Hands up if you saw that one coming. I confess that I didn’t. The first line of the BBC announcement, ‘Conservatives largest party’, was no shock. Then there was a pause a few seconds long, and the projection of 316 Tory seats came up. I nearly fell off my chair. From that point on, the surprises only got bigger.
Why was it so surprising, though? If you’d asked me six weeks ago what was going to happen, I’d have said, a little reluctantly, that the likeliest outcome was a Tory minority government. From that point to an outright majority is a step, but not a gigantic one. If I’d been granted a glimpse ahead to the result, I’d have said the Tories did better and Labour worse than expected, but not amazingly, bizarrely, unforeseeably so. The thing which turned this into such a blindsiding shock was the fact that the election campaign was so flat and eventless. For six weeks, nothing happened. The numbers refused to move. Then everything happened at once. The talk in politics these days is all about ‘narrative’ and ‘momentum’, but there was almost no sign of that in this election. There was little evidence that the electorate were paying any attention. The Tory campaign worked spectacularly, but did so in a new and peculiar way: it was like a pill that the patient refuses to swallow, and holds off swallowing, and then downs all at once. More »
Relief at the fact that this general election campaign is over will for many of us be tempered by the fact that it also, most likely, isn’t over – in the sense that we probably won’t wake up tomorrow morning knowing the identity of the next government.
There’s one important thing to bear in mind today. For most electors, most of the time, it isn’t true that every vote counts. There are usually about 100 seats in play in a general election. The others are safe seats, and while voting in them is an important part of belonging to civil society, blah blah etc, your individual vote is unlikely to have any bearing on the outcome of the election overall. This is one of the factors which leaves electors feeling disconnected from the whole process.
This time is different. The total number of votes for the parties is going to be very important, not in determining the outcome – it doesn’t – but in affecting the negotiations afterwards. The further behind the Tories Labour are in the popular vote, the easier it will be for the Tories and their allies to claim that a Labour government is illegitimate (constitutional position notwithstanding). So, this time, every vote counts.
It’s a novel feeling. We could get used to it.
‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall,’ the deputy High Court judge Richard Mawrey said as he ruled that Lutfur Rahman’s re-election as mayor of Tower Hamlets on 22 May 2014 was void. Mawrey found Rahman guilty of a series of corrupt and illegal practices, including bribery, undue spiritual influence, payment of canvassers and falsely accusing his Labour rival of being a racist. More »
The Tory papers are hitting the delegitimisation thing pretty hard today. The front pages are:
Nightmare on Downing Street (Telegraph)
Miliband trying to con his way into No. 10, says PM (Times)
For sanity’s sake don’t let a class war zealot and the SNP destroy our economy – and our very nation (Daily Mail)
Post-election shambles looms as legitimacy crisis worsens (Independent, which may have surprised its readers by telling them to vote Tory)
And then for light relief, the two papers owned by Richard Desmond:
Why You Must Vote for Ukip (Daily Express)
Brits live sex show on Magaluf booze cruise (Daily Star)
The delegitimisation story is going to be an interesting test of how much power the newspapers still have. More »
It’s forty years since anybody has won power in a UK general election without the backing of Rupert Murdoch. He’s not happy about the prospect. That’s the explanation for the surreal juxtaposition of the Sun covers from England and Scotland:
‘Vote Cameron!’ ‘Vote Sturgeon!’ It makes no sense, unless you see that what it’s really saying is ‘Vote Anyone But Ed!’ Miliband took an early decision to attack Murdoch, and as a result owes him nothing. To have people in office who don’t owe him is not Murdoch’s happy place. More »
Sarah Palin – or someone pretending to be Sarah Palin – has tweeted that Salman Rushdie should invite Pamela Geller to the PEN gala dinner. She’s right. Geller is no pussy. She has courageously expressed her views that Muslims should be expelled from the US and Europe, that they pray five times a day for the deaths of Christians and Jews, that Obama is the love child of Malcolm X and frequents ‘crack whores’, that the State Department, the American media and Campbell’s Soup have been taken over by ‘Islamic supremacists’, and so on. More »
Where are the posters?
Something has been bugging me about this election, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and just in the last week or so I’ve realised what it is. It’s the near-complete absence of posters. Not just posters, but the whole apparatus of visual paraphernalia: banners and billboards and advertising. This is my fifth general election in the same street, and it’s the first time I’ve never seen a single election poster in the road. More »
The Greek army isn’t what it used to be: Ajax and Achilles, amphora by Exekias, sixth century BC.
Early in the morning of 25 March, I was woken by jet planes flying low over downtown Athens and helicopters cruising the sky in formation, making the windows shake. It was Independence Day, the anniversary of the start of the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire in 1821. The army was parading in front of the parliament in Syntagma Square, watched by officials from the state, the armed forces and the church.
I’d recently got back from an army camp. More »
Time for a look at prospective election outcomes in close detail. The numbers haven’t moved much: if they were share prices, they would be described as ‘trading within a narrow range’. The real winning line, as I argued in my last post, is 323. At the moment no party looks even vaguely likely to get there alone. Instead, the bookies and the pollsters both have for some time had the Tories wobbling around somewhere in the range of 280 to 290 seats. Labour’s vote in Scotland has collapsed, as everyone knows; if it hadn’t, they would have a clear lead. Instead they are wobbling around the 260 to 270 level.
With numbers like this, the other parties decide the next government. More »
Earlier this month Southampton University spiked a conference on International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, organised by an Israeli-born professor of law and philosophy at the university, Oren Ben-Dor. It had promised to explore ‘the creation and the nature of the Jewish state’ and ‘the role international law can play in political struggles’. The idea had got about that Southampton would be throwing a shindig for aspiring jihadis and Zion-deniers, thanks to the Henry Jackson Society, Eric Pickles and the Daily Express, who demanded that the event be squelched. More »