GE2015 plus 07: a long time

Posted: 14 May 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

There have been as many variations on “a week is a long time in politics” as there are attributions for the original. Often ascribed to Harold Wilson, similar if not exact sentiments have been observed as far back as 17th Century France. 

Only five years ago (only!) the week following the general election was the most electric time in politics in my adult lifetime. I can thoroughly recommend Andrew Adonis’s Five Days In May as a very good read; it’s the closest you’ll ever get to reading a thoughtful and considered political thriller. And for once, knowing the end doesn’t spoil any enjoyment of reading how the people concerned got there; if anything, it enhances it.

But I never felt, a week later, like the week had flown by and that somehow the British political world had changed without me being aware of it. I can’t say the same this time. So much has happened in the past seven days that it’s truly astonishing that it’s only been a week since the election. As I write this, I’m about 90 minutes away from exactly a week since I got the biggest political shock of my life. People have compared it to 1992, but if there is a comparison, it’s that 1992 pales into almost insignificance next to the political earthquake that an exit poll at 10:00 pm threw at the British, politicians and public alike. You could see the utter shock on everyone’s faces, and you knew that it was mirrored on your own. Any doubts that the exit poll was accurate evaporated within a couple of hours and within a couple more, everyone was thinking the unthinkable: could it really happen? Could the Tories win a majority? Well, yeah, they could and they did. By then, Lib Dem Cabinet Ministers losing their seats was almost expected, but when Douglas Alexander – the Shadow Foreign Secretary – lost his seat, one wondered where the rout would end. It ended with Ed Balls – the Shadow Chancellor for fuck’s sake – losing his seat. In one election, the Conservative Party and the SNP between them had decapitated the Labour Party, only one of the four shadowing the great offices of State would survive the following day: Yvette Cooper the Shadow Home Secretary.

As soon as it was clear that the Tories had won (and even had the exit poll been right and they were 10 seats short of a majority, they could say with some justification that they’d won) I knew we’d be saying goodbye to:

  • Miliband, who couldn’t stay having led his party to an election where Labour lost seats;
  • Clegg, who saw his party almost obliterated, and reduced to a rump; and
  • Farage, who’d said he’d resign if he didn’t win Thanet South.

And in a single shocking hour, just before noon on Friday, all three had gone. Just like that. I started wondering who would replace them.

For Labour, the obvious candidates for the leadership would be Cooper, Chukka Ummuna and Andy Burnham, but there’d likely be an unexpected candidate, someone more junior who fancied their chances. For the Lib Dems, obviously Tim Farron and Norman Lamb, the only two slightly-bigger-than-small beasts of the party who’d survived. But let’s be fair: they’re irrelevant for at least a decade now. And for UKIP? Well, probably Patrick O’Flynn and Paul Nuttall, possibly Suzanne Evans.

In the extraordinary few days that have passed since Thursday, we’ve seen it all. And every day, no matter how convinced you are that you’ve lost the ability to be surprised, something happens to make you reevaluate that certainty. As well as the Labour candidates above, two others, more junior have thrown their hats in the ring, And Liz Kendall got their first. I’m not sure how much chutzpah counts in leadership elections, but she seems to have it in spades. She’s definitely one to watch. Even if she doesn’t win, the mere courage in running must give her a reward with a senior shadow job. The Lib Dems? Yeah, well. It doesn’t do to dwell on them, or to intrude upon what is rapidly appearing to be a private grief.

And UKIP… well, if Liz Kendall has chutzpah, then Nigel Farage has it in such measure that you’re reminded of a man who murders his parents, then pleads for mercy from the court, as after all, he’s an orphan… His un-resignation – apparently at the urging of UKIP’s National Executive Committee – started a row inside the top echelons of the party that is running still, and every day someone else is briefing for Farage, or against him. Nasty, personal attacks are made as if they’re the first option instead of a last resort. Is Farage still leader? Well, it’s just after 9pm. He might be. He might not. He’s Schrödinger’s Leader at the moment, and everyone’s waiting to see whether he’ll take the poison.

And while those three parties conduct post mortems in public, David Cameron has a problem. And it’s being ignored at the moment, but it’s likely to be the biggest problem he faces in the first year of his new administration apart from preparations for the EU Referendum, which he’s sensibly delegated to George Osborne. Osborne has already alienated an enormous percentage of the British population. Time for him to expand his odious nature to Europe as well.  

The problem that Cameron has? His own party’s manifesto. I don’t know a single person who thinks that Cameron intended all of the manifesto to stand. Remember the Stone Lions I mentioned a few weeks ago? Well, Cameron had some in the manifesto. Of course he did; given that everyone – including top Tories – expected there to be some kind of negotiations post-election, he’d have been foolish not to. What they were I don’t know. It’s easy to guess, but that’s all they’d be: guesses. That hasn’t stopped some pundits suggesting the £12bn welfare cuts would have been cut to maybe £8bn in negotiation; that having emerged as the largest party, the proposed boundary changes could be put to one side again; that the repeal of the fox hunting ban could sit on the table forever. And don’t forget, blaming the coalition partners served everyone during the last parliament.

But he doesn’t have that option now. He’s got to attempt to put into practice all of his manifesto and I’m utterly convinced that there’s stuff in there that he doesn’t want to do. And he never thought he’d have to. It will be interesting to see what comes out over the next year; last time, opposition to some government policies came from his own backbenchers; this time it may come from inside Downing Street.

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