I wrote about the events of last Thursday for the Register yesterday. Or more precisely, they asked me to produce what seems now to be becoming a quinquennial tradition, in which Jane explains to the psephologically challenged how the electoral system works, and why the polls got it wrong.
It starts with familiar territory. Basic stats. Margin of error. The challenges facing smaller parties under first past the post. Then the “shy Tory”, a source of some difficulty for pollsters since around 1992 and this time, it seemed to me, a tendency not sufficiently identified and drawn out by the polling organisations.
I call it the “let’s give Clegg a kicking” factor.
The voter’s revenge
Yeah, yeah. We all know the LibDems lost support. Their vote dropped from 23% to 8%. Which is why they did so badly.
But that, i think, misses the point. I shall await detailed analysis: still I believe Clegg kicking (or more broadly, LibDem kicking) goes well beyond a loss of support, into something more active, more deadly for the LibDems this time round.
For it was the fury, the vindictiveness of the lover scorned: a desire among sections of the electorate – often those most naturally allied to the Liberal cause – to make a point. Although being British, they waited until they were alone and in the seclusion of the voting booth before they did so.
And what better way to show your anger than to vote AGAINST. That is, not just NOT to vote for your heart’s desire, but to use your vote to deflate your local LibDem candidate, thereby transforming those local strengths, that the LibDems were so fond of boasting, into their Achilles’ heel. Which explains why the discrepancy between seat outcomes based on a strict reading of the percentages – and the result based on constituency by vengeful constituency.
Guilty pleasure indeed! But also unforeseen consequences. For the electoral system is badly calibrated for delivering the sort of bloody nose that i suspect the electors would have liked. More blunderbuss than sniper’s rifle.
The desire to humiliate Nick, take him and those Lying Dems down a peg or two, would probably have been achieved by halving their parliamentary tally.
Unfortunately, from a voter perspective, elections are conducted under conditions of information asymmetry. So instead of jettisoning a couple of dozen MP’s no-one had much heard of, the big beasts went as well. Cable. Hughes. Featherstone. Davey. Swinson.
What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom?
Not so much putting your ex’s prized parakeet up on EBay while they’re holidaying with their new amour, as turning a regular divorce into an asset-devouring legal spectacle from which both sides emerge significantly poorer.
Sadly, the electorate has done this before. The first real Clegg-kicking took place during the AV referendum. Forgive, please, a certain perverse self-righteous cynical despair as i read now how a clear majority of the electorate wish we had some sort of proportional system. Yes: of course i know AV is not strictly proportional. But you had your chance and thoughtlessly, stroppily put your “x” against keeping the system we have now. The one that returned the result you didn’t really want last week.
Because i don’t think the result was exactly the one the voters wanted: and nor do i think it anti-democratic to say as much. In a system where a shift of just 12,000 or so votes (out of a total cast of 30 million) meant the difference between a Tory Government and not a Tory Government, Cameron’s claim to have a mandate to ram through whatever socially divisive measures are even now hatching in Cabinet is non-existent.
It is with equal sadness that i suspect that the inevitable regrets began to set in the morning after. Here i will stick my neck out, but i will make two predictions for the short term:
The UKIP party is over. It might not look it, on the ground: but their raison d’etre is now fatally holed. Referendum on Europe? Tick. Lower immigration. Tick. Sort of. Because the referendum campaign will be a proxy debate on this and whatever the outcome, for good or ill, it will settle the present immigration discomfort for years to come.
Give it a month, but the LibDems will be back far more swiftly than anyone expects. Look to them overtaking UKIP in the polls in a month or so. Councillors, like so many migrating birds, beginning to land on our shores once more next year – and the inevitable by-election juggernaut getting back into gear in 2016.
…and the long road back
It will be a hard road to travel, but for those of us who were with the Liberal party through the 70’s, nothing we haven’t seen before. Perhaps i am reading this wrong, but by Saturday it felt as though a fair proportion of the electorate were feeling thoroughly ashamed by what they had done.
The boil of Clegg-kicking may not have subsided entirely, but much of the fever is gone already.