Who got it wrong in last week’s British election? The pollsters did, consistently concluding it was too close to call. The news media did—both there and here— by dutifully repeating the same message and predicting it would result in a shaky coalition of parties. Labour got it wrong by promising to take the United Kingdom backward. Only the Conservatives got it right: they won an outright majority of seats in the House of Commons.
Now, Prime Minister David Cameron has another five-year mandate, having promised “renewal” after a period of austerity. In the campaign he promised he would appoint women to a third of the cabinet, and he has. The cabinet has several members who will provide a strong talent bench for the future.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, were reduced to a shadow of their former representation in Parliament and their leader resigned. So did Ed Milliband, the leader of the Labour Party.
Labour’s one piece of business now is to find someone who will take his place and replace his yesteryear message with something more closely reassembling the years of Tony Blair: pro-business, and pro-growth.
One astute observer, a veteran of both British politics and government, pointed out the polls got it wrong because they did not separate “haven’t decided” voters from “I don’t know” ones (a different breed). He said, “The ‘haven’t decideds’ had decided a long time ago, but were not saying so because they were either disaffected Tories who had been flirting with the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) or left-center people who had written off Ed Milliband. They did not want to be bestirred by canvassers.”
Having incorrectly predicted the election outcome, the news media then stroked their collective chins and wrote that Cameron might well be the last prime minister of a United Kingdom. Why? Two reasons: the muscular victory in Scotland for the Scottish National Party and the possibility that a promised plebiscite on membership in the European Union might result in the country’s withdrawal from it.
As to the first, much was made of the SNP’s performance, sweeping 56 of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons—at the expense of Labour which had a firm grip on them for years. (The Conservatives held on to their one seat, and their member has been named Secretary of State for Scottish Affairs.).
Without a moment’s reflection, the media concluded that the SNP would demand more autonomy for Scotland and, if they did not get it, would mount another referendum to secede. Forgotten was the fact that they mounted a huge campaign for independence last year and were defeated by Scottish voters, 55-45 percent.
Also, close observers note, most of the new MPs from Scotland have no idea of how House of Commons procedures work and will have to learn them. Their delegation makes up only eight percent of the total membership of Commons. They will be treated fairly by the leadership, but without deference. And, once they are assigned to bill committees and select committees, they will have their hands full grappling with procedural details. Like elections here, what looks to be a rosy election aftermath is more likely to be a chastening experience. Don’t look for another Scottish independence referendum any time soon.
As for the EU plebiscite, Cameron has long promised it midway through a new term, with plenty of time in between to negotiate reforms in the UK’s arrangements with the organization. UKIP was founded on the idea of withdrawal from the EU. That party is still alive, but gasping for breath.
Note to the news media: Don’t underestimate Cameron again.