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

34 thoughts on “The campaign meant nothing

  1. Plaid’s ‘shrill tweeting’ & ‘Labour providing the colour’, do give over!

  2. All credit to Welsh Conservatives – Crabb effect ? Surely the Conservatives won’t now waste too much energy on the Scottish Elections which means that all effort will be focussed on the Welsh Assembly elections. Hopefully the European referendum will have been dealt with by then. I suspect Welsh Labour will be in for a battering this time around.

  3. Random stream-of-consciousness thoughts typed when euphoric and light-headed after not going to bed last night: –

    The irony here is that Labour actually followed the right strategy, strengthening their base, while the Conservative strategy, neglecting their base in pursuit of an imaginary centre, was misguided.

    Yet the Conservatives won. This is due less to their strategy, because even they were surprised by how well they did, than to series of ‘mini-Sheffield moments’ – the childish Libya speech, the Brand summit, the ‘tombstone’ – that cemented public doubts about the Labour leader, especially doubts about his ability to deal with the rising power of the SNP.

    In the end, ‘it was the SNP wot won it’ …for the Conservatives.

    The people of both England and Wales remain at heart strongly Unionist, and the Conservatives were seen as the more effective defenders of the Union than Labour. The Conservatives now have the opportunity to build on that. Labour are not invulnerable in Wales and Plaid have failed to establish themselves as a Welsh SNP. If the Conservatives can come up with a positive agenda that emphasises their Unionism, their success on Thursday could be just the beginning of something even more unexpected. If…

  4. Who won? Cameron…or Sturgeon? They’ve both got what they wanted. With all bar nine seats declared Cameron looks set to avoid the Rose Garden and drive a coach and horses through all the stuff the “pesky” Lib Dems stopped him from trampling down. Having swept the board in Scotland Sturgeon has an unconstrained Conservative and Unionist Party (one seat in Scotland) to support her dream of further isolating Scotland from London. An exit from Europe would further her cause and Plaid may take heart from that.

    He will be breaking out the champagne, she the caviar. The rest of us should get used to short rations.

  5. Rise of Scottish and English nationalism in Scotland and England.
    Rise of British nationalism in Wales.

  6. I think the Conservative “win” was more by accident than design.

    Last week they pressed the panic button. They tried to scare the English that England was going to be ruled by Scotland. It’s all right the other way around of course.

    What they have done is move Scotland and England further apart. What will happen with the European Referendum now? If Cameron says that all the UK nations have to agree he feeds his right wingers plus UKIP. If he doesn’t he will face another Scottish Referendum with even more saying YES.

    As far ar the economy’s concerned it’s a similar story. If his cuts are harder without the Lib Dems and does more Spare Room type things that too may pull England closer and Scotland further away.

    All politics is nationalist and Conservative and Labour have been stridently English Colonial Nationalists in this election. But that is what they are. Nobody must be allowed to challenge England’s authority in their minds. It’s why the UK has been in decline since WW2 and will continue, overall, in that direction, Whatever Norbert Barage and his fellow travellers might think.

    Labour may have won by losing, don’t you think?

  7. If the Conservative campaign struck the right note, hammered home by their media allies, then the results in Scotland must be even more significant. How long will it be before a second referendum produces a vote for independence?
    Plaid Cymru has the task of ensuring that Wales keeps up. If that looks like a tough challenge today, it is worth recalling that the SNP has advanced from a position less favourable than Plaid’s in 1999 to where they are today.

  8. Without wishing to be ‘boastful’ I felt all along that the English/welsh electorate wouldn’t allow the SNP to dominate outside of Scotland,and that the welsh people weren’t really nationalist/socialist,but rather interested in basically the same things as ‘over the border’. The various appearances by Leanne Wood might have ‘gladden the heart’ of the nationalists,but to people I know and respect they were seen as ‘cringing’,and not reality at all.There is no doubt that BBC Wales has a ‘hard on’ for welsh national/socialism with its absolutely obsessiveness about all things ‘welsh’,whereas the vast majority of us are perfectly happy/content with our place in the English language world.The results of 2015 clearly show that PC is very relevant in small constituencies in welsh wales,i.e 3,whereas in the rest they are an irrelevance,and even worse face considerable ‘venom’ from vast majority of people.Why if the current devolution ‘settlement’ is so wonderful and worthy of additional powers/financing has not be parties who really support the venture,i.e PC/Llafur done so relatively badly,except outside their comfort zones. The ‘slotting’ in of a young Kinnock in Aberavon,is typical of an inward looking party and clearly reminds everyone of the ‘nepotism/cronyism of past years,and cannot have helped at the margins.The growth of UKIP votes in working class areas is no different from its performances in similar areas in England,so where is the supposed ‘love affair’ of the welsh people with the EEC,especially after all the money that WAG gets to spend on favoured projects.Clearly what people tell pollsters on a whole range of subjects need to be taken with a very large ‘pinch of salt’,particularly on all welsh matters,and inparticular the welsh language,and expenses incurred in protecting its status as a minority language,but of no importance at all to 90% of welsh people.If the Conservative Party in Wales was prepared to re-structure public services on a wide open and accessible manner they could bury the nationalist/socialist’s as they have no agenda to take us all forward in appositive manner.p.s. I wonder how long LW will survive as clearly to the welsh speaking elite who run PC she is ‘toast’.

  9. Horlicks as usual. What the result proved was for Wales see England. But how do you that through when so many commentators make a living out of arguing that some how Warles is different from England despite the fact that much of he empirical evidence that suggests that this is so much horlicks

  10. OH come on now JWR…”The people of both England and Wales remain at heart strongly Unionist, and the Conservatives were seen as the more effective defenders of the Union than Labour.”

    The conservatives have been falling over themselves to alienate the Scots and Welsh and are thoroughly determined to give unwanted powers to Wales at a drop of a hat. Their own supporters in Wales are totally against the devolution of income tax raising powers but that doesn’t stop Cameron from foisting them on us.

    The (as usual) completely ineffective Plaid who somehow managed to dominate the news on the BBC in Wales and ( once again as usual) the Western Mail have only one ally; a conservative party whose capacity for giving away the Union seems insatiable.

    The Tories ran a non stop scare story through their dominant press outlets coupled with a loathsome series of personal attacks on Ed Miliband. Now we look forward to completion of the Tory project, the demolition of the State in the name of fiscal prudence or, more correctly, the channelling of public funds into Tory supporters pockets and the selling off of just about everything at rock bottom prices.

  11. Mr Cameron is fairly likely to be the last PM of the UK. He will find it hard to placate the Scots because the SNP’s demands are insatiable and impractical within any kind of Union. He will find it hard to control his anti EU zealots who will force him into a referendum and make it impossible for a the Tory party to unite and campaign for a yes vote. Exit from the EU would give the SNP all the cover they need to call another independence referendum. I don’t know what the electorate thought or whether they cared but the only thing to preserve the Union was a Labout government and – even bigger stretch – a successful Labour government. As it is, my advice is to get down to Ladbroke’s and put your spare shirt on an independent Scotland by 2022.

  12. The two party system is dying, it just so happens that its left flank has died first. I for one am happy to see this happen, but I’m not naive enough to think that the right flank will escape such a fate because they ran a steady campaign (1% increase in vote share in Wales, regardless of what FPTP gives you for it, doesn’t suggest that there is much more coming their way in the future). Society is changing, becoming more complex and fluid. Labour couldn’t grasp this, and they hemorrhaged votes in all directions. Once this new government is forced to compromise its principles on Europe, the environment, immigration and devolution, lifelong Tory voters will feel betrayed and will walk into the welcoming arms of some young pretender, exactly as lifelong Labour voters have done since the New Labour years.

  13. Darren the head line and your last comment do not match. If the campaign meant nothing then why does the last 24 hours matter?
    As Tristram Hunt has just implied; Labour had the wrong lead singer and he was singing the wrong lyrics. After our last defeat, Labour held a leadership election and at a hustings event in Cardiff I heard only one of the candidates tell the party faithful that we couldn’t afford to spend money as we had got used to. Unfortunately he lost, though only due to our Byzanteum electoral system.
    At an earlier general election John Major lost to Tony Blair having previously beaten Neil Kinnock. The singer was important but so was the song. Labour`s song was about building a strong economy with tight financial controls. Yes it was also about fairness but that has to be based on economic trust.

  14. I suspect most of Labour’s colour comes from the embarrassment of failing to do better.

  15. In terms of analysing what happened in Wales, a good place to start would be Labour’s failure to capture Cardiff North. It only required 195 votes to go Labour’s way for the seat to change hands and yet the Conservatives took their majority to just over 2,000. In addition, Labour lost two seats to the Conservatives in the Vale of Clwyd and Gower, despite gaining Cardiff Central from the Lib Dems. What’s significant is that, in Wales (a supposedly left of centre country), the Conservatives won the battle with Labour. It would appear that these constituencies responded to three things; the successful message from the Tories that voting Labour would allow the SNP too great an influence over Government at Westminster; the organisational and political ability of Stephen Crabb to organise his party effectively and deliver results; discontent at the performance of the Welsh Government over health and education.

    The other phenomenon was the performance of UKIP. They came third in 24 constituencies and 2nd in 5, Aberavon, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Islwyn and Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney. No Labour MPs will be losing any sleep over this since UKIP would still have to overturn a 10,000+ majority in Caerphilly before winning their first seat. But if does point to a more established presence among the Welsh electorate than has previously been the case with the consequent ability to spoil the result for the best-placed challenger to the incumbent.

    The third feature of the night was the inability of Plaid Cymru to make any progress in the number of its MPs. In terms of consolidating its hold on the Fro, it failed to take Ynys Môn, albeit by 229 votes. It came 4th in 20 constituencies and challenged in 6. It failed to take Ceredigion, despite the tide turning against the LIb Dems, where the incumbent enjoys a 3,000 majority. The next target seats of Llanelli and Rhondda require overturning a 7,000 majority in both cases.

    Daran’s initial statement was that the campaign made no difference to the outcome. There is some debate about this but he seems to have a point. The first argument is that the polls were right but that there was a late swing to the Tories based on the threat of a Labour party backed up by the SNP. The second argument is that the polls were wrong and that the Conservatives had a 6% lead all along. In which case, Daran’s point is well made.

    We are clearly faced with a much changed political landscape. But the situation in Wales is not, in my view, clear. The Conservative establishment in England has shown its strength in remarkable fashion and exposed the political weaknesses of the left in Wales. The SNP will be able to insist not just on the recommendations of the Smith Commission and “The Vow” but will be in a position to negotiate for more. Wales on the other hand has a nationalist party that is not resurgent and a governing Labour party that is losing ground to the Tories and votes to UKIP. It will simply accept the St David’s Day agreement. The campaign may not have made any difference in Wales, but the results have exposed a few home truths.

  16. How can Plaid claim to be the party of Wales when they poll fewer votes than UKIP?

  17. Colin – the UK is independent; unless you swallow the ludicrous anti EU hysteria. But if one is to humour Farage, Griffin, etc and follow your logic, can UKIP be called the United Kingdom Independence Party and keep their name when their policies (constantly attacking Scotland, the Barnett formula, and wanting out of the EU, which will clearly trigger the next Scottish Independence referendum) will end up with Scottish independence and no United Kingdom? Lets remember Wales is not a Kingdom?

  18. @ Colin Miles
    “How can Plaid claim to be the party of Wales when they poll fewer votes than UKIP? ”
    Perhaps both should be totally honest and rebrand as “Plaid Cymru the party for Wales” and “EIP”

  19. Whether Plaid is the party of or for Wales, until it is far more welcoming to incomers and non-Welsh speaking Welsh it is unlikely to broaden its appeal to the either, especially to the ‘large’ number of English incomers to Wales which Morry refers to on another thread.

    As for this wicked Auntie called Austerity which Leanne, Nicola and the luvvies are so hung up about, for those old enough to remember true austerity back in the 40’s and before, it has a somewhat hollow ring. Back then that Auntie was really ‘evil’ in ways that they can only dream about in their worst nightmares. Similarly with the use of the word ‘Progressive’ to describe policies that are often very regressive and backward looking. Shades of 1984.

    As for the NHS, with an aging population and constant improvements in medical treatments and care, we are always going to play catchup when it comes to funding. Why are so many people who are willing to spend hundreds or even thousands of pound on vets to treat their pets, unwilling to pay anything for themselves?

  20. @ Colin Miles
    “Whether Plaid is the party of or for Wales, until it is far more welcoming to incomers and non-Welsh speaking Welsh it is unlikely to broaden its appeal to either”

    How about you list some of those ways that you think Plaid Cymru are not welcoming enough to incomers and non-Welsh speakers. You’ve made an accusation you should back it up.

  21. @CapM: I suggest you ask around. And perhaps I am being little unfair in conflating Plaid with the Welsh language issue, but the recent demonstrations by Cymdeithas Yr Iaith were just silly and pointless and certainly doesn’t help Plaid. Fasting merely confers a temporary weight loss on the individuals concerned, whilst withdrawing funding from the NBGW would mean that it would be even less able to achieve bilingualism. And, far more to the point, it doesn’t advance the Welsh language one iota, or the image of Plaid. Indeed, rather the reverse by pushing people in the opposite direction.

  22. J. Jones, your second paragraph is correct – which is precisely why the Conservatives need to rediscover their Unionist roots if they are build on their success.

    The combined Conservative and UKIP vote is now greater than the Labour vote. If the Conservatives can unify the right-of-centre Unionist vote, the assumption that Wales is socialist may become a thing of the past.

  23. @Colin Miles
    “CapM: I suggest you ask around”
    No, you are the one who made the premise I suggest you either put up or shut up.

    After admitting to unfairly conflating Plaid with the Welsh language issue you immediately continue to conflate in the same manner bringing in fasting and presumably the recent criticism of the National Botanic Garden of Wales commitment to bilingualism.
    You appear to be determined to perpetuate a conflation you know to be incorrect and unfair. For what purpose would that be?

  24. Shame that the constructive dialogue on this piece ended up getting mired in the tedious “Welshness” spats that persuaded me and others to stop running a blog some years ago.

    Refecting on some specific points:

    Jon Owen Jones – I think the headline and last para fit fine. It was actions in the ballot box rather than on the campaign trail which mattered.

    Jeff – On this occasion, I don’t think the results were Wales specific. This was clearly a Wales and England voting pattern.

    Dafydd wrote – “Plaid Cymru has the task of ensuring that Wales keeps up. If that looks like a tough challenge today, it is worth recalling that the SNP has advanced from a position less favourable than Plaid’s in 1999 to where they are today.” That killer fact is not an inspiration to Plaid, but a further inditement of their failure as a party under devolution. The SNP has gone forward as a specifically Scottish political context has been developing, Plaid has done the reverse.

  25. @ Daran Hill
    “Shame that the constructive dialogue on this piece ended up getting mired in the tedious “Welshness” spats”
    Where is that happening?

  26. Darren the question of the last 24hrs is: Was there a sudden movement of support or were the polls wrong all the time? I think it was the latter. Therefore the campaign didn’t matter and neither did the last 24hrs.
    Jonathan Evans summed up the problem yesterday; Cardiff North Labour party put out 70K leaflets addressing the bedroom tax and only 400 families were affected. Labur didnt just do that in the campaign but spent 4years talking about issues that weren’t very relevant to the bulk of our potential voters.
    I am not singling out Cardiff North here this was a general pattern.

  27. Surely the ‘rot’ set in when Ed Milliband was elected a leader of the Labour Party,and the manner of the said election,or in modern parlance the ‘fix’. The placement of Harriet Harman as ‘temporary’ Leader is yet another self inflicted wound!!. On Radio 4 this morning she was HOPELESS and Naughtie couldn’t believe what he was hearing,and I am sure that applied to 95% of listeners.It just could be that with the huge structural changes to our private sector economy,and soon the huge reduction/rationalization of public sector jobs then the whole reason for the Labour Party is no more.We will not follow the ‘european’ model of working as it leads to bankruptcy,except for Germany,and therefore we will become more attuned to ‘rapid’ change and where does ‘socialism’ fit in??

  28. Jon, I don’t disagree with you. I think the polls were wrong all the time. What I meant by 24 hours was the simple act of voting, nothing more than that. I agree with your citing of bedroom tax as a classic example of where Labour got obsessed with its own message, even though target voters didn’t care – or even agreed with the bedroom tax out of principle. Was akin to Tories and keeping the pound in 2001.

  29. @CapM: ‘No, you are the one who made the premise I suggest you either put up or shut up.’

    Any examples that you or I give can simply be dismissed as being anecdotal. You only have to read some of the comments on this forum to realise there is a a perception problem with Plaid and it does involve the Welsh language. A true assessment of all of this would involve outside, independent surveys of what people actually think. Indeed, that is true for all the parties.

  30. @Colin Miles
    “A true assessment of all of this would involve outside, independent surveys of what people actually think”

    Perhaps you could start the ball rolling. Not by suggesting solutions, or drawing attention to possible implications but by saying clearly and truthfully what it is about the use of the Welsh language, and the individuals, organisations and political party who actively stand up for it that for want of a better word upsets you..

    As this would be all about your personal views personal anecdotes would then be valid.

  31. @CapM: ‘As this would be all about your personal views personal anecdotes would then be valid.’ Valid for what? Now that really is contorted logic! What part of the outside, independent surveys do you not understand? It is not for you or me to decide these matters.

  32. @Colin Miles
    I assume that your experiences ie personal anecdotes have played a part in forming your view on the issue you brought up in your post of May 10th 11:39.
    You continue to avoid providing any evidence or explanation for why you arrived at this view.
    Of course you are not required to do so but it follows that those reading your replies may draw their own conclusions as to why that is.

  33. @CapM: I think it all says more about you than me and indeed those reading the comments and replies must draw their own conclusions. I do at least post under my own name.

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