By Matthew West Friday May 7, 2010 12:40 pm BST
The 2010 general election will be remembered as a night of failures.
As Boris Johnson said this election has “shown the electorate punishing all three parties indiscriminately. This is not a triumph for any party.”
David Cameron has failed to ‘seal the deal’ with the electorate, despite the backing of the majority of the media. Nick Clegg has failed to turn his opinion poll surge following the first leader’s debate into anything remotely like an increase in share of the vote, let alone seats.
And Gordon Brown has failed in the eyes of the nation – and his own party – on such a scale that he nearly achieved a smaller proportion of the popular vote for Labour than in 1983. That not one of the three main political parties has convinced voters that they have the right answers could be seen as a damning indictment of the lack of real vision being shown by any of them.
For Labour the main election message was ‘stick with the devil you know’ and ‘any change in government now would risk economic disaster’. But few seem to have been convinced. For the Conservatives it was Thatcherism dressed up as the ‘Big Society’. Even Iain Duncan Smith had raised concerns that this big idea essentially means ignoring those people that live on sink estates all around the country.
For the Lib Dems the message was ‘vote for us because we’re not Labour or the Conservatives’. But the reality was that the tribalism of the two-party political machine meant that while voters flirted with the Lib Dems, when it came to actually picking them from a line-up they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it. Nick Clegg might be a likeable chap and all that but voters didn’t know who their local Lib Dem candidate was and clearly weren’t willing to take a chance.
So much for the message. The tactics of the campaign failed, too. Cameron rebranded his concept of the Big Society so many times we didn’t know whether we were supposed to join the government of the United Kingdom or just sign a contract with the Conservatives. Even then many felt trepidation about signing a contract with the Tories when they couldn’t read the small print.
Labour putting Gordon Brown front and centre of their campaign did no better, simply proving that Brown struggles to look like a human being at the best of times. In reality, it seems he hates – really hates – meeting the public he wants to serve. He may want to be a man for the people but he sure ain’t a man of the people.
No one could accuse Labour of being enthusiastic about this election campaign. No party has appeared to want to lose an election more since the Conservatives conspired, against the odds, to win the election in 1992, despite doing everything they could to lose. No-one in John Major’s government really backed him. Most wanted Heseltine or Portillo to take over following a Labour victory.
And the Lib Dems? Other than talking about how it was ‘our election’ and ‘our chance to really change things’ Clegg didn’t really tell us much. So much so that he was heckled on several occasions towards the back end of the campaign.
He suffered under the intense glare that comes from being shoved into the limelight. Not all of the Lib Dems’ policies were bad or far-fetched. But when Clegg tried to present himself as the man who really had the answers, voters wanted to know what they were and found he came up short.
Is this a failure of democracy? No. In fact, this is possibly one of the best outcomes our uniquely undemocratic voting system – one that Yes Minister’s Sir Humphrey says is designed to ensure aristocratic government interspersed every five years with a general election – could possibly have returned. It also proves that the electorate wanted a hung parliament.
Moreover, it proves more people were willing to vote Labour than anyone could have, or did, predict. And it proves that the Conservatives haven’t been able to shift the ‘nasty party’ image just yet.
Cameron has done well to achieve an increase in the number of Conservative seats. It is a very large increase, certainly. But it is an increase that shows the Conservatives have fallen well short of achieving the ten per cent swing in the national vote they needed.
What that says is that people still don’t trust them. It also suggests people are a lot more angry with the politicians in Westminster than the politicians themselves have realised.
That, for me, has been the underlying theme of this election campaign, which would always come out on polling day. People will be even more angry if the politicians start bickering among themselves and fail to form a coalition government quickly.
Hall Green 2010
Namine Party Vote %
Roger Godsiff Lab 16030 32%
Salma yaqoob Respect 12240 25.12
Jerry Evans LD 11988 24.60
Jo Barker C 7320 15.02
Alan Blumenthal UKIP 960 1.95
Andrew Gardner IND 190 0.39