The Tories are the big winners from today

Tory gains and a No vote mean this is one of Cameron’s best days since becoming PM.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," wrote George Orwell. Engrossed in the Lib Dem massacre and the SNP triumph, few have noticed one obvious truth: the Tories are the big winners from today.

As I write, the Conservatives have made a net gain of 37 seats and their share of the vote has held up – a truly remarkable result. The Tories had been predicted to lose 500-1,000 seats. In an interview outside Conservative Central Office, David Cameron has just promised that there will be "no celebrating, no congratulations" after the AV result tonight.

Yet the Tories have much to celebrate today. Despite the unpopularity of the (Tory-dominated) government's austerity measures and its NHS reforms, they have not suffered at the polls. Nay, they have gained. As the left always warned, the Lib Dems have acted as their human shields.

Until the final weeks of the referendum campaign, a No vote was never inevitable. Most polls before the campaign proper showed the two sides neck and neck. The turning point came when David Cameron, who initially planned to lie low during the referendum period, put himself at the centre of the No campaign. As Nick Clegg remarked, the Tory leader "threw the kitchen sink" at the referendum after realising the considerable damage that a Yes vote would do to his leadership.

Had the Yes campaign won, Cameron would have been branded a serial loser, the man who failed to win a majority against as unpopular a prime minister as Gordon Brown, who was then forced to offer a referendum on AV to the Lib Dems and who sacrificed first-past-the-post as a result. But today Cameron will enjoy one of his best days since becoming Prime Minister.

There is now a far greater chance of a Tory majority in 2015. The prospect of an emboldened Conservative Party fighting the next election under first-past-the-post, having redrawn the constituency boundaries in its favour, is not a happy one for Labour. Those who assume that Labour will return to power on a wave of anti-cuts discontent could not be more wrong. For Ed Miliband, the really hard work starts now.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

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