UK Election proves England is a centre-right country

“UK Election: What the hell?” was Jason O’Mahony’s blog title on Friday and I can well understand why. Absolutely no one, except my mother, saw that result coming. How did it come about?

In fact, it was all to do with the remarkable decline of the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative/Liberal coalition had a majority of 78, and it stood to reason that if the Liberal Democrats began to lose serious numbers of seats to the Conservatives (i.e. seats which already contributed to the parliamentary majority), the Conservatives would themselves then stand a chance of forming that majority alone. Most polls suggested, however, they would lose only a handful of their 57 pre-existing seats to their coalition partners (and a by-election told the same story), making this largely irrelevant.

Only they did not lose a handful. They lost 27. That alone gave the Conservatives a working majority, and from there it was only a matter of trying to hold on to the ground they had.

That was not supposed to be easy, however – Lord Ashcroft’s constituency polls suggested they would lose a net 41 seats directly to Labour.

In the event, they lost just two (net) plus one more to UKIP.

It is, therefore, a relatively simple story of how the Conservatives turned a similar vote share (up just under a percentage point) into an overall majority, regardless of Scotland. This was mostly to do with Conservatives voting the same way they did last time, plus a breakdown in the Liberal Democrat vote causing a split which enabled Liberal seats to be gained easily where the Conservatives were the main challengers.

The fundamental point to all of this is that, in times of possible difficulty and even fear, voters’ emotional response is always to shift to the right for protection. As this is predominantly an emotional response, many sympathetic to the left simply discount it as possible – leaving them exasperated when the results come in. That is to leave quite aside the discussion that Labour “can only win from the centre ground” – which is another way of saying that Labour, and left-leaning people in general, need to come to terms with the fact England as a whole is positioned further to the right than they care to admit.

I am still astonished, though, at how the pollsters got it so remarkably wrong and thus led us all down a different narrative. We’ll come back to that!

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7 thoughts on “UK Election proves England is a centre-right country

  1. 416 says:

    There’s a saying in my business: “I’ll believe it when I’m on the plane.” All the talk prior to an event means little.

  2. andyboal says:

    I was partially right, but I missed the natural conclusion of what I observed.

    I correctly predicted that UKIP would get very few seats, for the same reasons as the Lib Dems in the 1980s. Firstly, their support was too thinly spread. Secondly, it’s observable that while smaller parties benefit from protest votes and heart votes at local and European elections, the electorate gravitate to the big two in general elections – or the big one in Scotland this time round.

    I was expecting Labour to pick up a lot more of the Lib Dem seats due to people being fed up voting Lib Dem and getting the Tories. I read that wrong.

    The problem for this left-leaning but distinctly third way commentator (as I see it, greed ensures that neither capitalism nor socialism works) is that the proposed reduction in MPs will favour the Tories due to how the new boundaries will be drawn, which to me suggests but cannot quite prove gerrymandering.

  3. andyboal says:

    Mind you, I’ll take 10/10 for predicting that the DUP could whistle for their demands on flegs, parades and extra cash for NI – even had they been required for confidence and supply, there would have been weaselling out and hand-wringing (can’t overrule the Queen as it’s her people’s guidance on flags, the Parades Commission’s replacement still won’t let them past the Ardoyne shops without talking to residents, and any extra cash would have been more loans to spend money on interest payments!)

  4. William Allen says:

    You are quite correct in saying that basically England is centre right in its heart. This is somewhat obscured by the left wing bias in the BBC. Labour went to far to the left and lost. I don’t see Labour as the party of the working person. The problem for the Liberal Party is that I think very few people have any idea what they stand for.

  5. I think there are three factors involved

    1. Conservatives painted themselves as more Liberal Democrat like anyway removing the deterrent “the heart”, Labour didn’t encroach on much Lib-Dem territory “the brain”.

    Compassionate Conservative spin did better than the Economic Labourite spin.

    2. Conservatives became the least worst option for its right wing and Labour for its left wing.

    3. People forget what the Liberal Democrats stand for these days and won’t fight for its values.

  6. Scots Anorak says:

    One or two contradictions there: “England is a centre-right country” vs. “voters’ emotional response is always to shift to the right for protection”; and “many sympathetic to the left simply discount it as possible” vs. “the pollsters got it so remarkably wrong”. Probably all true to some extent, however.

    One could add the point that the oligarch-owned right-wing press proved its influence once again, and just as those of us who had witnessed the power of social media in Scotland were writing it off. That was helped by another truth: England can be quite an insular place. It would simply have been impossible to spin the SNP as loony-left to anyone actually familiar with Scottish politics, for which reason the Tory tactic had, if anything, the effect of increasing the SNP’s traction in Scotland. Ditto the appeal of UKIP, similarly drummed up by xenophobic newspapers.

    Ironically, of course, the same people who threatened Scotland with expulsion from the EU are now bent on taking it out anyway. And, as I learnt today, those who went all melodramatic at the thought of losing the BBC may even wish to end the licence fee and privatise it.

    It’s a funny old world.

    • Yes, the point is than England’s natural “centre-rightness” was compounded by the fear factor – the net effect of which was to transfer protest votes from centre (Liberal) to right (UKIP).

      The EU/BBC issue was always going to twirl as it has!

      (That all assumes, of course, that “right” and “left” have any real meaning now…)

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