GE2015 minus 22: goodbyeeee… goodbyeeee?

Posted: 15 April 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

There’s not a lot certain about the outcome of the election on 7th May. Well, I should really say ‘outcomes‘, because although the one thing everyone wants to know – and will find out – is ‘who’s going to be the next Prime Minister?’, there are a lot of other outcomes that matter. 654 of them, in fact. 

654? But there’s only 650 parliamentary constituencies, I hear you cry. Well, indeed, but there are four more outcomes in doubt… which I’ll get to in a minute. But, as for the 650 elections for 650 constituency members of parliament… well, we already know the result of most of them. We may not know by how much the successful candidate is going to win by but we know that which candidates are going to win in a lot of seats. They’re the ‘safe seats’. Or rather the seats we call ‘safe seats’ that in fact turn out to be ‘safe seat’s. Of course, there are going to be seats we think of as safe right now, but on the day will turn out to be anything but. One might think that if you’re a Cabinet minister or a shadow cabinet minister, then you’re probably safe. 

Let me disabuse you of that notion.

Every general election brings surprises, and every general election brings an end – temporarily or otherwise – to some high flyers’ careers in frontline politics. Let’s just take the last four elections.

Among those who lost their seats in the Labour landslide of 1997 were the Leader of the House of Commons, the Secretaries of State for Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Scotland, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Solicitor General, and a load of other ministers or lower rank. Indeed, the second of these – Michael Portillo – whose result came in mid-way through the results became symbolic of the Conservative’s party’s loss of power. “Were you awake for Portillo?” became such a cliché that Portillo himself in 2010 observed that “my name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public.” One finds it hard to disagree.

OK, so that was 1997. What about 2001? Obviously, with another landslide pretty much the same as 1997’s, you’d expect fewer frontline politicians to have lost their seats. And to be fair, hardly any did, but this was a rarity.

In the 2005 election, when the Labour party’s majority dropped by almost two-thirds, five Labour ministers lost their seats, along with their non-ministerial colleagues.

2010’s election? Well… The childrens’ minister’s majority in his constituency fell to a shade over 1,100. We almost lost him from the house of commons. His name? Oh, Ed Balls, the current Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and likely to lose the ‘shadow’ element of that if Labour form the next government. In addition, the Commons did lose a health minister and the solicitor general from the previous parliament. moreover, two former home secretaries lost their seats with a clutch of ministers and parliamentary under-secretaries (junior ministers).

So, there are going to be some politicians who are going to lose and it’s going to be as big a surprise to us as to them.

But, as I said, there are four other outcomes that are of interest to me. Of great interest, as a matter of fact. And those won’t be fully understood or accepted by the people concerned until a few days after 7th May. Could even be a week or so afterwards. And those are the outcomes awaiting the leaders of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and The United Kingdom Independence Party. Now before anyone jumps up and says I’m being overly-selective in my choice of those four parties (“what about the Greens, eh? What about them?”) I’m not at all.

The reason I’ve excluded the Leaders of the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP is simply because their positions aren’t at risk following the election. Well… I’m sure about the last two, and unless Natalie Bennett really screws up in the next three weeks, I think her position is safe.

But either because of internal politics, history or self-exclusion, all of the other four are at risk of losing the leadership. Let’s get the last of those out of the way first. Nigel Farage has said publicly that if he doesn’t win election to the House Of Commons in May, he’ll resign the leadership of the party. It’s a fairly high risk strategy because there’s no-one – no-one – in the party who could succeed him who has the ability to grab a crowd like he does. Both Patrick O’Flynn and Paul Nuttall are good performers but they pale compared to Farage. There’s a reason it’s Farage who keeps appearing on Question Time. If Farage goes, then UKIP slide into irrelevance for a while. Now, while I quite like that idea, I like what’ll cause it even more.

OK. So, Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats. For a start, there’s absolutely no certainty that he’ll even win his seat on 7th May. Recent polls have shown Labour ahead of him, but well within the margin of error. Personally, I think he’ll get in and I hope he does. He’s had a rough deal the past few years, I think. Now, many of my friends, intelligent and smart people all, think otherwise: that Clegg will hopefully lose, lose big and that he’ll deserve to. I disagree, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Long ago, before current first time voters were born, it wasn’t uncommon for a leader of a major political party to be given [at least] two unsuccessful general elections before they were booted out, or ‘did the decent thing’ and resigned. 

Harold Wilson led the party from February 1963 to April 1976. During that time, he became Prime Minister in 1964, won in 1966, lost the 1970 general election but remained Leader of The Opposition throughout that parliament, then became Prime Minister again in 1974 (two elections that year), and finally left office at his own choosing in 1976. (Amusingly, James Callaghan took over, hence the comment at the time that Wilson resigned to make way for an older man.”)

Ted Heath, who served as Prime Minister between 1970 and March 1974? Well, he took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1965 and didn’t resign until February 1975. In that time, he fought the 1966 election… and lost it, the 1970 one which his party won, and then the two in 1974, both of which he lost.

The Liberal Democrats (and their forerunners the Liberal Party) have been in the past the most loyal of parties to their leader. They’ve tended to go at their own choosing, or when they’ve fucked up so badly that it’s obvious that they can’t continue in office any longer. 

Again, during roughly the same time period, Jeremy Thorpe was Liberal Party leader from 1965 to 1976; he was succeeded – briefly – by his own predecessor Jo Grimmond, before David Steel led the party from 1976 to 1988, and then Paddy Ashdown led the party, then the Lib Dems, from 1988 to 1999.

But that was in a different age, a very different age.

If the current leaders of the political parties don’t get into government after this election, they’re finished. That’s been understood for some time now. David Cameron is the longest serving of the party leaders, as he took over in December 2005. So, that’s just under ten years, but he’s fought only one election before this one, as he took over after the 2005 election. Nick Clegg took over the Liberal Democrats two years after David Cameron became Leader of the Opposition. So, he’s been leader for almost eight years, but again, only one election during that time. Ed Miliband has been leader of the Labour party for just a bit under five years and the forthcoming election is his first as leader. (Huh; I just realised all three were elected during the winter months. Wonder when that was last true.) 

If Cameron doesn’t manage to stay on as Prime Minister in a minority government or in coalition, he’s finished as party leader. Too manyt of the party have never forgiven him for not winning the 2010 election with a working majority, let alone this one. What’ll he do? Well, despite hints to the contrary, I suspect he’ll follow his predecessor’s example and resign both from office and as a member of parliament. He’ll leave frontline politics.

Assuming he retains his seat – if he doesn’t, he’ll resign on the spot – Nick Clegg’s role depends on just how badly his party does. If they’re not part of the coalition, and it would have to be a Tory-led coalition, the party will demand his head. And since in politics, revenge is a dish best served with your opponents’ balls on a platter, if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, the only way Labour could enter coalition with the Lib Dems would be to demand Clegg fall on his sword, just as Clegg demanded Gordon Brown’s head during the 2010 negotiations… and got it.

As for Ed Miliband, this is his one shot at the Premiership. He knows it, his party knows and and so do the voters. Enough of both of the latter have absorbed the myth that he stabbed his brother in the back by running and wining the party leadership. The party would never forgive him for another five years of Tory government, with the only remaining question being whether he’d resign immediately or carry on in a merely caretaker type role while those future candidates line up their supporters. 

Of course, once you accept that one or more of the leaders won’t make it out of the election unscathed, the next question is who are the runners and riders for the succession? Well, everyone with any interest knows who’s likely to be in the race, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, or themselves. There is no guarantee, as I pointed out above, that any of them will be in Parliament to fight the battle. There’s the small matter of winning their own seats in three weeks’ time.

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