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Friday, May 07, 2010 

The evening after the night before.

On the surface, last night's result looks bad for everyone and everything, with the one exception of the Greens and Caroline Lucas. The Conservatives, despite having everything in their favour failed to get the majority it looked for so long like they were going to cakewalk towards. For Labour, while not plummeting to the depths of 1983, they've come a distant second in the popular vote and even while they held on with mostly brilliant results in London and in some of the other major cities and town, they've been removed from almost everywhere else in England, obliterated, reduced to a rump. The Liberal Democrats have reason to be completely disconsolate: they improved their share of the vote, even if by a relatively measly 1%, yet they come away with 5 less seats.

Away from the parties, our other institutions, our media and our democracy have all taken a battering. Never has our electoral system looked so absurd, nor the union so dated. First past the post has been shown to be a relic of the two party system: it is indefensible to suggest it can continue to be the bedrock of our electoral system when a party increases its share of the popular vote yet still loses seats. Our parliamentary system deserves to be in tatters: it's equally as indefensible that the Conservatives have been denied a majority due to the modern rotten borough situation in Scotland and parts of Wales, when so much of policy in those two countries has been devolved to their parliament and their assembly respectively. The running of the election itself was in some areas a shambles, a complete joke: while the turnout differed wildly, an overall turnout of 65% is not even close to being historically high. How could people have been effectively denied the franchise through such rank incompetence when this was hardly an unprecendented event?

On the same point, 65% overall turnout is the most savage indictment of how we do politics in this country for a generation. Even when the result was the most uncertain since the 70s, when the campaign had been enlivened by the innovation of the leader's debates and when it seemed possible that a third party could dump the governing one into third place, still 35% of the electorate was either so disinterested or turned off by the campaign and what had gone on during this parliament that they abstained entirely. This is no longer simple apathy: this is clearly a sign of the contempt with which a significant minority in this country regard their representatives. The media, with the exception of the Mirror, the only paper to continue to support Labour, also look like chumps. All the screaming about how a hung parliament would be a disaster in the tabloids and yet that's exactly what the voters decided to deliver. The Sun, and especially James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks (nee Wade) must be feeling sick at their failure to garner support for the winning party for the first time since Murdoch senior bought the paper. The Guardian and Independent meanwhile have shown just how much influence they have: precisely nil.

As much as a hung parliament was always the best possible realistic outcome, the distribution of seats has left us with the worst of all possible worlds. Neither the Conservatives in a coalition with the DUP can get a majority, nor can Labour joining forces with the Liberal Democrats in a modern pact. Nick Clegg's biggest mistake of the entire campaign was to say that the party with the largest share of the vote would have the right to make the first attempt at forming a government; as democratically sound as that is, it completely ignores the constitutional precedent and gives David Cameron and the Conservatives a huge advantage which they have gleefully grasped. For all the talk of discussions between the two parties, you only have to look at Cameron's derisory offer of just a talking shop on electoral reform to see that they're planning immediately for a second general election this year, simply going through the necessary motions. They could feasibly just get a Queen's speech/budget through parliament with DUP support, but only by dropping their plans to make cuts this year, something they also show no sign of conceding. And after all, why should they? Even if Labour and the Liberal Democrats could form a coalition which also contained all the other minor parties with the exception of the DUP, such a government has absolutely no legitimacy whatsoever in England. It could not possibly hope to govern for a full-term, and only then it would just be delaying the inevitable: a Conservative majority.

Far better would be for Gordon Brown to admit defeat now, resign and allow a new leader to start the rebuilding necessary as soon as possible. That will give the party a fighting chance in the election, whenever it comes. The alternative is clear: a Conservative majority in a second election on an even more derisory turnout, with no change in our broken electoral system. The only consolation is, as pointed out in the rather epic live blog, just how unpopular that Conservative government will be even with a majority: the cuts will be savage, with a one-term government being a distinct possibility. The next five years may be unbearably harsh on all fronts, but bowed as the left is, we are not anywhere close to having been wiped out. We have reinvented ourselves before and we will do so again, hopefully this time without the compromises which wounded us so deeply before. We have to unite, we have to fight, and we know what we have to do.

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