GE2015 plus 02: I was wrong

Posted: 9 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

Notwithstanding Sir Humphrey Appleby’s view that you get anything potentially troublesome out of the way in the title of an Act Of Parliament (so you don’t have to actually do anything in the body of the thing), it’d be remiss of me to even begin to set out my thoughts on what happened on election day, or to suggest what I think will happen in the days and weeks ahead without admitting one, crucial thing: I was wrong.

I wrote something just under 40 blog entries specifically about politics, and the forthcoming election, and I was wrong. 

I was wrong about so, so much. Now, were I to start listing out all the things I was wrong about in regard to anything at all since only January… well, I’d take up far more of your time than you have a right to expect. 

But even limiting it to the election, there’s a lot. So, let’s get at least some of them out of the way in this entry and then we can move on.

my initial prediction

Those following me on Twitter, or on here, and even those people who’ve asked me in what I understand we’re supposed to call ‘in real life’, have heard my guess about what was likely to happen on Thursday for the past three years or so. It was fairly obvious to me: a parliament – and government – pretty familiar to that we’ve seen since May 2010, give or take a dozen seats. I guessed the Tories might lost a dozen, and the Liberal Democrats would lose slightly more. but between them, they’d have a majority, and the Labour Party would just have to get used to another five years of opposition. The SNP? Oh, they’d pick up a few seats, probably at the expense of Liberal Democrats, but they wouldn’t be a force in parliament, as would not UKIP or the Greens. No question, however, that the Lib Dems would be the third biggest party in the Commons. To those who consistently warned and suggested that the Lib Dems would pay a heavy price for their behaviour in coalition with the Conservative Party, well you were right and I was wrong. I thought they’d take a hit; I never thought for a moment that they would be obliterated from front line parliamentary politics in this country.

my later prediction

Oh, when I screw up, I do it in style, don’t I? Not that long ago, about two weeks out from the election, I said that I’d come to the considered view that Ed Miliband would be our next Prime Minister. Let’s be honest, I moved from a position that turned out to be wrong (above) to a position that couldn’t have been wronger had it been in a square marked “THIS IS WRONG”, and had certificates scattered around from the University of Being Even Wronger. All the numbers made sense, and it felt right. Well, I was wrong. The only person who apparently was even more wrong than me that Ed Miliband would get the call to kiss hands was Mr Miliband himself. As I said way back when I started election blogging some eight weeks ago, I’ve paid attention to every general election in this country since 1979, and I’ve been interested in politics since before then. I’ve never seen a politician grow during the election campaign as much as Ed Miliband did. While the campaign opened with many people thinking “why the hell does anyone think he can be Prime Minister”, I can’t have been the only one surely who saw that growth and thought “ok, now I get it…” 

Why he chose to discard much of that growth in the closing days of the campaign with that bloody pledge engraved stone is one for the political memoirs. There were loads of gags and jokes around when he presented it to the press and public, but the best one for my mind was written for the post-Election Have I Got News For You? Jo Brand said it, but I’ve no idea who wrote the gag: “You can imagine what happened: Ed says to his advisers, ‘look, I don’t want to do what I did at conference and forget anything. What do you suggest’ and one of them replied ‘look, just stick them on your tablet.’ “

I offer that joke up just as a smile to myself to be honest; I’ve had little else to smile about since Thursday. But yeah, I genuinely thought Miliband had done enough during the campaign to show that he was ready for the big job. And I was wrong.  

    the north south divide

    The classic example of ‘be careful what you wish for.’ I wasn’t alone in hoping that the engagement during the Independence referendum shown by all groups in Scotland would continue; engagement from the young through to those, let us say, born at a more comfortable distance from the apocalypse. Well, guess what? That engagement continued, and thrived and flourished. The turnout north of the border was significantly higher than that in England, and it cost Labour and Liberal Democrats their seats in the dozens. The SNP didn’t merely get more seats, they went from 6 seats to 56, and from under 20% of the vote in 2010 to 50% of the vote on Thursday. I didn’t see that coming. Not at all. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. And I was wrong. The polls were suggesting a large increase, at times potentially a complete sweep of the seats. But no-one believed that, not even Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader. When the exit poll was released at ten ‘o clock on Thursday evening, suggesting that the SNP would take 58 seats, she tweeted that she expected a good night, but not 58 seats! Well, she near as dammit got there.

    that exit poll

    Now here’s where I admit I’m wrong about something you didn’t know I was wrong about, but in the interests of full disclosure, here’s another mea culpa. That exit poll, the one which the BBC – and other organisations, but I’m a traditionalist where elections are concerned, and I was BBC-watching – released at ten. When it came out, everyone rushed to trash it. The Lib Dems’ former leader Paddy Ashdown flat out said it was wrong; Tory politicians said they expected a good night, but not that good; Labour politicians came the closest I’ve ever seen to saying that pundits relying on it were going to make damned fools of themselves.

    Well, here’s the truth. So did I. I saw the numbers and in my gut I knew they were wrong. Not a chance were the numbers right. They couldn’t be. For them to be correct meant that either every poll published over the past six weeks been woefully, pitifully  inaccurate, or that there’d been a sudden swing to the Tories in the final 24 hours on a scale that topples electoral records left right and Lib Dem.

    For those who’ve forgotten, or didn’t know, this was the exit poll:

    Conservatives 316 seats, Labour 239, SNP 58, Lib Dems 10, Plaid Cymru 4, UKIP 2, Green 2, Others 19

    Impossible. For a start, That’d mean the Conservatives would gain a dozen seats or so seats, that Labour would lose 20 or so, that the Lib Dems would be decimated (and then decimated again, and then decimated again another seventeen times). Impossible. And everyone said so. Well, these were the actual final tallies:

    Conservatives 331 seats, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, Plaid Cymru 3, UKIP 1, Green 1, Others 18

    Pretty damned close. So, yeah, another time, another subject on which I was wrong.

    “coalition? pah! i’m aiming for a working majority” 

    I owe David Cameron an apology. I suppose I owe Ed Miliband one as well, but he’s got enough on his plate at the moment (though I suspect his inbox is emptier than it’s been in four and a half years), to worry about me. I said not that long ago that he was delusional and hugely disrespectful to the ordinary voter to pretend that a majority was not only possible, but that was what he was aiming for. Again, I’m not alone in this, but I feel my own wrongness on this to be understandably more personal than what anyone else said. So, yeah, David Cameron, I was wrong. Mind you, you’ve been wrong lots of times over the past five years on other things, and you haven’t apologised to us about them, so yahh boo sucks.

    so, was I right about anything? anything at all?

    Actually, yeah, I was. I predicted that any party leader who didn’t get the result their party members demanded would go by lunchtime the day after the election, and true enough, the leaders of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP went in a single hour, between 11am and noon. 

    Go me.

    More tomorrow, but hopefully, less in respect of what I was wrong about. Possibly. 

    1. Well I was wrong too. To be fair the polls had been tight for 6 months and, while I thought the Conservatives would (notionally) win, I thought the prospects for a second coalition were low and, similar to 2010, the numbers might mean Labour had a chance to at least try. Labour’s first minority was in 1924.

      I was actually having a pint with the Labour candidate in Gateshead at 10pm on Thursday. We didn’t believe the poll. However you may recall my response to you that ‘voters lie’. As much as the popular view that politicians lie and voters are always right I take the view that there are ‘interests’ to be served in elections. For completeness I should say that I also believe the media lie too. I mentioned in one of my responses to you 1992 and the problem with those pesky lying voters. The pollsters call them ‘shy tories’.

      Most polls over-emphasise Labour support. This happens primarily because Labour voters have pride in their choice. They want people to know. Most Conservative voters tend to be quiet about their secret political indulgence at the ballot box. Why shouldn’t they, it’s a secret ballot. Labour voters became a little more ‘shy’ under Blair after Iraq but that’s a whole bunch of other stats. (As an aside in the Mikardo system of recording Labour support anything other than total support was tagged as against).

      My take on this;

      The Conservative Party has always been a ruthless machine in which it’s existence is solely to gain power and share it among the elite of British society. It serves almost no other function. Thatcherism was the sole period where a neo-liberal monetarist view broke through as ideological credo. It reluctantly recruits from outside it’s class base but Conservative Cabinets have always represented the public schools and elite universities for 150 years. They are supported by a right wing media and, even in television, are dominated by right wing norms.

      The Labour Party was set up by the unions to represent those not represented by the establishment. The debate in the Labour Party is between those who are prepared to compromise on any principle to get power and do at least something versus those who believe if you get into power without representing the people Labour was set up for there is not a lot of point in power. The media simplfy this as David Milliband (Blairite, modern a little like those nice Tories) and Ed Milliband (Wierd hard left communist bloke).

      The Liberal Democrats, even when they were just Liberals, were split between social liberals and economic liberals. Social liberals could portray themselves as left of Labour and economic Liberals were the more right wing than Conservative. Thus historically Winston Churchill was a Liberal for a while and Harold Wilson, while a student, was a member of the Liberal club (Source: Ben Pimlott Biography).

      I try to say these things non pejoratively but I accept I am a Labour voter. I believe we saw all these characteristics play out in the election.

      (I am writing more than I intended but I genuinely hope the take is helpful.)

      Firstly the polls were not a mathematical problem they were a democratic problem. Egged on by polling every question to every leader was about pacts, coalition, agreements. Whole interviews were obsessed by this. Who could forget Cameron’s word that if you go to bed with Ed Milliband you wake up with Alex Salmond.

      This was a variation on the Zinoviev letter of 1924 where the Daily Mail claimed Labour was controlled by Soviet Russia. In our media savvy world the polls led this debate that England was under threat from people with blue faces from over the border ready to take control. Let’s call it the Tory Braveheart strategy.

      Of course Scots heard the message loud and clear. Unionist parties in the south only talk a democratic game and Scots MPs were unwanted second class citizens in Westminster.

      The polls framed the debate. If we knew that the Tories were at 36% and Labour was at 30% would the leaders’ question time have bothered with Clegg?

      Labour’s “far left” message was that the country should work for everyone and not just a rich elite. However I guess if you are non-dom Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, this is a “far left” message.

      Blair was the most ruthless Labour leader. He once said he was only in Parliament to get the job of PM. Mllliband, like previous “thoughtful” Labour leaders, wanted to change things. By taking on the Tories, in the words of Sean Connery in the Untouchables, he brought a knife to a gun fight. Fighting fair and positively is what the electorate claim they like. However, going back to my original posting, voters lie. You need to hit your opponent below the belt, in the face and run as much negativity as you can. Blair had a specific rebuttal unit to counter every headline, every statement, and it worked.

      We in the north have nowhere to go. Like supporting Newcastle United the fans are loyal to the level of stupid. We held our nose voting for Tory Blair just to win because we were sick of losing but he was never loved by Labour. So we still vote Labour. However we noticed at the European Election the 3rd seat in the region went to UKIP. This doesnt matter regionally because our Labour seats typically have 50% plus of the vote. However if UKIP got votes in a marginal constituency taking votes from Labour rather than Tories then it performs the mathematical function that the SDP did in the 1980s – making marginals a little more difficult to win unless there is a Conservative – Labour swing.

      A charismatic leader of a small party attracting support on the basis that immigrants and foreigners were the problem. When has that ever ended up badly….. (I will leave that thought hanging around).

      The south are asset rich and job secure. The Conservative narrative that if you do earn more money Labour is going to steal it from you is the normal stuff you expect. Wealth, power, economic prosperity is a southern concept. As you travel north the density of Labour seats increases. However the most seats are in southern England so Cameron just needs to win there and hold marginals elsewhere. So he can use fear. Fear of the economy crashing, fear of immigrants, fear of Scots.

      For me the election is about the following;

      1. A right wing media who were stunned that Ed Milliband wasn’t a gormless gibbering idiot that they had spent 5 years abusing because he wasn’t David.
      2. The electorate realising that the Lib-Dems were not these cuddly soft left people where you could lodge a protest vote without fear of electing them.
      3. A genuine feeling of Lib-Dem betrayal even though when polled voters say that want less punch and judy politics and they want parties to work together. (Those darned voters lying again!)
      4. Nationalism. The SNP played the nationalist card with pride and patriotism in Scotland and the Tories played the nationalist card to undermine Labour in England.
      5. UKIP played the ‘little England’ card and Alf Garnett responded taking enough votes in the marginals to deny Labour any hope of a swing to them.

      If we knew before the election that Labour were 6 points down then 230 seats is a respectable result to build on. However we didn’t.

      However Cameron is now in coalition not with Nick Clegg but with the 1992 committee. A committee named after a backbench coup against a Prime Minister. The EU exit starts now because the renegotiation needs to start this week to meet the deadline. Scotland want to stay in the EU.

      The result of the election is a fragmentation of Britain. Anti-austerity Scotland and Wales. Pro austerity southern England. Austerity hitting the north the most.

      My thoughts are that with the debt being 800 billion when Brown left office in 2010 it is now 15. trillion. I should get down to Ladbrokes and put money on the national debt hitting 2 trillion by 2020.

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