In no particular order:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 …)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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


10 thoughts on “Instant observations

  1. On bubble thinking, I think it’s possible that the bystander effect has been part of the problem here. The bubble paradoxically created the impression that everyone (who isn’t a partisan for the other parties) was going to vote Lib Dem because, within the blogo-twito-politico-bubble that was probably true. It’s just a really skewed sample. Since ‘everyone knew’ the Lib Dems were going to do awesomely well (predicting upwards of 100 seats was considered reasonable) there was no perceived need to a) go out and persuade more ‘normal’ people, b) do traditional campaigning, c) donate money. Evan Harris had a legion of Twitter followers by the end of the campaign, and he lost.

  2. Hard, surely, to put the Liberal Democrat surge down to bubble thinking, prevalent though that mentality undoubtedly is – the polls showed people were prepared to vote Lib Dem. They seem to have changed their mind at the last minute.

  3. Hi Ben

    I don’t mean the surge, but my own inability to see this outcome as a possbility – or to understand how some policy positions come across.

    wld be interested to see the Indie line on all this

  4. I just don’t see a Lib/Lab governement working today. A Lib/Lab with a substantial majority might have worked. Lib/Lab/Rag Tag & Bobbletail won’t. They will struggle on a daily basis to maintain a majority. The Tories will be running a successful guerilla campaign from the sides.

    What I think is going to happen is the Tories will form the next administration. The liberals agree not to prevent this in exchange for no gerrymandering. In the meantime, Labour can ditch Brown and get the party on board for PR for the future.

    The Tories will then be struggling to work the organs of govt without a majority. The LDs and Labour can then pick their moment to bring them down on a suitable issue of principle. By then the Tories will have made plenty of enemies and at least they will have dropped a few clangers.

    Following the next election in, maybe 18 months, the Lds and Labour can bring in PR without a referendum because it will be in both their manifestoes.

    Game over for the far right.


    In brief, the party with the good-looking and telegenic leader (who had clearly won the tripartite leadership debates if anyone did), which also has the most plausible and popular candidate for chancellor of the exchequer (roughly like the US secretary of the treasury), came out with an absurdly small number of seats in the legislature. The tired party that currently controls the government and has the constitutional right to propose to form the new government now has not got enough seats to come anywhere near a majority. If it teamed up with the telegenic party the combination would have more seats than the largest party, but still not an absolute majority of all the seats. The large party, with the most seats, which has a tradition of resisting change but ran on a platform of demanding it, is nowhere near having a majority of the legislature either. It actually lost votes in Scotland, where it holds only one seat.

  6. I found this post a refreshingly honest self-assessment. I think you’ve made some big wrong calls on the economy and on Lib Dem immigration policy proposals.

    On the economy, if you are not yet starting to change your view r.e. the timing of fiscal retrenchment, to move closer to the Tories’ position, then I suspect you will soon.

    On inflation you’ve bought the line of the Bank of England – an organisation that has the strongest imaginable incentive at the current time to engineer a moderate surprise inflation.

    On Lib Dem immigration policy, you supported a proposal that has ended up sacrificing the promise of electoral reform on the altar of fairness to illegal immigrants. Good liberal policy that may be, but it’s atrocious strategy. But I reckon the nonsensical regional work permits idea could have been even more of a killer, as it managed to make the Lib Dems look shifty – hiding a pro-immigration agenda behind a bizarre, clearly unworkable proposal that purported to be about the opposite. The Lib Dems can keep on trying to fight what they consider to be the good fight in this policy area but they will keep hitting up against public opinion.

    1. AJ, whatever the arguments about the economy and inflation, I doubt they are much to do with the late switch from Lib Dems to Labour. yes, I have bought the line from the Bank but not sure I get your conspiracy theory view about surprise inflation. They don’t need votes …. curious to hear your theory.

      Let’s see on the fiscal position.

      1. Ok, I agree inflation isn’t an important part of the election story. But it’s an important part of our economic situation. I don’t have a conspiracy theory, just a view that the economic authorities have every incentive to engineer an unexpected inflation and that they face hugely assymetric incentives around the 2% target. So it doesn’t surprise me that the Governor is writing a monthly letter to the Chancellor and the Chancellor doesn’t seem to care about this any more. To be clear, I’m not saying the authorities are wrong to be doing this. I understand that govt bond yields are currently low but you will forgive me if I’m not bought into the rationality of the bond markets. (What was the news that made Greece kick off that wasn’t available when Buiter was blogging about what is now happening the best part of 2 years ago?)

        On the fiscal position, let’s see what happens. The most important bubble we’ve been in is that of the pre-election blackout on discussing the deficit, for which I blame Labour.

  7. But ‘bubble thinking’ can’t magic the vote share to 28-32%, which is what all the polls until the last few days had. Clearly a) there was a swing away in the las few days, but surely also b) the polls were rubbish?

    1. True. That is the mystery. Why were consecutive samples of 1000 people when asked about voting intention so different from the actual poll? I don’t know whether agonising about it makes much sense but I can’t help

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