Laura McAllister offers some early thoughts on lessons from the General Election
Given that most of us are still in that weird post-election fug equivalent to jet lag, no one should claim to have fully processed the events of 8th June just yet. In the absence of properly considered analysis, I’m setting out here some thoughts as to what might exercise our minds over the next few weeks.
- Voters, that is the general public, are sovereign and they rightly call the shots in determining who is elected as MPs and as their government. They are a damn sight more independent, considered and therefore, unpredictable than politicians give them credit for. And that is a bloody good thing.
- We give opinion polling too much prominence in election coverage. Polls have their place but we should remember that they are pored over mostly by a small minority-that’s us, the politically obsessive-not by most ordinary, sensible folk. The latter resents the focus on polls because it suggests we all know how they will cast their vote. Polling is important but it should not be allowed to form the dominant narrative of an election.
- Election campaigns rightly matter and all parties need to start appreciating that. Neither should relentless, on-message sound bites, number crunching and target marketing be all that campaigning are about. People want to see the party leaders and their local representatives in their own communities; they want them to be human and accessible, talking, but also listening and then acting on what they hear from people. They also massively value being canvassed personally and do not appreciate the pitiful, patronising, faux handwritten and personalised “Dear Laura…” letters that come through the post.
- This was the “turn-out election” that many of us had predicted. Younger people warmed to the Corbyn inspired zeitgeist and went out to vote. We need to make sure that this is a permanent feature of our electoral politics from here on in.
- Personal authenticity is important even if we don’t actually like all of the authentic features revealed. The public perceived there to be only one authentic leader in this election.
- The two big parties hoovered up over 82% of all votes cast. This does not, however, necessarily mean a permanent return to two party politics. Context and timing is everything. The centre ground is a huge gaping hole and evidence from elsewhere in Europe suggests that a well-organised party with the right leader could move successfully into that ground. The solidifying of the left’s hold on Labour now after Corbyn’s success makes that an even more significant opportunity.
- Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats were always going to face a difficult election, not just because of the squeeze but also because they were unsure who they were attacking. Once Plaid chose a narrative based on “defending” Wales rather than attempting to build a positive and alternative vision, they were doomed as Labour offered a more credible defence than it ever could. Plaid (and probably Leanne Wood) was saved by the surprise success in Ceredigion, whilst that result also wiped out the ever-present Liberal representation at Westminster from Wales since the mid nineteenth century.
- Many balked at the prominence of UKIP on every significant media platform. That can now end as the party’s vote disintegrated. I would make a gentle plea for different treatment for the Lib Dems though. Electoral cycles are just that (Mark Williams narrowly lost out in Ceredigion remember), and the Lib Dems have a local government base and a AM which gives them a chance of bouncing back.
- There is an irony that a majoritarian FPTP electoral system has delivered at best, a minority government that will have to strike deals with some uncomfortable bed fellows-the epitome of ‘the coalition of chaos’. A more proportional electoral system would have delivered a different result. Let’s bury the idea that PR means unstable governments.
- We now have the highest percentage of women MPs in the House of Commons. But before we get excited, let’s remember that’s just 208 or 32%, up by just 2 percentage points-incidentally pushing the Commons to the dizzy heights of 38th in the global league tackles. This doesn’t seem to me to be a legitimate reason for celebration. Neither should we delight in 27.5% of Wales’s MPs being female, despite the boost of an extra two making that 11 in total. Labour are to thank for this of course. Yes, there were more women candidates in target seats this time for both the Conservatives and Plaid, but at the end of the day, they were not elected. The test will be how energised and committed these parties are in ensuring that the best women candidates have a proper run at the same seats next time with appropriate resources to help avoid the boom and bust approach to women’s representation.
- Political coverage on the Welsh media is desperately poor. Now is not the time to undermine this further #justsaying.
This blog first appeared on Laura McAllister’s medium site: https://medium.com/@LauraMcAllister
2 thoughts on “A checklist for post-election pondering”
As an opinion poll sceptic I would make the following points
If the polls were right and there was a late swing, one of the 2015 excuses for errors, then they are meaningless in predicting an election result
Internet polls obviously exclude those without internet access these are disproportionately old and poor
Weighting results on guessing turnout amongst groups is just that guessing
One thing that could be added to the checklist is manifestos. The Tories’ manifesto was not costed and Labour’s was, but not fully.
The traditional view is that the parties set out their programme which is costed, so as to be credible and deliverable, and the electorate chooses between the competing policies. Unfortunately, the voters don’t read the manifestos. What happened in this election is that the manifestos indicated the direction of travel which did influence the percentage of the vote. The Tories manifesto was not widely criticised for being uncosted but for the triple whammy announcement concerning the elderly: the triple lock on pensions reduced to a double lock, the means testing of winter fuel payments and having to pay for your care if you have dementia with a claim being made against your home upon your death to recover the cost of treatment, but not if you have a physical illness such as cancer. I believe I’m right in saying that the latter of the three would only apply in England. But the direction of travel indicated was that if you’re elderly, you can look forward to being less well off.
The Labour manifesto included certain spending commitments that are not realisable. But this was not the point. It indicated a direction of travel that said an end to austerity, more investment in better public services and the rich paying their fair share. The direction of travel was more hopeful and that life can be more than just about managing for an indefinite period.
Journalists will continue to do their job and ask hard questions about the policy platform. But if I had to structure an opinion poll for the future, it would be along the lines of:
What do you see as being the direction of travel of the political parties at the election?;
Which do you prefer?;
Will it change the way you vote?
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