that after 5 years of Austerity, the Tories were somehow able to increase their support among the electorate, and obtain an overall majority in parliament. However things aren’t quite so clear-cut, and there are a few points which should be remembered about the Tory election victory.
Firstly the turnout was only 66%, which means that with 36% of the vote, the Tories were actually only supported by 1 in 4 people. Secondly, our ridiculous First-Past-the-Post system of counting votes means that their 36% of the vote gave them 51% of the seats in parliament and so an overall majority. This system is grossly unrepresentative of the way people voted, and to give it some context:
The Tories’ 36% share of the vote gave them 331 seats; whereas UKIP’s 13% share of the vote – a third as many as the Tories got – only gave them one seat.
In terms of numbers, the Tories got 11.3 million votes which gave them 331 seats; while UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Green Party combined got 7.4 million votes (just 4 million less) but only got 10 seats between them.
So the Tory victory was only actually achieved because they benefited from a grossly unfair and wholly unrepresentative system of voting – democracy it certainly wasn’t! (A system of Proportional Representation, as most other countries in Europe use, would have given a very different result.)
The third thing to remember is we shouldn’t underestimate how much advantage the Tories get by virtue of being financed by the business sector (and in particular the City of London, which provides over half their funding). Running an election campaign is like running an advertising campaign, and the more money you can put in the more you will get out. Our subversive system of private funding of political parties gives a massive advantage to any party – in this case the Tories – which puts business before people and so can count on the wealthy to bankroll it. To show just how uneven this particular playing field has become, the private funding of the main political parties in the year before the General Election was as follows:
Tories – £29million; Labour – £19m; LibDems – £8m; UKIP – £3.5m; Greens – £0.65m*
* Source: UK Political Info – http://www.ukpolitical.info/Donations.htm
With that kind of advantage in funds it really is no surprise the Tories were able to out-gun and out-campaign all the other main parties. They won because they were able to outspend everyone else with campaign materials and boots on the ground in constituencies. Combined with the advantage of the dysfunctional voting system, they only won because the election was unfair and totally undemocratic.
So, unfortunately, we now face the prospect of another 5 years of Tory rule, and ongoing Austerity. However while on the face of it things may look bad, I do think that events may well turn out rather differently than they might at first appear. Last September, after the Scottish Independence referendum, I suggested that the result, while appearing to be a defeat, could actually turn out to be a victory for the Scottish National Party and the cause of Scottish Nationalism. That is now coming true with the SNP sweeping all before them north of the border. Similarly I feel that what may appear to be a Tory victory will in fact prove to be a defeat for them. They have got very very difficult times ahead, and I believe they will soon be sucked into a maelstrom of their own making.
Firstly, the EU membership Referendum. I don’t think for one minute when the Tories put that in their manifesto, they ever thought they would actually have to put it into practice. It was simply a cynical political ploy to stem the loss of voters to UKIP, and in so doing they hoped to hang on to enough support to be able to lead another coalition government. They could then quietly drop the policy during coalition negotiations. However by winning outright, they are now forced to hold the referendum, which is going to be very difficult indeed. The Tories have a very turbulent history in their relationship with the EU, and are very divided between their pro-EU and Eurosceptic wings. As things gear up for the referendum all those old divisions will surface, and there is a very real possibility the party will slowly tear itself to pieces on the issue. A strong leader, with statesmanlike qualities, could probably lead the party – and the country – through this period. But David Cameron is far from being that kind of leader, and will very soon prove to be out of his depth.
Secondly, the issue of resurgent Scottish Nationalism. The cohort of 56 SNP MP’s at Westminster are riding on the crest of a wave, and there are now going to be ongoing calls for ever-more political and fiscal powers to be repatriated to Scotland. Talks of ‘devo-max’, a federal United Kingdom, and separate parliaments for each of the home nations will ultimately lead to calls for another referendum on Scottish independence. All of this is going to be incredibly difficult to negotiate, and yet is largely a problem of the Tories’ making, as it was they who brought the whole question of an English parliament, and English nationalism, out into the open. They then made matters worse by cynically talking-up the SNP in order to exploit fears of an SNP/Labour coalition. The forces they have unleashed will now turn on them. Again a statesmanlike leader could navigate the country through these times, and so sustain the Union, but David Cameron is far from being that kind of man, and the final result of all this is very much in the balance.
And of course all these things will be going on while in parliament the Tories have only the slimmest of majorities, easily whittled down by a couple of by-elections and a few rebellious backbenchers. It is my view therefore that David Cameron will not be able to hold things together, and at some point long before the 5-year term is up, his party, and government, will implode and collapse. The people will not have to wait so long before expressing themselves through the ballot box once again, and hopefully this time they will get a government worthy of them.