Presented with the clearest political choices between Left, Right and Nationalist politics, the voters stunned the political sphere with their ferociousness.
This election revealed two frightening aspects about our electorate: Firstly, they are ruthlessly unsentimental. Both Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy had been MPs for 18 years and enjoyed a combined majority of 27,000 votes, but they were swept aside without a second thought.
Secondly, voters seem to have moved like an ice shelf in an avalanche, suddenly breaking away en masse. Scotland speaks for itself, but a similar pattern emerged with Liberal Democrat voters in the South West, and also in London. We knew a shift was coming, but the scale of movement may have changed the UK’s political landscape for a generation.
The Conservatives’ success is due to a ‘sword and shield’ approach that saw the party shield 25 of its most vulnerable seats from Labour assaults across the midlands, whilst making successful thrusts into Liberal Democrat seats across the South. Labour’s top five target seats had a combined majority of 660 votes, and the Tories preserved all of them.
Labour was the victim of momentum. From losing the first marginal fight in Nuneaton to the surprise defeat of Ed Balls six hours later, Labour failed to establish itself outside of London all night. The vision of Miliband’s Labour Party was admirably ambitious but he could not convince the British people to follow him. Post-mortems will look at his leadership, policies and campaign, but ultimately, Britain was not willing for the steep turn to the left that he was offering.
The remaining Liberal Democrat MPs owe their survival to luck more than anything. The highly-focused ’25 seat’ rearguard action was completely overwhelmed. Seniority and local popularity mattered little as the party was almost decimated. Last week, the South West was a nest of strongholds; today, not a single Liberal Democrat MP exists South of Guildford. Nick Clegg may be remembered as the leader that inherited a party with 52 seats, and left one with eight, but the next five years may just show how crucial his party was in guiding (and restraining) the Conservatives.
In England, UKIP proved to be Miliband’s fifth column, coming second in more Labour seats than Conservative ones. One MP in exchange for 3.8 million votes does seem like a raw deal, but the party is responsible for failing to seriously challenge in its target seats of Castle Point, Thurrock and Cambourne and Redruth. Regrouping after Farage’s capitulation will be a true test of the party’s maturity.
The SNP is now a bull in the Westminster china shop, but its horns have been corked by the Conservative majority. Such was the swing of so many seats, it’s hard to imagine that the SNP’s new-found dominance of Scotland will be short-lived. We don’t yet know how the party will go about pursuing its devolution/independence agenda, but we do know that PMQs is about to become much louder…
Britain unbound has handed the fire of power to the Conservatives, but David Cameron must beware. We have seen the power of the electorate’s wrath, and it will be watching the Prime Minister’s handling of the forthcoming European Referendum very carefully.