David Cameron’s Tories were the winners in the various electoral contests which took place on Thursday after a series of election campaigns in which they clearly looked to their right, argue Alan Thornett and Terry Conway in an initial assessment of the May 5 results.
The biggest surprise – and exception to this depressing pattern – was the SNP landslide in the Holyrood elections. The SNP won an overall majority under an electoral system designed to ensure that this would never happen. They benefited from left of Labour policies on issues such as prescription charges and free school meals and of course tuition fees and a hopeless campaign by Scottish Labour under the colorless Ian Gray and saw Lib Dem votes transfer to them in large numbers. The Scottish Greens maintained two seats.
There will now be pressure on Salmond to call the referendum on referendum more quickly than in two years as he had been hinting – but does not make a prediction on how that vote will pan out an easy call.
In the Welsh Assembly, Labour won thirty seats, taking them from both Plaid and the Lib Dems but failed to reach the magic number of 31 which would have given them an overall majority.
In the Council elections in England as a whole Labour made gains in both seats and councils, mostly in the North of England winning control of 26 more councils and winning 800 more seats. This not only fell well short of the gains the psephologists were arguing they should have made, but shows the extent to which the mantra repeated endlessly by the Tories that they had to clear up the economic mess left by Labour still holds complete sway.
If Labour can’t make gains when this Tory led coalition is implementing such massive austerity programme when can it make gains?
The Tories, in contrast, held on to their traditional South of England support and even made some modest gains whilst driving through a massive package of cuts and austerity. They managed to manoeuvre the blame onto for it onto the Lib Dems who were completely trounced right across the board. It was a remarkable feat. Cameron’s racist interventions around immigration and the nationalist campaign around AV all increased the Tory turnout and vote. The royal wedding was an added bonus in this respect.
The Lib Dems have been taken to the cleaners. They are left licking their wounds and contemplating four more years as human shields for the Tories and with nowhere to go other than to trigger a general election in which they would be wiped out.
Of the smaller parties in England only the Greens did well, increasing their councillors by 50% (including 10 extra in Brighton). The left made little impact but the good news was that the BNP and UKIP had a bad night.
The victory the NO campaign in the referendum is a big defeat for the cause of the democratic reform of the electoral system. It was a massive endorsement of FPTP and is likely to entrench it for a very long time. It is also a victory for wider Tory plans to entrench themselves as the principal party of government for the 21st century.
The ferocity with which the Tories fought the campaign after initial polls showed a slight lead for the YES campaign demonstrated their commitment to an electoral system which allowed them to dominant government for most of the last century.
The YES campaign walked into the referendum thinking that they could have a rational debate about the rights and wrongs of one electoral system against the other. What they got (and were always going to get) was a tirade aimed at Tory voters (who could win the referendum themselves if they turned out) which talked about babies dying in their cots if AV was introduced which overwhelmed the YES campaign before it had got off of the ground.
Most of the left and the far left, unfortunately, (other than the Green Party) were supporting the NO campaign although they were a non-factor in the situation
Although AV is only a modest advance on FPTP and does not resolve the problem of a proportional Parliament at the national level is was clear from the outset and is even more clear now that a NO vote would be seen and used to entrench FPTP.
The NO vote is a big defeat for democratic reform but not only that. The referendum results along with the local election results put Cameron in a very powerful position – and demonstrate once again that Milliband is no match for him.