Election 2010: the Best and the Worst

Five high points and five low points from election night.

The best

1. That we don't have a majority (neo)Conservative government, and that the truly frightening prospect of the fanatical neocon warmonger Dr Liam Fox as defence secretary may still be avoided.

2. The likelihood that we'll get a move to a more democratic voting system, which will lead to the break-up of our traditional parties and reinvigorate our political system, as I argued here.

3. The re-election of the solidly anti-war John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and some other genuinely leftist Labour MPs.

4. The conduct of Gordon Brown. As regular readers will know, I'm no fan of Brown's neoliberal policies, but I must admit to admiring the way he has conducted himself over the past 48 hours. His speech outside No 10 yesterday was very measured and politically very astute. (On the subject of Brown, here is a very interesting piece on the Blairite plot to replace him with David Miliband in the event of a Lab/Lib coalition.)

5. Er, that's it.

 

The worst

1. The defeat of George Galloway in Poplar. The neocon warmongers, who are itching either to attack Iran or to destroy the country by imposing swingeing new sanctions, will be gloating that their strongest critic in the UK won't be in the next parliament.

2. The way that the cult of celebrity has infected election-night television coverage. Did you want to hear the views of Bruce Forsyth, David Baddiel and the "property guru" Kirstie Allsopp on a hung parliament? No, me neither.

The BBC spent £30,000 of OUR money on a freebie junket for millionaire celebs and hangers-on, all of whom were perfectly capable of paying for their own wine and champagne. All at a time when we're told that the state must curb its spending drastically. It's beyond parody.

3. The contestant from The Apprentice -- I didn't catch her name -- who seemed to imply that public-sector workers should be disenfranchised because they don't vote the way she wants them to.

4. The way that working-class voices are nowadays almost totally excluded from election night, and indeed during the election campaign. Solidly upper-middle-class presenters, introduce solidly upper-middle-class analysts and then interview solidly upper-middle-class politicos. If you're working class you can sod off -- unless your name is Mrs Gillian Duffy, and you make comments about eastern Europeans "flocking" here and have a spat with Gordon Brown.

It hasn't always been like this. I recently rewatched the BBC's coverage of the 1979 election night, the last election before the neoliberal era. There were regular interviews with trade union leaders, and interviews with workers and ordinary people (including a cleaning lady), about how the result would affect them. Today all the talk is about how the markets will respond and what the City thinks of the result.

And what's the end result in this most upper-middle-class of elections? Two upper-middle-class public school/Oxbridge-educated politicians discuss how they're going to form the next government. Welcome to the classless Britain of 2010.

5. The election of the solidly middle-class Blairite carpetbagger Luciana Berger (a candidate who didn't even know who Bill Shankly was) in the solidly working-class seat of Liverpool Wavertree. If only Ricky Tomlinson had stood against her. Let's hope he does in October.

Anyway, that's my "best and worst". How about yours?

This post originally appeared on Neil Clark's blog

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.