The 2015 election result increases the chances that Britain may repeat its rejection of the continental model in 2017 and leave the European Union in the referendum which Cameron has promised to hold.
David Cameron’s triumphant re-election as Britain’s Prime Minister, this time at the head of a one-party government, was a defeat for three groups of people. One the least important - consists of the opinion pollsters who unanimously predicted that no political party would gain enough seats to form a government without the need to ally with other parties. Rarely have so many pollsters been so wrong.
The second group of losers are the Liberal Democrats. They were Cameron’s coalition partner in the last government but they have been almost wiped out, punished for breaking so many of the pre-election promises they made in 2010 and no longer being able to appeal to people who wanted a protest vote against the government.
The third defeated group is the Labour Party, which had expected to come out at the head of a victorious anti-Conservative majority, taking as their allies the Scottish National Party, which has swept the board in Scotland.
Fear was the dominant factor in Cameron’s victory, stoked by relentless propaganda in the Conservative newspapers, whose millionaire owners mainly live abroad or in tax havens outside the United Kingdom. British television channels are obliged to be fair and impartial, but newspapers are free to take stands and those with at least two-thirds of the national readership have for months been raising scares that a Labour victory with Scottish Nationalist support would bankrupt the economy and destroy the United Kingdom.
Labour’s defeat is stark. Its dismal performance in Parliament over the last five years of opposition and its feeble electoral campaign highlighted its failure to confront the Tory myth that Britain’s economic difficulties were caused by Labour mismanagement during the Gordon Brown years when the truth is that it was the global banking system, which collapsed in 2008. Nor was Labour bold enough to confront the Conservative claim to have successfully brought about an economic recovery over the last five years. Labour allowed the Tories to win the “economic competence” argument. Instead of attacking the Tory record, they limited their attack on Cameron’s austerity policies to claims that the pain was being distributed unfairly in favour of the rich and at the expense of the less well off.
They should have pointed out that Cameron has only succeeded in halving the deficit when his original promise in 2010 was to eliminate it by 2015. Manufacturing is still below pre-recession levels. The recovery is the slowest for a century. Living standards have gone down over the last five years. Yet Labour was not sufficiently energetic in making the progressive social-democratic case that the country needs investment for growth rather than the levels of government spending cuts that the Conservatives are making.
By contrast, the Scottish Nationalists did make that case, which is one reason why they performed so well in the election against Labour in Scotland. Whatever their views on independence, many Scottish progressives felt the SNP would be better than Labour in producing a growing economy without austerity. Even in England, there was a small swing from the Conservatives to Labour in working-class areas.
But it was not enough to stem the tide of change in middle-class areas from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives. Scared of a possible Labour government they thought it was safer to go for a one-party government than to preserve the two-party alliance of the last five years.
After all the predictions from commentators that Britain would become like “continental Europe” in being forced to have coalition governments, the electorate has returned to the binary system it knows so well. Worse still, the 2015 election result increases the chances that Britain may repeat its rejection of the continental model in 2017 and leave the European Union in the referendum which Cameron has promised to hold.