07 May 2010

Where We Are Now

That's it. Save for Thirsk & Malton, which we'll hear from later in the month, the votes are cast and counted. We have a result. Well, after a fashion.

The Tories have 305 seats (the BBC erroneously count Buckingham in the Conservative column - it does not belong there), and a UK-wide swing from Labour of 5%. But most of this is confined to England and Wales. They have 296 seats in England and enjoyed a 5.6% swing. The same swing secured them eight seats in Wales as well as second place in both votes and seats. Scotland, however, remained resistant: the vote increased but by less than 1%, resulting in a net swing to Labour, and David Mundell remains the Tories' sole Commons representative from Scotland. Worse still, their project in Northern Ireland has been a disaster: the UCUNF vote went down (to the extent that the UUP-Tory pact has fallen to fourth place in terms of votes), Sylvia Hermon remains opposed to the Tories and in Westminster, and the one agreed Unionist Unity candidate still couldn't defeat Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, though her majority was reduced to just four votes.

Labour have 258 seats, so I think they've held off the worst of what's happened, but while Gordon Brown remains in office on the grounds of constitutional technicality, I don't see him remaining there for long. There would need to be, by my reckoning, five parties involved in any 'progressive' coalition and I just don't think that's sustainable. Labour go down to 191 seats in England (though regain Bethnal Green & Bow from Respect and Chesterfield from the LibDems), but still retain their lead in Wales despite a swing against them: they have 26 seats there and gained Blaenau Gwent. Moreover, the performance in Scotland - increasing their share of the vote, retaining all of their seats and regaining their By-Election losses, is nothing short of staggering. They retain first place not just in Scotland and Wales, but also in London (something Boris Johnson might want to bear in mind) and retain their pre-eminence in Northern England, despite the heavy swings against them. It's the losses in the Midlands - West and East - which appear to have damaged them the most.

What to make of the Liberal Democrats? On a UK level, they have a right to feel cheated: they gained votes, yet lost seats, ending up with a total of 57. The progress in support, yet loss of MPs, took place in England and Wales, but the result is Scotland was surely grim for them. They were the only one of the Big 4 parties to go backwards in terms of votes, and found that bright chapter in their recent history - the Dunfermline & West Fife By-Election - had been unwritten. More significantly, they lost second place in votes to the SNP - despite retaining second place in seats. The one ray of light, bizarrely, comes from Northern Ireland, where the LibDems' sister party, the Alliance, managed to unseat the DUP Leader in Belfast East. If Naomi Long takes the LibDem whip in the Commons (I imagine Stephen will know what's what here), then the LibDems actually have closer links with Northern Ireland than the Tories do.

And as for the SNP? This was, I think, a frustrating night. The SNP gained votes on 2005, and regained second place (though, obviously, the result was some way away from the excellent 2007 and 2009 results), but the advance was less than I had hoped and it didn't result in any gains and Glasgow East reverted to Labour. I think there'll need to be reflection on the campaign - and the result proved that if the TV debates did have an effect, it was limited. Nevertheless, there are bright spots: if some of the swings seen in the Highlands and North East are repeated next year then there'll be a number of key constituency gains and with the politics of Scotland being so clearly distinct from approaches in the rest of the UK, there are a few more philosophical questions to be asked about the nature of Scotland's relationship with Westminster. Unfortunately, philosophical questions don't have votes in the House of Commons, but still, it's not all bad.

Then came the others: this was the end of George Galloway's Parliamentary career, and Respect now have no MPs. Meanwhile, Richard Taylor and Dai Davies lost their seats and Esther Rantzen did not even keep her deposit. However, this was all swept under the carpet with the Green victory in Brighton Pavilion: Greens are now present in the Scottish Parliament, the UK delegation to the European Parliament, the London Assembly and the House of Commons. Winning a First Past the Post election isn't such a shock - they've been doing that on local Councils for years - but this is a massive achievement, especially as the Greens came from third place to first in the process.

So what now? We know that the Tories and LibDems are in preliminary talks, and that William Hague, George Osborne and Oliver Letwin met with Danny Alexander and David Laws tonight, but nothing was agreed. A 'rainbow' deal involving practically everyone but the Tories seems far too unwieldy to work, so to me, it's either this Con-LD Coalition or a Tory Minority Government. Frankly, I am as yet sceptical that a deal can be done, particularly when the Tories offered a deal on issues where the two parties agree, but insisted that those points where the two have different positions were non-negotiable. Trying to negotiate about what you can negotiate about before negotiations have even opened doesn't work - as the Scottish LibDems learned to their cost in 2007.

So the Tories will be in Downing Street, alone, and facing a hostile House of Commons. And on that basis, there'll most likely be another election within the next 12 months: either after the Party Conferences, in March 2011, or in May. And that last possibility suggests that voters in Scotland will face elections to two Parliaments in a year's time. Oh, my...


Stephen Glenn said...

Will I fully expect Naomi to take the Lib Dem whip in Westminster. Nice to have connection with Northern Ireland than Dave, indeed a seat I Used to work in, :)

Andrea said...

I expected few changes in Scotland..but maybe no "no changes at all".