The campaign meant nothing

The Conservative campaign was a classic dog whistle campaign and it delivered, says Daran Hill.

With all the votes counted in Wales, the results have been shown to be way more dramatic than anyone expected. For Wales we look at a map that is more changed than anyone predicted. But as an occasional pundit I don’t feel too downcast though because quite frankly everyone predicted this one wrongly, from Lord Ashcroft with his seat polls through to the national polls in every newspaper. It was only the BBC exit poll which was, as in 2010, close to the mark.

Why was there such a chasm between prediction and reality? That is a question that will trouble or challenge analysts for some time to come. But maybe there is a grain in the truth of the politics of gut feeling. When this election was called my own feel was that this was not a government heading out of office. I also believed firmly that, like 1992, when voters got to the ballot box and faced a choice of Prime Minister between Cameron and Miliband that the latter would prevail. But somehow everything else seemed to challenge my instinct and, like a fool, I allowed noise and colour to cloud my judgement on what would happen.

The noise was diverse. It came from Plaid trumpeting yet again they would win in Llanelli or Ynys Mon, in exactly the same way they did in 2005. It came from their shrill tweeting which did make twitter seem their own domain. It came from reports of UKIP stealth assassinating Conservatives. It came from the more subtle noise of the Lib Dems emphasising they still had a viable role to play in stopping the country lurching from one side to the next.

And the colour element came from Labour who were at least more interesting and credible than I had expected. Where the Conservative campaign was dull and repetitive, Labour at least tried to be challenging, producing giant stones and a sense of self belief they had lacked for years. It was as if they had surprised themselves with their own campaign. And they kept surprising themselves right until the end. Certainly, Labour did not believe what they saw when the exit poll was produced last night. It just didn’t compute with the “reality” of what they had found on the doorstep.

But perhaps the truth of the matter is this: that this was a campaign which was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Every report you read, every prediction you considered, every column obsessing about a hung parliament, they were all off the mark.

Indeed, they were all as superfluous as the pointless “opposition leaders” debate where four of the five participants held just 12 seats in the House of Commons. Excepting the SNP, none of the others have even managed to increase their MP numbers after a campaign in which the coverage was hugely disproportionately favourable to them. That debate will perhaps stand as a visual metaphor for the sheer distraction of a campaign which was reported so inaccurately in most parts of the UK.

Because quite frankly the dull, predictable Conservative campaign was the one that struck the right note. It was a classic dog whistle campaign and it delivered.

Ironically, not even the Conservatives predicted how well they were likely to poll, and that stands true in Wales as much as it does in England. The eleven MPs the Welsh Conservatives have today is a phenomenal achievement. Maybe it will get many of those who look at politics in Wales never to see it in quite the same way again. Many are too ready to believe Wales is a socialist country through and through, be that continuous Labour majorities in most constituencies, or the ubiquitous anti austerity rhetoric of Leanne Wood throughout the campaign.

All too often it is suggested by other parties that it is Wales against the Tories. Perhaps, after the second General Election in a row where the Conservatives were the biggest gainers in Wales, such a view will be more openly challenged.

Because every analyst and every party in Wales needs to sit back and think hard about what and why the Conservatives have managed to do in Wales in the last twenty four hours. And that includes the Welsh Conservatives themselves.

Daran Hill is Managing Director of Positif

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