Didn’t see that one coming at all. Neither did most commentators, politicians, or the Public. While there are some grounds to think that Labour knew all along that they were running behind the Tories, the scale of their defeat left many supporters devastated. So what was behind the Shy Tories? What were the reasons behind a relatively comfortable victory for the Conservative Party? How did Cameron manage to pull off the first Conservative majority in 23 years?
Those of us who remember 1992 and John Major’s shock Election win will say that this seems familiar. It’s that sinking, depressing feeling of knowing that there’s five more years of the same to come. A small but significant amount of voters are just too embarrassed to tell opinion
pollsters of their voting intentions. They’d rather say they’re in the undecided camp than admit to being a Tory. Cameron doesn’t care; as long as he gets the votes at the end of the day, he’ll take as many Shy Tories as he can handle. Some things can be just too embarrassing to admit, and it appears that being a Conservative is such an embarrassment for some voters.
Weak leader. Oh, it’s so easy to be right with hindsight. Miliband, Ed, was not the Alpha Male or tough Blair clone. Even his fans, and yes, there were some, would never have gone that far in their descriptions. But he was and is a decent man with some excellent ideas about how to make Britain a fairer and more democratic country. The Conservative Press will be content to run with the ‘Wrong Brother’ narrative but we can never know if Miliband the Elder would have mitigated the damage enough to have justified his selection as leader. Ed Miliband had his faults but the Conservative media coverage of him was tantamount to bullying a lot of the time. Cameron the Bullingdon Boy took on the Fresher who looked geeky. The Tabloid Press outdid itself again in being trivial, boorish and predictable. Never underestimate the ability of Yellow Journalism to outdo itself again and again.
Although it really galls most decent people to acknowledge it, Lynton Crosby played an absolute blinder. Negative and nasty, Crosby and Cameron crafted an almost perfect campaign. They were blessed with having a resurgent Scottish Nationalist Party that decimated Labour north of the border. Remember, the Tories did their level best to talk up the SNP against Labour in Scotland and use the Nats as a Bogey Man in the south. As a wedge issue, it had a huge impact in 2015. Crosby tries to hit on dog-whistle subjects; he appealed to some of the subconscious instincts in swing voters with the effective but false question of asking if they trusted Ed Miliband with the Union and with the Scottish Nationalists. A sufficient amount of those voters were convinced enough to put Cameron back into Number 10. Paul Mason, among others, has posited that the Tories relied on the propertied English to rebut the Social Democratic Scots.
The Conservatives were absolutely ruthless in how they dealt with their erstwhile coalition partners. This was a decapitation strategy on an enormous scale. The Liberal Democrats were utterly shell-shocked after their worst result since the 1970s. All the talk of them being a permanent party of government has evaporated like the dew in the morning. They learned a cruel lesson; it is the minor party that usually gets the raw deal in any post-coalition election. Nick Clegg’s fall from grace has been stellar; the Liberal Democrats lost many excellent MPs. It will be a slow, long comeback for them. They will be wary of ever going into government again.
Cameron’s election promise on tax seemed like folly at the time. How can anyone promise not to put up tax for the duration of a parliament? Yet, this is exactly the kind of distancing from Labour that Crosby will have suggested. This, along with the right to buy social housing, provided Cameron with Clear Blue Water. The cynicism is breathtaking; how any government can read the economic runes for the next five years is beyond this humble scribe. The may well be hoisted on their own petard on this one.
To the victor the spoils. The Tories can now implement the kind of agenda they were only dreaming about a mere few weeks ago. If you’re not with them, you’re against them. The next five years will probably see the Tories Americanise the welfare state and privatise much of the NHS. There’s danger ahead south of Calais of course as ‘Europe’ once more becomes a make or break issue for a Tory Prime Minister. On a worst case scenario, Cameron could lose Scotland AND lose the in-out European referendum. Don’t write off a Labour revival yet; politics never ceases to surprise.