In no particular order:
- I am not going to commentate on what the LibDems should do. I have no idea. It seems clear that LD + Lab does not constitute a working majority. But they may well have more combined than the Conservatives, and certainly do in popular vote share. This is difficult.
- If the Clegg surge had not happened, what would people think? Lib Dems increased their vote share on 2005, which was an Iraq-war dominated Lib Dem vote. They averaged 18.7% in March, and have finished with almost 23% in May. It is easy to forget where they were for most of 2005-10 – below 20%, and in perilous difficulties by mid 2007. And from August 2006 to May 2009 they never once polled above 23 (then in April and May they managed to 60 times …)
- Given the sneaky feeling we all have (backed by some evidence) that polls always understate Conservative votes, most of us will have expected the pre-campaign standings of the Conservatives of 37-39% to turn into ~40%, and a majority. The Clegg surge effectively removed that.
- The really surprising thing about the night for me is the success of Labour. In seat after seat they either held off Conservative surges or – way more surprising – managed to fight off the Lib Dems. I won’t list again the sorry number of targets (see my LiveBlog) that the LibDems thought would come their way. How did they do it? The Labour Party stole the Lib Dems surge. The only rational answer is that Clegg should have abused more pensioners, more often.
- Yes, the LibDems were also badly mugged in some southern Conservative seats. I have no idea why. For all my trying, I am no psephologist, and an indifferent party member. I need to wait for the books to come out.
- More seriously, from my own point of view it shows the uselessness of bubble thinking. Several kinds of bubble. One that mostly reads liberal and left papers (The FT, The Guardian) and their media. Another that misjudges the mood on the day because knocking up involves meeting lots of likely Lib Dem voters on a sunny day. And being in the Westminster bubble doesn’t help. If a scary caricature of the ‘amnesty’ policy is what drove people from the LibDems in winnable Labour seats, how would I be able to tell from the dialogue within the bubble with liberal, thoughtful types? It doesn’t mean the policy is wrong, but that judging its impact is very difficult for a wonk.
- Despite this sentiment seeming appropriate from Rentoul, it is hard to imagine Cameron bursting open the champagne right now. They faced a comically unsellable Labour leader, who had presided over a massive recession and huge increase in the deficit, who bullies secretaries and abuses pensioners, and was widely loathed. At one point they had >45% of the polling intentions, regularly. They had FAR more money to throw at the campaign, and after 13 years could not be blamed for any stuff going wrong. Their leader is rated one of the best speakers around, including by me*. And yet they get 36-37% of the vote, and have to agonize while Labour thinkers contort themselves over forming a coalition, or others think aloud about changing the voting system forever.
- That said, the country seems to have taken a turn to the right. It can’t be denied. Throw in UKIP and BNP, and right-wingers have gained 9 percent in the last five years. After polling within 5-8 points of the LibDems throughout April, the Conservatives beat them by 13%. Change, for many people, means swinging the ***ing pendulum a lont way right. Bearing this in mind, I think people within the Left-Bubble should be very careful about making boastful or pious comments about commanding a majority of sentiment in this country. Not all LibDems are as far to the Left as Labour. Taking this line in too brash a manner may well grate on the public’s ears.
I personally need to take a resolution to read more widely. I ought to start with the Times and this leader. A small cloud on the economic horizon has morphed into something massive and steaming – and global. If we get a second dip, what on earth do we do? The only silver lining is that I may win my deflation bet with Guido …
Oh, and I would like to add: I am utterly in awe of those incredible people – of all parties – who put themselves through the agony of fighting for competitive seats and having it come down to a night like this. I for one have a higher opinion of MPs as a class than I did before.
*a very coveted acolade