Friday, May 07, 2010

Election summary

The Tories, winning a plurality of the vote, have failed to get an overall majority. This is excellent news both for what it shows, and for what it means. It shows that people were more wary of the Tories and their aggressive agenda of cuts than they were of any of this crap about a hung parliament or irresponsible liberals. Lack of enthusiasm for Labour didn't translate into votes for Tories. The share of the vote for the Conservatives is just over a third of those who voted, or approximately a fifth of all eligible voters, and the number of seats won by the Tories is lower than in 1992, 1987, 1983, 1979, 1970, 1959 and 1955.

Not only did a wave of enthusiasm not bring Tory voters surging out to overthrow Labour in the marginals, but in some seats the dread of a Tory victory produced a strong swing back to Labour, mostly in areas where Labour already had a solid majority. It means that there will not be a Tory government with an emergency budget passed into law in the first six months of their rule. Of course, the alternative Lib-Lab coalition will certainly impose steep budget cuts, but there isn't a clear and authoritative mandate for it in the way that there would be had the Tories won an outright majority. Even if all parties are committed to cuts, this result places us in a better position to resist them.

Neither Labour nor the Lib Dems individually has any right to boast about these results. However, both parties can now form a coalition based on the clear anti-Tory majority that the results express. New Labour ministers and officials have been talking up this clear progressive majority all night. Indeed, the combined vote for Labour and the Lib Dems is easily more than 50%, which would give them a legitimate basis for such a coalition. If they're going to do this, however, then they will have no choice but to deliver electoral reform as a minimum in the next term. That means they will have to live with the possibility of smaller parties finding it easier to emerge and challenge their hegemony over all the left-of-centre votes. Also note that the basis on which such a coalition is being raised by Labour MPs is that it will avoid rapid and deep public spending cuts and thus protect the economy. This being the case, they will experience some severe difficulties when they try to push through the cuts.

Relatedly, the results for almost all left-of-Labour candidates were either disappointing or appalling. The best result of the night was Caroline Lucas' excellent victory in Brighton Pavilion, but there's not much to celebrate beyond that. Salma Yaqoob came a strong second in Birmingham Hall Green - but given Yaqoob's profile, and the backing of Lynne Jones among others, one might have expected her to do better. She has been squeezed by the rush back to Labour in working class heartlands. As yet, there is no word on Galloway's result, but right-wing Twitterers have been perhaps prematurely dancing on his electoral grave all night - ah but, as I write, a banner on BBC News says Labour has held Poplar and Limehouse... Beyond that - well, look at the results for TUSC and those Respect candidates not based in Birmingham or the East End. On the disappointing side are results like Sheridan's 3%, but most of the votes are at an appalling fraction of 1%. I suppose on the bright side, the Solidarity/TUSC candidate in Inverness soundly thrashed the 'Joy of Talk' candidate by gaining fifty percent more votes than him. Let no one say that I don't know how to accentuate the positive. You might think it's as well that the Left did not go into these elections grandstanding and talking up its chances, but the fact is that even where the Left had localised prospects the returns have been a disappointment.

The only realistic conclusion is that the window for left-of-Labour electoral challenges has been gradually shutting since 2005, and will not dramatically widen short of the emergence of a social movement on which to base it. These are objective limitations which can't be overcome with a command economy of movement-building in which the grassroots is badgered and cajoled into hyperactivism. What can be achieved in the immediate term is the working out an emergency coalition against the coming public sector cuts. And that is exactly what is needed as soon as possible.

The news about the fascist vote is on balance good. It could have been gruesome, but instead its merely ugly. As it turns out, it looks as if the BNP was easily defeated in Barking, despite Griffin gaining more than 6,000 votes. Griffin tried to say in the run-up to the result that he'd only really aimed to get second place. Actually, he was driven to third place. He's now reportedly blamed his misfortune on the "harrassment" of his bootboys by UAF activists. I'm happy to be among those noisome intruders that Griffin can blame for his defeat. The BNP was also driven into fourth place in target seats like Stoke Central and Stoke South. They did, of course, gain some strong votes even where they were clearly defeated. Overall, they gained about 2% of the vote nationally, a slight improvement. I'm not sure how to interpret this as yet, but with UKIP's vote at 3% (not much in the way of gains for them) that makes a 5% vote for right-of-Tory forces. It does possibly suggest that they were unable to capitalise on the really nasty atmosphere over immigration, which would mean that people were more inclined to vote on class issues than they were mobilised by racism.

Lastly, the turnout is being talked up, but at most it is projected to reach about 70%, less than in 1997 which was then the lowest turnout in the post-war period. The turnout has been driven up by the closeness of he contest, but it's still consistent with the longer term popular disengagement with electoral politics. The legitimacy of the state is entering into a long-term crisis, as its representative features look increasingly unconvincing as bases for popular participation. Whitehall is well aware of this, and that PR isn't going to fundamentally reverse this trend. For a full discussion of the reasons for this, see chapter one of The Meaning of David Cameron, perhaps shortly to be renamed, What Was the Point of David Cameron?