Another morning in May, and another General Election. It’s over, for four more years.
The people have decided that Labour should live on, with a massively reduced majority and around fifty fewer seats. The Conservatives have recovered some ground in the south, but anti-immigration policies and negative campaigning proved no springboard for a return to power.
The Liberal Democrats made gains, in Scotland, northern England and London, but nowhere near enough to change the face of British politics. But ten more seats or so just aren’t enough, and as the electoral gift of Iraq recedes in future, it’s harder still to see how their real breakthrough will ever come.
The message from the Labour grandees this morning seems to be a recognition that they need to listen to the people more, and adapt. Why this simple dawn revelation required a good kicking to materialise, I’m not that sure, but perhaps that’s why I’m not a politician.
In Crawley, Labour held on against a massive swing, by a mere 37 votes amongst over 40 000 cast, whilst at home in Guildford it was another desperately close-run affair. Bizarrely, the Labour vote held up better here, of all places, than nationally, and LibDem MP Sue Doughty actually increased her share of the vote, but to no avail. No doubt those 5 000 Guildford Labour voters rued their choice as a Liberal Democrat majority of 500 was turned over to the Tories by 300 votes. It was a tiny swing, but one that makes it harder to look out of the window and feel quite so good about this town. But any morning when you stay up until 2.30 am is bound to look a fair bit grimmer than the one before.
It was a stoical five miles I ran through my May woods and fields today. After all, not that much is going to change, least of all in Guildford. Tony Blair’s electoral star has begun to wane, but it’s still in the sky. Gordon Brown will most likely succeed as Prime Minister in 2007 or 2008. The Liberal Democrats may not yet hold the balance of power, but they’ll share some new strength, for now, with the left-wing of the Labour party. It’s hard to see a Britain so keen to act unilaterally on the international stage these next four years, and our National Health Service and education systems will be safer than they were before.
All of that is good. The national result is the most important, and it looks about right. Yes, it’s a real kicking, Tony, but you can carry on, at least for now, with a little less certainty and a lot more humility, please.
Iraq will duly fade, at least I hope it will, if a successful exit strategy is finally achieved. But the economic horizon is looking cloudier here than for some good while, and there may be harder times ahead again for Middle England’s voters. So if this morning we’re looking at a subtle shift in the electoral landscape of this country, then by the time we vote again in 2009, we’ll see real politics, with healthy debate on every issue, and a struggle for the politicians to win our every vote. That’s how it should be.
And yet, I’ve some regrets this morning. About the narrow result in Guildford, which looked more and more inevitable as that forest of Conservative banners encroached ever nearer from Reigate and the countryside towards the town each day. About the electoral system, and the campaign, which was too long, too negative, and almost wilfully uninspiring. But the people of this country have spoken, and for that we should be grateful.
I took two kids with me to vote last night, in echo of another summer’s day of Labour setbacks when my mother first took me to the polls in 1970. Although that day was seized by a new Conservative government, now we can see it as sowing the seeds of bitter union strife, and eventually the wildnerness of the long Thatcher years to follow. I wonder how today’s events will appear to William and Emily, looking back in lives ahead.
My mother’s thoughts, in turn, will be of VE Day, and that joyous morning sixty years ago when the Victory in Europe was celebrated across this country, when she herself was a little girl of ten. My grandfather could at last return from war, knowing that she, and later I, could have the freedom still to vote today. And others will think of another May, three decades on, when a far less famous foreign war was ending in Vietnam.
The electoral process is over. It’s good to see it duly done. From where we look, it’s not that perfect. But it’s history in the making, and the view of history is one we can’t forget. We learn from history – that’s how it works. So forward, Tony ! It’s time to run.
(Image © Chris Denchfield)
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