The overwhelming victory of the Conservatives in the South West was forecast by the Ashcroft polling since June 2014 – it was not a last minute change. The collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote here was foreseeable, as we indicated during the campaign.
The Conservative strategy of attacking their Coalition partners was brutally effective in terms of seats won. They grew their vote share by just 0.8% nationally, compared to the Liberal Democrat loss of 15.2%. Labour increased its share by 1.5% - not enough to win more than 15 seats in England – to compensate for the loss of 41 seats to the SNP in Scotland. There were fewer Labour/Lib Dem marginal seats for Labour to win compared to the many Conservative/Lib Dem marginal seats which gave the Conservatives their majority. Many of those seats won were in our region. The results here decided the election and returned the Conservatives to government for another five years. In contrast most Conservative/Labour battles were closely fought – the neck and neck contests predicted by the national polls.
Counting their fingers after shaking hands with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are left with only 8 MP’s - none in the South West. We forecasted that Danny Alexander, David Lawes and Clegg could all lose their seats. In the event Clegg held his seat – against trend, despite a 19.7% vote share increase by Labour. The result was facilitated by Conservative tactical voting.
The party that grew its share most was UKIP up 9.5%. With 3,881,129 votes it won just one seat, compared to the 1,454,436 votes cast for the Scottish Nationalist Party who won 56. The Greens also won 1,157,613 votes for just one seat. The legitimacy of this result will no doubt dominate the news in coming weeks.
Any reform to a proportional representation system is unlikely as it is not in the Conservatives interest. A boundary review is more likely, reducing the number of MP’s to 500 from 650 in 2020, this would strengthen the Conservatives.
The Conservative government will offer the SNP fiscal independence and federacy. It will resolve the competing political and economic plans between the two countries, more austerity in England, less in Scotland. The price tag for Scotland could be a hefty slice of the National Debt and the loss of the Barnet formula. The strategy will be to give them the rope to hang themselves. Alex Salmond (SNP) may negotiate a better deal, it depends how badly the Westminster wants to rid itself of 56 SNP MP’s.
Labour’s loss of its Scottish MP’s will become permanent.
Here in Newton Abbot the Ashcroft polling when compared to the result was: (polling in brackets). Conservative 47% (39%), Liberal Democrat 24% (20%), Labour 10% (13%), UKIP 14% (20%), Green 4.6% (7%).
Where did Anne Marie get the extra votes from those forecast? Apart from gaining some Liberal Democrat voters, who swing without political conviction from progressive to conservative, the numbers suggest that more UKIP voters supported her than Ashcroft indicated. The other three parties all grew vote share, as did UKIP but not at the level predicted.
Labour will continue to reach out to true progressives in Newton Abbot, whichever party they formally supported. We never supported Nick Clegg’s Coalition decision to work with the Conservatives. We did not believe then, or now, it would be fair to local working families. We never believed in the Conservatives ‘We are all in this together’. It is quite clear today that some of the smaller progressive parties – including the Liberal Democrats - do not have the capability to compete with Conservative resources. It is only through coming together with Labour’s national resources that shared goals can be achieved.
Why did the national polls differ from the result between Labour and the Conservatives? Some people genuinely changed their minds at the last minute. With economic fear uppermost in their minds, many still believed Labour was responsible for the world financial crash through ‘over-spending’, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It was a big mistake by Labour not to challenge this misinformation earlier.
The fear of the SNP holding the potential balance of power also played a part. The Conservative campaign against the Scots was divisive for the Union, but effective. Warm words now about ‘One Nation’ are unlikely to heal the rift.
The plethora of unfunded Conservative pledges also had an effect. We in Newton Abbot will be scrutinising the delivery of those promised national pledges. We will hold them to account for any that they break.
The highlight for Labour in the South West was Ben Bradshaw’s superb result in Exeter. He captured 46% of the vote, increasing his share by 8.2%, the Liberal Democrats losing 16% and the Conservative growing by just 0.1%. However he is an isolated progressive figure after the Liberal Democrat collapse in the South West and will face massive opposition from Conservative resources in future. We expect fair coverage for him from the local media.
There are lessons to be learned from the Exeter result. If the result had been replicated nationally it would have produced an entirely different outcome. It is a reward for a progressive capable MP who is firmly anchored to the centre ground. He continues to deliver for his electorate, as we in Newton Abbot look on with envy. A Teign bike path here would be nice for example!
The future Labour leadership contest will be an indication of whether the Exeter lesson will be remembered. Labour wins elections from the centre ground, not by trying to turn the clock back politically to a bygone era. It will also be important that any new leader has experience of government and has established international respect. Taking on Cameron’s Conservatives at the dispatch box in the House of Commons will be no place for novices.
The next five years will be very difficult for many people, those working for the public services, the council CEO’s, the police, the NHS, university students and the military who are facing severe cuts to mention a few. The public will continue to receive declining public services as the new round of austerity bites in a selective way. Families on middle and lower incomes will find it hard to improve their living standards. The richest 1% will see their wealth continue to grow increasing the inequality gap.
The Conservatives ‘recovery’ plan is facing a slowdown, the last four quarters have shown declining GDP growth. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that growth was just 0.3% in the first quarter of 2015, a significant point missed during the election campaign. GDP growth dictates future tax income and wage increases, only those with existing capital assets can escape the effects. The government will continue to focus on cutting expenditure to reduce the deficit, with less focus on trying to earn more through investment to rebalance the economy. There are two ways to reduce a deficit as every family knows, cut up the mythical credit card as well as earning more.
The country faces a referendum on membership of the European Union. The Conservative leadership will campaign to stay in Europe, their objective is to quell the euro-sceptic MP’s in their own ranks and to kill off UKIP. Labour (and the Liberal Democrats) will support our membership of the EU. In the south west it is inconceivable that we should risk losing EU support to help grow our local economy. As a YouGov poll in February reported, there is a majority in favour of continued EU membership 45%, whilst 35% oppose it, However we face two years of economic uncertainty at a critical time for businesses.
The Conservative media will continue to focus on the sniping trivia but these are the issues which we at Labour will focus on during the next Parliament.
We will oppose.