The 2015 General Election looks set to produce the biggest shock for decades with the Conservative party on track to secure a small majority against strong poll predictions that Britain would get a second consecutive hung parliament.
Overall the Conservatives are now projected to take at least 325 seats, one short of a technical majority but two over the line once you factor in Sinn Féin’s unused seats and the speaker. This will mean that David Cameron would not have to do a deal with any other party to remain in office, though he may still choose to enter into discussions with the Liberal Democrats and/or the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to provide him with a buffer.
But how did this happen?
Firstly, almost all of the Conservative held marginal seats targeted by Labour stuck with the Tories. Apart from a couple of London constituencies, Labour failed to secure the type of swing against the Conservatives that would have allowed them to capture enough seats to become the largest party and lay claim to the right to form a government. Labour won 9 seats from the Tories, but lost 6 leaving them with a modest net gain of only three where they needed over 30.
Secondly, and related, the Scottish National Party (SNP) surge proved every bit as terrifying as in the worst nightmares of the mainstream Westminster parties. Nicola Sturgeon’s nationalists took all but three of Scotland’s 59 seats, effectively wiping out 40 Labour seats and forcing it to look elsewhere to contests against the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats the pick up its seats.
In other words, the SNP landslide wiped out the structural electoral advantage that Labour has long enjoyed whereby they have historically needed a lower share of the national vote per seat.
Thirdly, the expected Lib Dem collapse did indeed occur but the benefits were spread between the Tories, Labour and the SNP. This meant that despite losing dozens of its MPs, including major casualties such as Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, David Laws, Simon Hughes, the promising young MP Jo Swinson and former leader Charles Kennedy, Labour proved unable to press their advantage.
Taking these together meant that, although Labour did not suffer many embarrassing setbacks on the night, it gained far fewer seats than the polls had suggested and, for the first time in decades, a governing party was able to add to its seat tally. No matter how you look at it, the party’s strategy seems to have fallen short.
The result leaves open the possibility that we could see the resignations of as many as three party leaders. Ed Miliband will be under pressure to respond to the shock election defeat, while the abysmal performance of the Liberal Democrats may spell the end of Nick Clegg’s tenure as leader.
Elsewhere, Nigel Farage needs to pull off an unlikely win in South Thanet later this morning if he is to avoid the same fate. The UKIP leader has promised that defeat would mean “it’s curtains for me”.
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