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Out-takes and impressions

Simon Campion-Brown files from the war-zone

Still suffering from my debilitating bout of man-flu, I spent much of yesterday unable to muster much interest in life as it is lived by others, either abed or in my favourite television-watching armchair. This unpromising set-up actually enabled me to form some insights or opinions upon the extraordinary 2015 General Election result which had wrong-footed the pundits.

Armed with six months’ worth of polling results, they’d spent months doing their constitutional and other homework and were primed in a state of heightened readiness to cover a hung parliament.

When the result came in as a Tory majority win – albeit a slim one – they were caught between numbing disappointment at discovering that there was no question upon the major topic they’d most carefully in their finals exam paper and adrenalin-heavy excitement at the unexpectedness of the Tory victory and its ramifications, including the same-day resignations of Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

With pundits and electorate both having begun yesterday expecting weeks of speculation, chaos and and tension over who (if anyone) might form the UK government, we suddenly found Mr Cameron back in Number 10, his favoured heavyweight acolytes re-appointed to their roles, and somehow, as night drew in, a growing sense of “Oh – was that it?” …

From my deathbed situation in the front room, here are some impressions of yesterday as it unfolded:

Harriet Harman was the first Labour politician interviewed on the BBC’s Election 2015 after their ‘exit poll’ revelation. She stoutly maintained the line that ‘polls are notorious, let’s wait for the actual results’ but eventually, under pressure, appeared to suggest that anything short of a Tory majority win would be a technical defeat for Mr Cameron and open the opportunity for Labour plus others to try and form a government, even if Labour had 50 seats less than the Tories.

It was beginning to look like a Machiavellian plot, but then – once the result had come through and the analysis began – the Labour politicians interviewed were almost gracious in their acknowledgement of defeat, the scale of it (as the evidence emerged) and what needed to be done.

Within an hour or two, Andrew Neil had interviewed Baron (John) Reid of Cardowan, Alastair Campbell and Tristam Hunt – all of whom made the case that what was now needed was a significant period of Labour introspection and analysis of what had gone wrong in both 2010 and 2015. A knee-jerk appointment of a new leader and ‘more of the same’ would not revive Labour’s fortunes – that much was clear.

Whenever it is defeated, (the case was made that) Labour’s default position is to split between those who maintain the cause was that its manifesto was too leftist … or alternatively, not leftist enough. Reid spoke well about Labour needing to look beyond its core working class vote and reaching out to aspirational young people, to whom the old-fashioned 1970s ‘class warfare’ rhetoric still beloved by the unions was a turn-off.

This all seemed pretty sensible. Then again, from the same conversations I also came away with a separate, negative, impression.

Being brutal, having suffered a resounding defeat and acknowledged that their policies and message had failed to engaged the voters, Labour’s reaction had little to do with re-connecting with their core principles and beliefs.

Rather, their attitude was the more realistic but depressing ‘Our policies haven’t been attractive enough with voters – let’s work out some that are attractive (frankly, what they are is irrelevant) and adopt those next time’.

As regular readers will be aware, I am no fan of the Lib-Dems and so am delighted that they are left with only eight MPs. I found it irritating in the extreme that during the General Election campaign their totally unjustified status as one of the ‘supposed three main parties’ gave them publicity and exposure that far exceeded their worth. Every day the media dutifully reported what Cameron and Miliband – the only two leaders whom might become PM – were doing … and then, automatically, then also gave equal prominence to whatever Nick Clegg was up to, even if it was no more than opening an egg carton to an audience of five people and a three-legged goat.

Ridiculous! Hopefully we’ve now seen the back of such favouritism forever. Stand by for Clegg to re-emerge as an EU commissioner within 12 months and good riddance to him …

How to deal with the Scots?

I’d ditch the Barnett Formula immediately and work out a suitable base ‘grant per head’ that would apply to all parts of the UK – by this route maybe Wales and Northern Ireland might even advance on where they are now. But then I’d devolve sufficient powers north of the border to enable the Socialist Republic of Scotland to do what it likes (e.g. offer free university tuition, unlimited welfare to its core voters and so on) … just so long as they pay for any expense above the ‘grant per head’ by raising taxes direct from their own population.

Obviously, if they should max out their national credit card by borrowing on top of the taxes they’ve raised, Scotland should stand on its own. If Sturgeon wants to mortgage the family silver and saddle future generations of Scots with the bill – that would be fine by us English, but please don’t expect us to bail the Scots out when it all comes to grief. You makes your bed and you have to lie in it.

Apart from anything else, with power comes responsibility. I don’t think Sturgeon understands that. Like most people north of the border, I suspect that she may have to learn that lesson the hard way.

I don’t mind that. After all, the important thing is learning the lesson.

Whether you do that the easy way or the hard way doesn’t really matter.

About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts