Random thoughts on the election

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wallace and miliband

The UK election of 2015 is over and it is time to pause and reflect. What conclusions can we draw?

The voting process is fair, but inefficient. We can take a lot of comfort from the whole business of putting an X on a piece of paper and stuffing that paper into a ballot box. It works. A lot of thought has gone into designing a system that keeps your vote a secret and makes sure that all of the votes are counted impartially.

But the process is very labour intensive. The votes are counted by hand and totted up in pencil, in a system that can’t have changed much in the last one hundred years. The administration of the 2010 elections cost £84 million – the 2015 elections are probably in the same ballpark.

It could be done a lot quicker and more cheaply if some or all of the process was computerised. We would need to do this carefully to make sure that the process stayed fair and secure, but it seems crazy to be spending such a large amount of money when we have the technology to invent a better system.

The SNP won and lost this election

The SNP became the big talking point towards the end of the campaign. They won Scotland by promising to end austerity, and they alienated England and Wales for the same reason. The only way to end austerity would be to borrow more (which means more pain in the future) or for Scotland to take more money from the rest of the UK.

nicola sturgeon

Many non-Scottish voters switched from Labour and Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives in order to counter the SNP.

The Conservatives ran the slickest campaign

At least in my local area, the Conservatives worked hardest for their result. Admittedly, my local area is strongly Conservative, but …

  • they delivered more leaflets
  • their candidates knocked on more doors
  • they seemed to bring people to the polling stations
  • their media campaign was solid and efficient, without the gimmicks of tablets of stone
  • they muzzled some of their more colourful characters, such as Eric Pickles and Boris (mostly)

Football teams and formula one teams win by constantly making improvements and getting the smallest of details right – and that is what the Conservatives did.

It was largely about individuals

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the film Braveheart

This was the election of the two Wallace’s. North of the border we had visions of William Wallace. Only this time Braveheart wasn’t an Aussie in a kilt, it was Nicola Sturgeon in a skirt. And just like William Wallace, this cheered the Scots and frightened the English in equal measure.

And south of Hadrian’s Wall we had Wallace, of Wallace and Gromit fame. Many people were saying that Ed Miliband simply wasn’t Prime Minister material. It took him too long to come up with his policies. His policies were not clear enough or bold enough. His ears stuck out too much. He turned from Ed Milifandom to Ed Moses with his ridiculous stone tablet.

This was a prime opportunity for Labour to offer something different to the Conservatives. They could and should have run with a clear message of “austerity with a conscience” – doing the right thing, but doing it in a way that respects individuals more.

Many voters would have voted for “none of the above”

The political choices seem to boil down to two different styles of political parties. On the one hand we had a collection of “populist but unrealistic” parties. These offered quick fixes and appealed to the heart, but didn’t really have a chance of forming a Government. This meant that they could promise outrageous or radical things without worrying about how they were going to pay for any of them.

The SNP, the Greens, UKIP, the NHS party, the independents – they could all say things that people wanted to hear.

Life was tougher for the three mainstream parties. Their sums had to add up because there was a possibility that their proposals would actually be implemented. And that meant that they had to talk about austerity. It is hard to attract people to vote for you if all you have to offer is more belt tightening.

Many people still don’t understand austerity

The one big issue for this campaign was austerity. The SNP promised to end it, UKIP blamed it on Johnny Foreigner and the independents just ignored it. The three main parties all had manifestos based on different degrees of austerity – because there really is no alternative.

The plain and unattractive fact is that we cannot avoid the pain. We either make deep cuts now and get the deficit down quickly, or we make less drastic cuts and get the deficit down more slowly. Or we listen to the SNP and turn into Greece.

It is a hard choice. The Tory way is for deep cuts now to get rid of the deficit more quickly. This will cause more pain to individuals as it will mean that people will lose their jobs, especially in the private sector. But in the long run, it will mean that we won’t be wasting as much of our money on paying back interest on the money we are borrowing. The UK currently spends £43 billion a year on debt repayments.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats would have reduced the deficit more slowly. That would have meant less pain in the short term, but the cuts would have to last for longer.

And that, frankly, is a very tough choice to make. It would take an economics expert to work out which way was best. That is why most people based their choices on irrational factors, such as tactical voting to keep the SNP out or the fact that Ed Miliband has funny ears.

We lost some good people

It was one of the bloodiest elections that I can remember. That was good because it got rid of some dead wood, but it also meant that we lost some good politicians. It was a shame to lose people of the quality of Vince Cable and Ed Balls. Westminster will be poorer without them.

I felt sorry for the Liberal Democrats. They were unfairly punished for being a part of the previous Coalition. They also lost out in the SNP protest vote as natural Tory/Liberal Democrat waverers switched to Tory to keep the SNP/Labour alliance out.

But it also has to be said that the Liberal Democrats ran a weak campaign. They didn’t seem to stand for anything other than a tarty message of “we will get into bed with anyone”. Not a good idea.

All in all …

It was a surprising result. When the campaign started I thought it was too close to call. As it went on, I started to expect the Conservatives to be the largest party but to fall short of a majority. This was largely because of the weak campaigns from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

The turning point was the emergence of the SNP. This turned a Tory lead into an overall majority.

What happens next? I think that ought to be a blog for another time. Interesting times ahead.

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