The Liverpool View: The election no-one won?

election-2wJon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool

“With councils still declaring, it may be premature to draw too many conclusions from the local election results. Yet some themes are already apparent, as are the issues raised. UKIP’s significant local election successes will seem small-scale when it comes to the European Parliament declarations on Sunday, when they will record huge gains.  

So what do the results mean for the 2015 General Election? Here are five contentions:

  • A hung parliament is still more likely than not. Partly due to the rise of UKIP, neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party is doing well enough to make an overall majority likely. The continuing spectacular demise of the Liberal Democrat in the North (an under-told story) is slightly less marked in the South, meaning they may still retain enough seats to hold the balance of power.
  • Labour’s unsatisfactory performance, allied to economic recovery, means that the Conservatives ought to be the largest party in 2015 – but their failure to achieve electoral boundary changes (sunk by the Liberal Democrats) could yet cost them dear. Conservative backbenchers may harrumph about another coalition with the Liberal Democrats (as would most Liberal Democrats not called Nick Clegg). The only alternative potential source of support for a minority Conservative administration is the Democratic Unionist Party, which only has 8 MPs. A minority Conservative government would be severely unstable.
  • UKIP’s vote is still volatile, as is its membership, notwithstanding Farage’s determination to weed out ‘the nutters’.  However, the earlier comfortable complacency that UKIP’s support will simply return to the Conservative and Labour folds at the General Election is contradicted by more recent survey evidence suggesting Farage’s party will retain at least half.  Scepticism regarding that figure is justified, but clearly there is damage to either of the main parties’ ambition to form an overall majority next year. The Conservatives were banking on a ‘Vote Farage; get Miliband’ message to frighten UKIP voters back when we elect a government. What is clear is that UKIP voters don’t really have a hierarchy of unpopularity regarding Dave and Ed.
  • Conservative backbench calls for pacts with UKIP are unrealistic. Conservative Eurosceptics are too divided on this prospect. Cameron believes it will muddy the Conservative message of successful renegotiation of our EU membership, followed by an ‘in or out’ referendum in 2017. Why deal with a party unlikely to win any parliamentary seats, except, perhaps, where Farage stands? From UKIP’s perspective, pacts would also be awkward. UKIP’s electorate, as Ford and Goodwin’s Revolt and the Right makes abundantly clear, is more working-class than that of other parties and unlikely to be enamoured by pacts with the Conservatives.
  • None of the main parties can really address UKIP’s agenda. They all offer pleasantries about ‘listening’ to the message but a) the Liberal Democrats are obviously strongly pro-EU  b) Labour won’t trust the electorate with a referendum on EU membership and c) the Conservatives’ plan to renegotiate EU membership will not result in the EU saying ‘fine, you can have full control of your immigration policy: we are suspendiing the free movement of labour for the UK alone’.  The prospect of the EU allowing that is akin to that of England winning the World Cup. It could happen, but we know it won’t.

And finally….for all the excitement, controversy and extensive media coverage, turnout remained appallingly low at these elections. More than three-fifths of the electorate couldn’t be bothered participating in an important democratic exercise, one in which a wide range of political choices were available.

Excuses are often made for non-voters. They shouldn’t be.”


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