UEA’s experts respond to the 2015 General Election result and what it means for the next parliament. Do you agree? Add your comments below.
The 2015 Election Campaign
Alan Finlayson on the speeches and arguments made in the campaign:
‘The rhetoric – the speeches and arguments – of the General Election campaign was poor. The mainstream parties (with the willing complicity of the newspapers) stirred up fear and suspicion by telling us stories that reached deep into our cultural unconscious – fairy-tales of fratricidal brothers, mendacious toffs, evil foreigners, debtors and creditors, greedy scots and weak-kneed Englishmen). And the party leaders never gave any real speeches – doing their best to stay away from the public whose tendency to ask the right questions and to press where it hurts, was kept under wraps except for a few sparks in the final ‘Question Time’ of the campaign. The Prime Minister didn’t want to debate his rival candidates let alone face his unloving party or an unruly people. With the Conservatives now in power we will soon have another issue to decide – the very important one of our commitment to the European Union. I am supposed to say that we must hope for a better debate or wait and see if fear and fairy-tale will dominate once again. But we don’t have to wait and there is little hope. It’s going to be awful’.
Lawrence Hardy on the conduct of the campaign:
‘The election campaign was the most boring for over 50 years in my opinion. The general public were not let anywhere near Party leaders and the press conferences, TV appearances and debates were mostly so stage managed that it brought British democracy into disrepute.’
The Media and the Election
John Street on the media influence in the campaign:
‘This close to the election it would be rash to say much about the precise impact of Russell Brand or the media more generally. But the evidence for such effects – felt over time, rather than in the campaign itself – is growing. It suggests that, at the margins, the press in particular play a significant role in how votes are cast. And while such claims are still disputed, the belief in media influence continues to drive the parties’ communication strategies, and will shape the approach taken to BBC Charter renewal in 2016.’
Maria Kyriakidou on the role of the media in the campaign, and the media’s future:
‘The Sun may have spared us the 1992 pompous headline that ‘It’s the Sun that wot won’ these elections but if any of the other blatantly pro-Tory media, such as the Mail, the Times or the Telegraph would choose a similar one to describe the electoral results, it wouldn’t have been very far from the truth. From headlines such as Daily Mail’s ‘Keep Red Ed Out’ and The Sun’s ‘Save Our Bacon’, to Paxman’s ‘Are you alright, Ed?’, Ed Miliband has been subjected to a vicious campaign by conservative media aimed at constructing him as an uncharismatic politician, who is just ‘not cut out for the job’. On the one hand, this is embedded within a broader context of personalisation of politics brought up by the increasing mediatisation of the field to the point that distinctions between politicians and celebrities have become blurry; one has to have the dance moves of John Travolta or eat a bacon sandwich with the charm of a Walt Disney prince to be seen as a capable political leader. On the other hand, Labour has had a clear agenda concerning the media and had committed to implement the recommendations of the Leveson enquiry, which would have struck a blow to media monopolies and corruption. In sharp contrast, just a few days after the elections, the new Tory government has started discussions of decriminalising the BBC’s license fee. Rupert Murdoch is gleefully rubbing his hands somewhere.’
The Electoral System
Toby James on the electoral system:
‘The election results reveals, among many other things, the injustices of the electoral system. It was one of the most disproportional results in UK history in terms of the seats in parliament that parties received in return for their votes. UKIP, the Greens and The Liberal Democrats have cause to feel aggrieved as they won only 10 seats between them for a combined vote haul of 7.5 million. In contrast, Labour were rewarded 232 seats from 9.3 million; and the SNP won 56 seats from only 1.5 million votes. Yet ironically, electoral system reform could now never be further away. An outright Conservative victory means that we can expect them to keep the system that has served the party’s interests well throughout it’s history.’
Rupert Read on the electoral system:
‘My experience at this election was that more people than ever before (at least in the last couple of decades) were explicitly determined to vote for what they believed in (that is already an obvious fact from the very existence of 5-party-politics); but that also there was still enormous and sometimes unprecedented amounts of tactical voting going on, in marginal seats especially. The obvious injustice of the election-result above-all to Ukip, next to the Greens, and next to the LDs, thus even masks a deeper phenomenon: large numbers of people not voting for what they wanted. Thus there is a suppressed larger vote for Ukip, and a suppressed substantially-larger vote for the Greens, than the figures evince. Thus, when one’s thinking turns to the future-possibilities and changes contained in proportional representation, one needs to be open to those being more substantial and surprising even than is obvious from the bare figures of these stark election results. In other words: PR will change people’s voting behaviour, not merely produce a more proportional result given current voting behaviour. “Proportional representation seems a distant goal, given a majority Conservative Government. In my view, it is most likely to be achieved following potential electoral pacts in 2020, national or regional pacts that might be foreshadowed in pacts at a local level in the 2017 County Council elections.’
Cameron and the Conservative’ Policies in the next parliament
Alex Brown on David Cameron’s promises:
‘”Promises, promises” the electorate will now be saying to themselves − both the people who did and the people who did not vote for David Cameron’s Conservative Party. Cameron has promised not to raise VAT and income tax, not to cut child benefit, not to reduce spending on the NHS, and at the same time to significantly reduce the deficit. These undertakings stole a march on the Labour Party in the Election 2015 campaign. He has promised devolution max to all nations of the UK. An assurance which helped to empower the SNP and neuter the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland. He has promised an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union and renewed his commitment to reducing net migration to below 100,000 per annum. These pledges drew much of the sting from the Ukip challenge. But amongst the astonishing things about the Election 2015 victory is that Cameron has a track record of making and breaking such electoral promises. In 2007 Cameron offered a “cast-iron” guarantee of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. In the run up to the 2010 General Election he made a “no ifs, no buts” promise to reduce net migration to the tens of thousand and even told voters “If we don’t deliver… vote us out in five years’ time”. An entirely different fate has befallen the Liberal Democrats of course. The failure to keep a clear manifesto pledge on higher education tuition fees is a crime for which the British people could not pardon Nick Clegg.’
Elizabeth Cobbett on the role of cities in Britain’s economic strategy:
‘A Conservative majority will help maintain the City’s historical position as one of two leading international financial centres. The government will support London’s competitive edge through aggressive policies to expand its financial industries as the weight of financial markets shifts eastwards. National economic policies will be developed in line with these goals.’
Roger Baines on the development of foreign language skills in the government’s legislative agenda:
‘It is always difficult to get governments to fully appreciate the value of developing UK foreign language skills, despite the necessity of such skills in a globalized world where so much communication operates across linguistic and cultural barriers. The paucity of UK foreign language skills compared to other European countries has implications, for example, for security, diplomacy, health provision, the economy, and for the circulation of cultural products and the understanding of other cultures that exposure to such cultural products brings. The high volume of votes cast for parties with an anti-EU agenda bespeaks a political culture within which support for the value of UK foreign language skills, and investment in the translation and interpreting services which are critical for migrants, may now become even more difficult to ensure are prominent in government policy.’
Joanna Drugen on the impact on translation and research:
‘Translation and interpreting face important challenges in the UK in the next few years. The UK is an increasingly diverse, even ’superdiverse’, society, in which hundreds of languages are now spoken. How will public services such as the NHS and courts respond to growing demand for help to communicate across languages, and rising costs, in the new political climate? Language service provision is likely to come under increased public scrutiny during the referendum on EU membership too. For instance, EU Directive 2010/64/EU guarantees a right to interpreting/translation during the criminal justice process, paid for by the state. Those of us who want to study these developments also face challenges, because EU research funding will be at stake, and the UK has always been the biggest beneficiary of such funding. British researchers fear the impact of a Brexit, demonstrated by the immediate establishment of the Scientists for EU group to lobby in favour of staying in (http://scientistsforeu.uk). Tellingly, the group’s name reflects an EU mistranslation of the term ‘research’: instead of talking about research, the EU refers to ’science’ across all disciplines, arts and humanities included. It’s challenging to translate well, and the challenges are likely to grow significantly during the next five years.’
Terrorism, Nationalism and Immigration
Lee Jarvis on terrorism and extremism:
Only one week after the UK’s general election, and the new Conservative government has already signalled its determination to continue with the introduction of new powers to confront (non-violent) extremism. This will likely have profound implications for civil liberties and the exercise and experience of citizenship more broadly, despite the popularity of underpinning appeals to some mythic set of essentialised and unchanging ‘British values’ amongst some publics. Just as the concept of ‘radicalisation’ should ring alarm bells given its scant evidence base and selective application, so we should be wary of arguments about ‘extremism’ as if this were an objective, identifiable position. That these powers will likely have no impact on behaviours and violences linked to terrorism is but one further reason to question their necessity (and not the most important reason, either). As Shami Chakrabarti argued in her recent evidence to the Home Office Affairs Committee: “there is always this idea that legislation will help and often it doesn’t. Sometimes, it makes things worse”.
Alexandria Innes on immigration policy:
The results of the election are incredibly disappointing with regard to the potential changes for immigration policy. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of the last government implemented some of the most restrictive immigration policies the country has ever seen, particularly targeting family migration and making it impossible for anyone earning below the threshold of £18,600 per year to marry to live with a non-EEA spouse in the UK. Under the new Conservative government this is only likely to get worse. For humanitarian migration, the Conservatives have a policy that refugees should be confined to the region of origin – something that often traps people in refugee camps for decades. Britain has resettled a shamefully low number of Syrian refugees (only 143 to date, compared to about 13,000 in Germany, which has pledged a total of 30,000 places). Teresa May is also refusing to act with Europe on the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, preferring a policy of destroying boats (and likely crippling local fishing economies thus making the problem worse) to a policy that would accept asylum applications or one that would pledge a given number of resettlement places (not to mention that the policy to destroy boats is disturbingly similar to former BNP leader Nick Griffin’s proposal to deal with the same problem in 2009). One has to ask how we have arrived at mainstream immigration policies that would be likely to have full approval from the extreme right.
Michael Skey on nationalism and political identity in the next parliament:
‘The election means that the two unions will continue to dominate political debates for the next five years. The question of the UK’s place within the EU will remain a key battleground both within the Tory party and across the country as a whole. The result will be close-run and may largely depend on how the referendum is worded and reported by a generally hostile British press. The other union will be increasingly threatened by growing antipathy among the English, rather than demands from north of the border. This will have a profound impact on those living in England, notably ethnic minorities who continue to view themselves as primarily British. The prospect of further political fragmentation will be mirrored by increasingly strident struggles over culture and belonging as austerity continues to bite.’
Britain, Europe and the EU Referendum
Giulio Pagani on the EU referendum:
‘If the 2015 election was, as some argue, the UK’s most significant electoral event since the 1970s in terms of its capacity to steer the country in a new direction, then this effect is compounded by having put us on the path to a potentially even more critical electoral moment – the EU membership referendum in, or before, 2017. The arguments around whether we gain by staying or by leaving are more complex and multi-faceted than the current public debate suggests. The best reasons for staying might not always be the ones that you think, and the best reasons for leaving might be equally surprising. There will, no doubt, be many twists and turns in the debate on the way. In order to make a decision of such importance, it is vital that the electorate is not too dizzied by the debate over the course of the next 18 months or so, and instead has been given a clear view of the issues from firm ground. Only then could we be certain that, whichever way the result goes, it is a sound one.’
Nick Wright on the EU referendum:
‘The ‘Phoney War’ over Britain’s EU membership is now officially over. We will have a referendum by the end of 2017 at the latest and potentially next year. The big questions, therefore, are what exactly are the terms of David Cameron’s renegotiation and how will he be able to balance this with the demands of his backbenchers? There seems to be a willingness amongst his European partners to at least discuss Britain’s needs, but will compromises in Brussels ever be enough to satisfy a deeply Eurosceptic Tory party? Cameron needs some kind of eye-catching, Rebate-esque success – but the nature of Brussels negotiations means such things are rarely produced. This will likely be the defining issue of Cameron’s premiership. Iraq ‘broke’ Blair. The vote on Europe, with its potential to result in Scottish secession if Holyrood in turn rejects a ‘no-to-membership’ result, could break Cameron and potentially his party.’
Vassiliki Koutrakou on the Future for Britain and Europe:
‘It’s the day after and none of us can claim to have predicted the elections outcome.
From the moment signs of economic recovery became apparent in economic surveys over the past year, a CON win was the obvious bet to risk losing. The collateral damage becoming a side-issue in the eyes of the traditionally conservative – with a small ‘c’- British electorate, the Coalition’s particular brand of austerity policy was perceived as, reluctantly perhaps, the right course to steer the country to recovery. A lack-lustre opposition, offering feeble policy alternatives and an unappealing, uncommanding leader, was never going to convince. Britain votes, above all else, for “the economy stupid”, a safe pair of hands and the status quo, and if the incumbent appears to be half-reasonably offering these, little can unseat him/her. If all blame for the bad things can be attributed, however wrongly, to the whipping boy lesser part of the coalition and wash hands of it, so much the better. And so we have an – unbelievably – self-standing new Conservative government enthroned, a brutally savaged LibDem centre cast out into the political wilderness, a summarily rejected Labour left, and an astounding SNP avalanche wipe-out of the Scottish political scene, with their MPs in Westminster multiplying eight-fold and showing, more than ever, as a country within a country.
So what of Britain in Europe? Sure, David Cameron now has the mandate for the renegotiation with Brussels and an EU in-out referendum he advocated. With UKIP and Farage bolstered but ultimately beaten and less able to constantly snap at the government’s heels as much as they’d hoped, if the new government manages to control back-bencher insurgence, it can legitimately assert itself more convincingly in Europe. The hole is that its concerns can then be considered more favourably and it may secure renegotiation on some issues, which may in fact put to rest some long-unresolved disputes in a mutually satisfactory manner, and one which may also appease festering domestic anxieties and lead the way to a successful outcome in the EU referendum which everyone but UKIP wishes for. After all, a strong Britain in a strong Europe is in everyone’s benefit. So disappointments and recriminations aside, now is the moment to look to the future’.