Sunday, 9 May 2010

Analysing the General Election

If anything the election has clarified only one thing - the numbers of votes and the numbers of seats.

What happens next is still pretty much up in the air, but even if the wind does seem to be blowing where we will land is not yet sure.

So I thought I'd look try to look at the figures in a different way and ask if this tells us anything new.

The result

Conservatives return 306 members, Labour 258, LibDem 57, Green 1, Scottish/Welsh nationalists 9, and the various Northern Irish groups 17 (one poll was delayed).

Gordon Brown remains Prime Minister for the moment as the voting factions try to organise a majority. Conservatives alone are 20 short, Labour would be a handful short even with the support of the LibDems.

Turnout rose from 63.1% of eligible voters (27,110,727) in 2005 to 65.1% (29,653,638) this time around.

Conservatives gained 10,683,787 (a 36.1% share, up from 8,772,598 or 32.3% in 2005) against Labour's 8,604,358 (29%, down from 9,562,122 or 35.3%) and the LibDems 6,827,938 (23%, up from 5,981,874 or 22.1%). Others were 10.9% (up from 10.3%).

Let's say that again.

Conservatives increased their votes by 25% on 2005 levels (nearly two million). LibDems support grew by 1-in-7 (nearly 1m) and Labour lost 1-in-every-10 votes it gained previously.

Popular vote

Liberal Democrat
UK Independence
Scottish National

The winners

Stories from individual seats include Ed Balls hanging on in a widely anticipated 'Portillo moment' and Zac Goldsmith winning Richmond Park.

There were first seats for the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas in cosmopolitan Brighton and for the Alliance's Naomi Long in Belfast as the Ulster Unionists were wiped out across Northern Ireland.

No change there

Remarkably there was stalemate in Scotland as no seats whatsoever changed hands.

The losers

High-profile casualties included former Home Secretaries Jacqui Smith and Charles Clarke for Labour, 6 other Labour ministers, DUP leader Peter Robinson and outspoken LibDems Lembit Opik and Dr Evan Harris.

George Galloway was evicted from the house after 23 years and the Respect Coalition failed to maintain its modest foothold, while UKIP's Nigel Farage and BNP leader Nick Griffin were both brought to earth with a bump in their races, coming third in Buckingham and Barking constituencies respectively.

Performance of the parties

Of the major parties the LibDems retained all their deposits, while Labour lost 5 and the tories lost two. Conversely 125 (or 40.8%) of Conservative, 75 (29.1%) of Labour and 12 (20.7%) LibDem seats were won with more than 50% of the vote, categorising them as 'safe'.

Of the challenger and smaller parties none broke through the important 5% barrier. UKIP came closest with 3.4% of the total vote, followed by BNP (1.9%) and Greens (1.0%). UKIP saved 98 deposits, BNP saved 72, while the Greens saved only 7 and the English Democrats 1.

What happens next?

With the LibDems playing kingmaker and Nick Clegg setting the agenda everything depends how firmly he digs his heels in and how easily the Conservatives are seen to make concessions.

Cameron finds himself in a tight spot as his position now depends on being able to navigate the final step across the threshold without making himself a hostage to fortune from either his major financial backers, his ideologically-motivated activists or anyone he eventually has to get into bed with.

Brown has walked into the wall and is now just going through the motions. Yesterday's ceremony at the cenotaph to celebrate VE-Day he must have felt like he was laying a wreath to his own career.

And just like after the outbreak of peace was declared then the world is now here to be made anew. We have decided we want to change the way things are going, it's just we're not quite sure yet exactly what we want.

So how do I call it?

As yet there is no result, so all I can do is offer predictions and opinions.

However with the opposing trends for Labour the national level (where they suffered heavy losses) and in local council elections (where they enjoyed big gains) this has to be a sign that the country is rejecting Labour's current national leadership without rejecting the party or fully giving their backing into another party.

In the city traders have reacted with expected negativity to the extended period of uncertainty as greater volatility has been introduced into the currency exchanges and the gilts market, but perhaps this is a good thing which will remove some of the distortions on the economic indices and their unbalancing effect on civic society - it could become a significant moment to give politicians a chance to reclaim some power from partial and partially-accountable corporations if the discussions started to extend themselves and become more drawn out.

So for me it is an energising moment - depressing inevitabilities have evaporated (albeit temporarily) as campaign exhaustion sets in and we catch our breath to redraw the battlelines for the future.

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