The unexpected victory of the UK Conservative Party

Said Shehata

The victory of the UK Conservative party defied all predictions. Yet the win alone will not mean the coming five years will be plain-sailing for the new Cameron government

There were doubts inside David Cameron’s camp that the British Conservative Party could win a majority (326 seats or more) in the recent general elections, but it won 331 seats — the biggest win of an incumbent government since the victories Margaret Thatcher scored in the 1980s. What are the reasons behind this result? And what challenges will Mr Cameron’s government face in the Commons?

First, there were no signs of this victory and pollsters got it wrong, as happened in 1992 when John Major won the elections against pollsters’ predictions. Opinion polls underestimated the Tories.

This could be explained by two factors: undecided voters and the reluctance of voters to tell pollsters their choices (or what some call “shy conservatives”). Therefore, it was difficult for pollsters to get it right on this occasion. I and other pundits expected the Conservative to win the biggest number of seats. But not a majority of 326 seats or more.

Following the debates and polls, living in the UK for many years, and talking with people were not enough to imagine this scenario. No one, as far as I know, predicted this result.

Second, Cameron benefited from the mistakes of other parties, especially the Labour Party. Ed Miliband made a big mistake and shot himself in the foot when he explicitly rejected any coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP), repeated several times during his campaign. The Labour Party lost many seats in Scotland. In addition, Cameron presented himself as the safeguard of the UK from any coalition between Labour and the SNP. So Labour lost other seats in England because of fear among some Labour voters of Scottish MPs deciding on English matters.

Mr Miliband tried to be honest and frank about his intentions regarding the SNP. He wanted to build trust between politicians. However, he got it wrong and he was too “honest and open” for a politician. He could have avoided answering the question about any cooperation with the SNP. He could have said that his focus was on winning a majority and that discussion about any coalition was not an issue for him. He paid a heavy price and he stepped down as party leader as a result.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats paid the price of the broken promises of its leader, Nick Clegg — who also resigned as party leader — on tuition fees. The Lib-Dems were badly beaten in this election, winning eight seats and losing 48. The Conservatives won some of those seats.

Third, the economy did better under Cameron in comparison to the previous Labour government. He achieved low inflation rates and lowered the number of unemployed. There was no trust in Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, and the Labour Party regarding the economy. Ed Balls lost his seat in the Commons. In addition, Cameron promised in his manifesto cutting taxes for working people.

Fourth, the referendum on the EU — a pledge made by Cameron — was another element of this victory. The Conservatives won votes because some voters would like to see the back of the EU. They expressed anger and frustration at Europeans taking their places in schools, hospitals, housing and crowded transportation. Cameron won votes from the UK Independence Party (UKIP) because some voters saw UKIP as a one issue party focused on immigration.

Fifth, Cameron succeeded as a leader while Miliband did not. The latter faced criticism on his leadership qualities from within his party. Cameron played the role of the politician by the book. Miliband stumbled and melted under pressure. He is a friendly and honest person, but unfortunately honesty does not do well with politics. A politician should go around the difficult questions and should concede little, otherwise his fate is known.

There are challenges ahead of Cameron. He only won a slender majority in the Commons, so he will face a difficult process to pass some bills. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of SNP, said after winning 56 seats that it would not be business as usual for Mr Cameron when dealing with Scotland from Westminster.

Cameron should speed up the devolution of powers to Scotland.

In addition, cutting £12 billion from the welfare budget will introduce immense hardships, which might damage Cameron if he does not get it right. Moreover, increasing pressure on public services, including schools, hospitals and housing, as more people come to the UK is another challenge. The National Health Service (NHS) is stretched to its limits and needs more money. Finally, more work is needed to improve the economy.

In conclusion, it should be said that the polling industry has a mountain to climb in order to improve its methods to get it right. In addition, winning the election and having a conservative government will not mean it will be easy in parliament. Cameron will face tremendous hurdles to pass some bills because he will need the support of other parties. It would be better if there were a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative as the latter is unlikely to modify policies as it did between 2010 and 2015 and may well lean towards the right wing of the Tories. It is sad that the Liberal Democrats lost all those seats. If they did not lose those seats, the current unexpected scenario would not have taken place.

I feel that I should end this piece on what Cameron said after winning: “Together we can make Great Britain greater still.”