The Guardian front page, first edition, May 8, 2015On April 28, I wrote about the UK’s general election, which was held on May 7, 2015.

After endless months of polls showing the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, either neck and neck or with a difference of three percentage points, election night television coverage showed a remarkable exit poll that defied belief. The Conservatives — Tories — were set to win comfortably.

The Conservatives had been in a Coalition government with the Liberal Democrats for the past five years. Although it worked very well, clearly, Prime Minister David Cameron had hoped to govern independently this time around. But no one, except Australian campaign manager Lynton Crosby with his private polling, thought that would become reality. Probably only Chancellor George Osborne believed Crosby’s polls as he was the only upbeat Tory. Everyone else was quietly cautious.

Even the most accurate poll — the exit poll — slightly underestimated the final total. The Conservatives won a clear majority of seats, surpassing the magic number of 326 to end up with 331!

Interestingly, all the party leaders gathered at the Cenotaph the afternoon of May 8, for a memorial service marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day. That is the last time we shall ever see them together.

Obamarama

Americans might be interested to know that Obama campaign strategists played a role in this very British election.

Miliband hired David Axelrod as his campaign adviser and Cameron took on Jim Messina as his.

Success bred success — in one case.

Historic defeats

The IndependantThe 2015 election will long be remembered for unthinkable defeats:

– The Scottish Labour Party was routed north of the border by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Even their leader, Jim Murphy, lost his Parliamentary seat. Murphy has not resigned from SLP leadership.

– The Liberal Democrats were wiped out in England and Scotland, going from 56 seats to … eight. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the second most powerful man in Britain from 2010 to 2015, stood down as his party’s leader the morning of May 8. At least he held onto his Sheffield Hallam seat. It was rumoured in the days immediately before the election that Tories there were planning on voting for him just to keep out Labour.

– Big — longstanding — MPs lost their seats. One was Liberal Democrat Vince Cable for Twickenham, west of London. The most notable was Labour shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who lost to a Conservative in the West Yorkshire constituency of Morley and Outwood!

– Labour leader Ed Miliband, although winning re-election to his constituency, stood down as party leader at lunchtime on May 8.

– Spoiler party UKIP experienced an increase in votes, however, in the end, they only won one seat, Douglas Carswell’s Clacton in Essex. Party leader Nigel Farage lost his bid for Thanet South in Kent to a Conservative. Farage announced his resignation soon after the result but said he might be back in the autumn after taking a break.

England speaks

Metro second editionEveryone is examining how the Conservatives did so well.

It seems as if the English were able to speak up in the privacy of the polling booth.

The English are not allowed a voice at any other time unless they deprecate their own country and people.

However, the silent majority finally had their say — and how!

The threat of a Labour government working hand in hand with 50+ SNP MPs finally got through to the English. Ed Miliband mooted a Mansion Tax for those with houses worth £2m and upwards. He also wanted to put a stone monument with the main Labour manifesto points in the garden of No. 10 Downing Street, which many of us thought was very strange, indeed.

The Daily Mail reported (emphases mine):

It was the idea of Torsten Henricson-Bell, 32, the director of policy. A former Treasury economist, he wanted a version of Tony Blair’s pledge card which worked so well for Labour in the 1997 election.

‘Torsten thought we were not getting our policy ideas across, so he persuaded Ed to do the stone,’ said another Labour insider.

Axelrod, on a rare trip to London, enthusiastically signed off on the hubristic monument, having long championed the idea in the US of enshrining policy ideas in ‘stone tablets’. Tom Baldwin, one of Miliband’s media advisers, was also keen.

‘He was like an excitable puppy dog scampering around the newspaper offices, boasting that Labour was going to unveil a brilliant new idea that would be a huge vote winner,’ said another source.

Miliband also has no love of England or the English. His physical presence is uncommanding making it difficult, if not embarrassing, to imagine him on the world stage. He was rumoured to admire French president François Hollande’s policies, which are turning out to be a nightmare economically and socially.

Most importantly, we had not forgotten the 13 years of Labour government from 1997 to 2010 which put the country on a weak footing both economically and socially. No one wanted a repeat of that, especially so soon.

Two telling comments from Telegraph readers express what many of us thought. Note the mention of queues at the polling stations:

peterl: I live in David Cameron’s constituency and like many I thought that Ed Miliband would be walking up Downing Street (a thought that made me sick to my stomach), that is until Thursday morning when I went to vote. Normally you can just walk in, register and vote within 5 minutes but on Thursday there was a half an hour queue out of the Town Hall door and my wife found it the same later on that afternoon.

It was pretty clear to me then that the ‘English were speaking now’ and the subsequent exit polls declared at 10pm were not a surprise.

hawthorn: Your experience mirrors mine almost exactly. I don’t live in that constituency, but I had just the same sickening feeling about Miliband. Then I got to the polling station and had to queue! Even if just for a short time, I remarked on returning home that I had never before had to do this. And I wondered…..

Left-wing bias

As in other Western countries, British media is very much left-wing.

There are very few commentators and pundits who conduct balanced interviews and present their opinions impartially. The BBC is the worst offender. ITV, on the other hand, does an excellent job of overall analysis. SpouseMouse and I watched their coverage on election night and the following day with the briefest of check-ins at the Beeb.

And, contrary to what hardcore leftists say, there is no ‘Tory media’. Even the Daily Mail and The Telegraph have a lot of journalists openly critical of the Conservative Party.

Election campaign commentary nearly everywhere largely revolved around David Cameron losing his career on May 7. However, by the middle of last week, several endorsements went to the Coalition or the Conservatives. Rupert Murdoch’s papers played a blinder. In the UK, The Sun openly endorsed David Cameron and, in Scotland, the Scottish Sun came out for the SNP!

At least The Telegraph‘s James Kirkup had the good sense to apologise to his readers (emphases in the original):

This is the confession of a political journalist. I get paid to know about politics, to explain politics and yes, to predict politics. On this general election, I failed. I got it wrong. I didn’t see this result coming.

The same is true of a lot of people, but that’s neither excuse nor justification. My job is to tell the people who read me things that will leave them better-informed about the subject at hand. And I didn’t do that job as well as I could have done.

That makes me sad, but happy too. I hope you’ll allow me a minute to explain some of that, and to apologise …

That was based partly on reading opinion polls, something that’s now clearly shown to be an error. Some of it was based on talking to Conservatives in all parts and levels of the party, from Cabinet ministers to party staff, from MPs in rock solid seats to those in marginals. Almost of them predicted that the party would suffer net losses. 

Overall, I doubted whether the party’s general election strategy could deliver the majority David Cameron now enjoys …

All of this led to me to write about the Conservative campaign more harshly … But again, that’s irrelevant now. The people who ran the Tory campaign have been vindicated. And I was wrong. 

The BBC could not bring themselves to discuss Ed Miliband’s failure and David Cameron’s triumph. They spent a lot of time on Scotland in the election result coverage and were still banging on about the SNP victory in the evening news on May 8. They gave David Cameron brief coverage lasting only a few minutes.

The endless and inaccurate polls

This year, British pollsters went American-style, much to the disappointment of the English.

We had frequent polling from various organisations every week. They showed the same results with insignificant fluctuations. All were wrong.

The only one which turned out to be right was the exit poll commissioned by the BBC, ITN and Sky. This is because it was done by a handful of specialists overseen by John Curtice, the UK’s foremost psephologist. If Curtice didn’t think the permutations from the various data drops during the day fit, the numbers had to be redone for accuracy.

As far as the other polls go, thankfully, the British Polling Council is launching an independent enquiry to examine how and why they were so inaccurate. YouGov’s Peter Kellner blamed everyone but himself and his organisation:

… “What seems to have gone wrong is that people have said one thing and they did something else in the ballot box.”

… “We are not as far out as we were in 1992, not that that is a great commendation.”

But he blamed politicians for relying too heavily on polling data during their campaigns and said they should instead concentrate on standing on a platform of what they believe in.

However, as Kellner knows, the fact of the matter is that polls do generally shape not only a campaign but also the final result.

Number Cruncher Politics has an excellent analysis of the 2015 polling and ‘shy Tories’. Anyone interested in surveys and polling will wish to read all of it. Ultimately:

Most predictions of election results make the assumption (implicitly, perhaps) that polls are unbiased. But the implications of of this are far from being merely psephological, they are also political. They drive the narrative and set the tone. Parties have ousted their leaders based on poll ratings.

But (emphases mine):

  • Opinion polls at British general elections are usually biased against the Conservatives and in favour of Labour. In 10 of the last 12 elections, the Conservative vote share has been underestimated and in 9 of the last 12, Labour’s share has been overestimated. The spread between the two has been biased in Labour’s favour in 9 of the last 12 elections, including 5 of the last 6 …
  • Every one of the 16 opinion polls with a comparable election in the last two years has seen a pro-Labour bias in terms of the spread. This has closely matched the period during which the Labour lead was falling.

Whilst polling organisations are continually updating their models to adjust for bias, it seems as if they inherently favour Labour.

A Telegraph article noted this loud and clear:

They subscribed to an inherent Left-of-centre bias that infects much of the public discourse in this country and embraces a set of values that are simply not shared by most people. Whether they are sitting in the news rooms of the BBC or the so-called liberal media, they simply fail to understand that this quiet “small c” conservatism constitutes a majority in Britain and always has, even if it manifests itself in different ways.

What happens now?

David Cameron took Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ slogan and made it his own when he spoke on the afternoon of May 8 after visiting the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

He was careful to reassure the Scots about fuller devolution and pledged to achieve this as quickly as possible. He also addressed the concerns of Labour voters in summarising his health and education plans and accomplishments thus far.

Cameron must also make good on his second promise for a referendum of Britain’s membership in the EU. A minority of voters upset with his reneging on a ‘cast-iron’ promise for a referendum several years ago became UKIP supporters. Those Eurosceptics still supporting the Conservatives were able to forgive Cameron once but will certainly hope he will make good on his second pledge for a referendum by 2017.

In short, he will have a challenging time. However, he has the full support of his Chancellor George Osborne who is now also First Secretary of State. This may imply that Osborne is in line to become the next leader of the Conservative Party for the 2020 election. And to think I heard many over a decade ago describe Osborne as weak and simplistic. People do mature and become wiser. Osborne has done an outstanding job as Chancellor, given his relative youth (compared to mine and that of his critics).

Whatever happens, expect stability.

Advertisements