As the dust settles on the most fascinating election for decades, there are two party leaders celebrating and three party leaders who have had to stand down.
The Conservatives are the conventional victors with an unexpected majority at the expense of their old enemy, Labour. The Scottish National Party, fresh from an unsuccessful campaign for independence from the United Kingdom, also stole some support from Labour as well as the Liberal Democrats.
Let’s run through the predicaments each party is in, and the paths they need to tread:
With the resignation of Ed Miliband as party leader, the intriguing successor in many minds might be his brother David. However, he hasn’t been a member of parliament for several years and it might be a tall order for his returning move to be Leader of the Opposition. Andy Burnham, a likeable character by all accounts, is the bookies’ favourite. Chuka Umunna, on the other hand, may be seen as something of a wild card; a rebranding that could be just what the party has been crying out for. New Labour in the mid-late 1990s was a breath of fresh air that buoyed the progressive left, indeed its association with Cool Britannia provided a feel good factor for the nation. Labour+ could win them the 2020 election.
Support for the Conservatives has become something of a guilty pleasure, with the loudest political voices coming from left-leaning enthusiasts and the Blue vote still apparently suffering from the grey days of John Major. David Cameron urgently needs to address the areas that incite his most vitriolic criticism. Fears around the NHS have been increasing for the last few governments, and Cameron needs to practically allay fears that he’s intent on ‘selling off’ the National Health Service. The next subject is zero hours contracts. These irregular employment arrangements may have made employment figures look handsome in recent years, but they are universally disliked; and employers need to be incentivised to invest in people.
The phrase “I agree with Nick” seems a distant memory, and it seems the work that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and co have done in the interests of national stability has not stopped the Lib Dems from losing their label as the 3rd party. The former Deputy Prime Minister’s resignation and the loss of 47 MPs means their wounds will be the most difficult to heal. Whilst Clegg still has his Sheffield Hallam seat, he will stand aside to allow a huge rebuilding process to begin. It could take two or three more elections before they claw their way back to 53 seats, not to mention the roles in government that will now be taken by their former coalition partners.
Nigel Farage didn’t win his precious seat in South Thanet and, though he said he’d never felt happier, one must assume he and his party feel a sense of injustice that almost 4m votes has given them just one seat in parliament. Farage’s resignation speech left a fair amount of ambiguity over who would be leading the party, and the return of such a charismatic figure would undoubtedly be welcomed in most circles. Any further debate about Alternative Voting and Proportional Representation would be backed by the periphery parties, and UKIP’s plight is the example many are citing when they demonstrate an outcome under PR.
Scottish National Party
The SNP used to be a one of those ‘other’ parties, and their currency really came to light in last year’s Scottish Independence Referendum. However (in)famous the party became under Alex Salmond’s nationalist agenda, it is no exaggeration to say that they became the UK’s de facto third party overnight. In contrast to the Lib Dems, who used to hold the ‘third party’ tag, SNP are now preparing for a massively different political existence as the dominant party in Scotland and a fresh significance in the context of the UK. Further devolution is inevitable, but whether the independence debate officially resurfaces is another matter.
Whether they realise it or not, the new government have a task on their hands which is akin to an election campaign. They need to address the dissenting voices and convince them that they really do have the best interests of the nation at heart. Prove that the poor (both deserving and undeserving) are being looked after, demonstrate a thriving economy and bring about real improvements in the NHS. Tough gig