Sunday, May 10, 2015

Election 2015 - Trying to make sense of it all

The dust is still settling on the amazing result of the general election. This column, like everyone else, accepted the opinion polls verdict that the votes would be split between Labour and Conservatives and a hung parliament would result. The real vote put some 6% between those parties and far from a swing against the Government, the Conservatives achieved a absolute majority in the House of Commons. This result was even greater than the BBC's exit poll predicted and that poll, announced at the stroke of 10pm as voting ceased, was regarded by everyone as rogue and overstating the swing to the Tories (until the first dozen results were in).

Therefore not only did the very many polls taken over the weeks up to the election fail to predict correctly but the exit poll, based on a very large sample and taken from people with no reason to conceal their preferences, was unable to gauge the full impact on voting patterns in key marginals. Does this tell us something about poll methodology or about voter decision making? Either the polls are based on false assumptions or many voters changed their minds in the final hours. If the latter, this has been seen before in UK elections but not on the scale of last Thursday.

The polls did get it right in Scotland where a social democratic bloc that can genuinely claim to represent the whole country now faces a conservative government that cannot make the same claim, not even for England where the Tory vote was 41% of the total cast. Did the English vote harden to the right in the face of the predicted landslide north of the border? Can most of the UKIP votes (14% in England) be treated as straying Tories who will return or has there been a shift to UKIP from Labour as well? If so, this, coupled with the LibDem wipeout, suggests a very serious problem for the left wing in England. How long can the union survive with the two main regions so opposed? Two generations ago the Tories were as strong in Scotland as in England - now they have almost ceased to exist.

It is fair to point out that the SNP gained just 50% of votes in Scotland. Is this their high tide? If they begin to fall back, and it is recognised that many of their voters do not support their fundamental policy aim of full independence, maybe the union can stagger on for a while. But if the forthcoming referendum on the EU results in a British withdrawal, surely the Scots will put every effort behind independence so that they can remain in, and the result of Cameron's victory will be the breakup of the UK and its isolation from European partners, massive loss of influence with the USA (which most definitely wants the UK to stay in the EU) and a diminishment of the whole of what used to be the UK.

This blogger supports UK membership of the EU, believes in the UK as a real force for good in the world and that British values of tolerance, freedom and fairness are vital. The 2015 election has put much of this in the hazard.

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