Opinion  

It broke for the Tories, but must not break UK

Ashley Wassall

I’m actually relieved.

Not because the Tories have won - as I’ve said before, while I was happy enough for the Conservatives to lead the next government, my preference was for another Lib Dem-tempered coalition - but because there was serious potential for me to look like a prize pillock.

It might seem selfish, but having put myself out there a month ago by committing the cardinal commentariat sin of predicting a tight election, I’m glad my forecast has come up pretty damn close.

I called a ‘late break’ for the Tories in the same vein as 1992. It did break for the Tories - and boy did it happen late. On the day, polling confirmed months of psephology in forecasting a horribly hung parliament; even exit polls had the Blue benches coming up short. In the event, the party has won a shock majority.

This is no normal election and there are a plethora of local and national factors to take into account, but there are two key trends that account for the movement in seats:

• the SNP sweeping all before them in an unprecedented landslide north of the border that makes even the huge swings achieved under Tony Blair look tame; and

• the Lib Dems being absolutely annihilated, with the Tories benefitting more than might have been thought with dozens of gains in the south-west in particular.

That’s not the full story, of course, and Labour will have to answer for why it not only failed to win its top target marginals against the Conservatives, but actually frequently saw negative swing. Prospective chancellor Ed Balls was the highest profile victim, losing his Morley and Outwood seat by 422 votes.

It’s too early - for me at least, I only had two hours’ sleep at most - to go into too much detail on the profound nuanced implications of the result beyond who’ll form the next government. So here are five initial top-level thoughts to get the ball rolling...

1. Cautionary coalition tale.

The Lib Dems’ demise will become a cautionary tale. Claims that we had entered an era of six-party plurality in politics underestimated the British public’s disdain for such arrangements: the smaller party was ruthlessly punished for ‘propping up’ the Tories.

The ultimate irony is that the Tories have picked up more than half of the lost seats. We clearly much prefer the linear nature of majority government and are likely to punish the minority partner for concessions made. I can’t see another making the same mistake again for some time.

2. New deal needed for Scotland.