Last Saturday in Berkhamsted market treasury minister David Gauke, my local Tory MP now safely re-elected, told me five days before polling day, that the Conservatives would be returned with a small working majority.
At that time people said to me” he would say that, wouldn’t he? ” but Gauke had picked up, presumably from constituency returns, that the Liberal Democrats were doing badly. As the main challengers to the Tories in Herts South West he might take an interest even though his seat is one of the safest in the country. And he would know that many Liberal Democrat seats were vulnerable to the Tories and that Labour had more or less had it in Scotland.
As it turns out whether he had a crystal ball or not he was right – even though the opinion polls said the result was too close to call. Yet they all showed that a lot of people were still undecided.
What appears to have happened is that enough undecided people on the way to the polling station appear to have bought the idea that they had to keep the government in power to ensure that the “recovery ” continued and probably thought ” I am just about OK” not to risk a change. A substantial minority – the UKIP vote – were so disillusioned about Westminster politics – that they were happy to vote for them and damn the consequences. And it seems quite a number were ex Labour rather than Tory voters. and certainly that applied in Scotland where Labour seemed to have lost the plot.
Labour had offered the hope of a fairer society, more support for the NHS, and some controls on vested interests like private landlords and energy companies. Both Labour and the Tories said there would be more unspecified cuts while the Tories promised to legislate to stop tax rises. But I suspect that people did not want to risk it because of these uncertain times.
I suspect many people think these “cuts”won’t affect them – only welfare scroungers and immigrants. I think they will be in for a very big shock because there is no way the books can be balanced without much wider reductions if not removal of services. Local government, social care, benefits for disabled people, all are likely to be hit and there is no need now for a government in power for the next five years to bother with higher pay rises for public sector workers. There will also be a bonanza for private firms to take over the rest of the work of the state and fraught referendum on Europe and a resentful relationship between England and Scotland.
Labour will have to do some new thinking on how it is going to offer a vision to attract people to vote for them – or be squeezed between UKIP and the Greens. Otherwise the prospects for 2020 will be even worse than now after the new more equal constituency boundaries come into play and reduce their Parliamentary representation even further.
There is a very bumpy road ahead for this government with a small majority and a controversial manifesto to implement but an equally bumpy road for all opposition parties as a result of today’s shock result.