I could not have imagined a more devastating result from the 2015 General Election than the one we were delivered last night; disunity, fear and class warfare are the prevailing tastes of a vote which delivered a Tory majority, a swell of UKIP votes and a Scottish nationalist revolution.
Of course, the other unsavoury residue left by yesterday’s ballot bashing was a lingering since of electoral redundancy, once more the concentrated 36% of Conservative voters have manged to reward their party with 100% of Westminster’s powers. It’s hard to be rational at a time like this, especially when my party, the Liberal Democrats, took the most brutal thrashing imaginable – to think our worst estimates had us at 19 seats is merely a painful embarrassment now.
I will always make the case that the Lib Dems did not deserve to be punished in this election. In a climate of political cynicism which constantly seeks to question the intentions of politicians, who are perceived to tight-rope their party line to perfection; why were the Lib Dems punished for doing the opposite and forming an alliance with our traditional nemeses, the Conservatives, at a time where the British economy was on the brink of a Greek-style collapse? In truth, I could hurtle hundreds and hundreds of rhetorical questions at you, in an attempt to understand this baffling destruction of liberalism. Why has a party, who only won 8% of MPs, who was the far smaller party in government been so heavily punished for failing to deliver on their promises? 70% of the Lib Dem manifesto became coalition policy – pretty good going really.
Without the Lib Dems in government to temper the Conservatives’ hard-right economics and social politics, the country could well become a very ugly place. We’re only in day one of this new government and fox-hunting, cutting disability benefits and the Snooper’s Charter are back at the top of the agenda, straight from Cameron’s little black of book of Tory policies blocked by the Lib Dems. The anti-Tory vote has driven the electorate in to the divisive arms of the SNP, who will seize the opportunity to blame all of their ills on the divergent Southern English vote, thus making a stronger case for independence. More depressingly perhaps, UKIP’s popular vote held strong and returned them three million votes. I won’t pull any punches here, we’ve all seen enough evidence to show what a nasty, divisive and intrinsically intolerant party they are. The only solace can be found that their odious ex-fascist, Putin adoring leader was humiliated on the back of his complacency and belief in his cult of personality. The BNP vote collapsed and we all know where that core support has emigrated to. What is worse on a personal level is the sympathy afforded to this not so secretly far-right party in my hometown of Leicester. In all three of the city’s constituencies, which hosts two universities and one of the most diverse populations in the country, UKIP returned an average of 11.5% of the vote, just shy of their national result. This swing to UKIP is in my mind a demoralising blow to the unity of my usually so tolerant, seamlessly integrated city that ranked UKIP above both the Lib Dems and the Greens across the board.
Electoral reform may as well be put down, now the Tories have attained the unlikeliest of majorities, they will be able to credibly argue that the main benefit of FPTP, a stable majority government, is still a feasible outcome. It certainly won’t serve any cause to reform, and there’s no fair-minded progressive party alongside them to say otherwise. In fact, it will probably get even more unfair. Ironically, proportional representation would have returned more MPs for us in this election than FPTP did with 23% of the vote in 2010 – work that one out. The Lib Dems were unable to get the Lords reformed due to Tory opposition, though they did stop the redistributing of rural constituency boundaries, which is sure to firm up more Tory seats in 2020.
No matter the majority the Tories have won, these issues all need to be addressed, so too do unfair party donations and media influence. Rupert Murdoch’s Conservative alignment is well-known, the fact he can control so much of the UK’s media from a party political stance is dangerous and damaging to true democracy. On top of this, a policy of capping donations made to parties at £10,000 would have stopped other parties having their message steamrolled, it will only reinforce the status quo, it is electoral capitalism at its ugliest, undemocratic and a habit that’s harder to break the longer we persist with it.
Despite all of these negatives, this election has been fascinating, seemingly enshrouded in uncertainty, we’ve given the party who were the least explicit on their specific economic strategy the unhinged mandate to implement it at their leisure. Like I said, hundreds of rhetorical questions cannot solve the confusion I’m facing. Of course, it could have been slightly worse – but only slightly. The only positive of a Tory majority is that being propped up by the DUP or UKIP is no longer a requirement, meaning social politics won’t be as damaged as they could have been. In turn, the situation on this front could too be far far better. For instance, we now live in a nation where Lynne Featherstone, who almost single-handedly drove the policy of marriage equality through the Commons lost her seat to a Labour candidate found guilty of spreading untrue lies about her stoking xenophobic tensions. Meanwhile, in Loughborough, Nicky Morgan who herself declared that marriage equality was not a ‘smart law’ increased her majority by 10.5%. A widespread demand for greater focus on foreign policy issues in the General Election campaign like the rise of the so-called Islamic State were met with the passive disregard of Maajid Nawaz in Hampstead & Kilburn, whose expertise in Islamism would have been vital in a Parliament, that is seemingly in denial over how prevalent an issue this will be in the next five years.
Of course, I could simply attribute these defeats to anti-Lib Dem sentiment and nothing else but I don’t believe that’s true. I know social progression is a value shared by millions nationwide, and the concern of radical Islam is a concern of millions here too – so why weren’t these candidates successful? Because the Lib Dems were steamrolled in the media? Probably. Channel Four’s satire Ballot Monkeys, made a joke about it but it rings true. The Conservatives and to a much lesser extent the Labour party, are the only ones really given the time of day. The protestations of Lib Dems around the country that income tax cuts are all down to Clegg and co., and were called undeliverable by the Conservatives are going to be ignored when half the press is printing the opposite. The Lib Dems don’t have the unbridled support of corporations or trade unions to meaningfully rebut Labour’s lies that the Lib Dems screwed over students, and Labour never have. In fact, this isn’t a Lib Dem only problem – I’m sure members of the Greens, Plaid Cymru and others feel similarly today too.
Do you know what the Lib Dems achieved in coalition, with just 8% of MPs? We introduced same-sex marriage – we did, not the Tories, not Labour. We ended Labour’s abhorrent child detention schemes, we delivered free school meals for all school children, we stopped the Tories allowing bosses to sack workers on any ground they deem necessary be they motivated by racism, sexism or otherwise. We stopped Tories slashing funding for childcare, schools, the NHS – yes, it could have been worse. We stopped Cameron giving tax cuts to the wealthiest in society. We, yes, again it was, that introduced the income tax threshold raise that took many low-to-middle earners out of paying income tax altogether. And tuition fees? Yes, they increased – they trebled, and it wasn’t ideal and it was seemingly a betrayal, and none of us were happy about it. But we still made repayment fairer so that you pay less back until you earn enough that you can afford to repay your loan, and if you still can’t – it gets written off. A lovely ‘betrayal’, in my mind.
It’s not just us, the decimation of our party has been greeted largely with sympathisers on both sides of the political centre. The Labour supporters are bemoaning the absence of our influence in government while the Tories have finally acknowledged that most of the good stuff the coalition achieved was down to us. The newspapers all came out in support of the party a week before the election, pleading with the electorate for a Lib Dem coalition of some sort – but where have they been the last five years when the anti-Liberal tirade has been all too prevalent? No coverage of our achievements, they were all tactically and disingenuously attributed to the larger Conservative party. Maybe, it really does all come back to tuition fees – and if it does then that makes me incredibly sad because again, I don’t think the wider electorate have been given the parity of information to decide whether it was a betrayal or the best possible compromise from a junior party in government saddled with no money to spend. Julia Hartley-Brewer summed my feelings up best on BBC’s Question Time “Who introduced tuition fees? Labour. Who raised them? Labour. Who raised them again? The Conservatives. Who got punished? The Lib Dems”. It would be the first, and likely the last time I ever afford her applause for her comments. If only people like her had been more vocal about the last five years, maybe Liberalism wouldn’t have taken an undeserved pasting.
Of course, this election in general was a bit farcical, even more farcical than my party’s result. For now we must rebuild, and encouragingly members are already flocking back to the Liberal Democrats in their thousands. There are great, wonderful, compassionate driven people in the Liberal Democrats who have sadly lost the opportunity to make 49 constituencies better places to live, but we will come back – if there is one thing the Liberals can do well it’s a fightback. After all, this election wasn’t necessarily about punishing us. Maybe our overtly centrist policy just wasn’t as effective as expected and a greater emphasis on our radical social justice views will win back our defected Lib Dems. Regardless, this election shouldn’t be remembered as an election lost by the Lib Dems and cake-walked by the Tories. It was an election corrupted. An election corrupted by nationalism on two fronts, the increasingly disproportionate power balance in the press, and most depressingly of all, a fucking bacon sandwich.