Election Reflections 2017-06-09

Another year, another unexpected election outcome to dissect. Here goes.

The national picture – Labour Up, Tories Down

The big story of the night is of course the decline of the Conservatives to the benefit of Labour.

I will admit from the outset I got this very wrong. I accepted the media view that a party led by Jeremy Corbyn would not be seen as plausible. This was clearly mistaken. It is evident that there *is* support for a more left-wing politics, and that Jeremy Corbyn has benefited from not being a typical career politician. He has definitely come across well throughout the campaign, and deserves credit for this. It may be that he can build a more left-wing labour party, but combine that with the professionalism of New Labour.

Having said that, I do believe that Labour benefitted hugely from a dreadful Conservative campaign. Going in to this election, the general public didn’t realise just how dreadful Mrs May is. Pre-election, there was a lot of discussion among politicos as to whether she was good or just lucky. It is clear now that pre-election she was just lucky. The Tory campaign was truly abysmal, and their policy platform was far to the right of the acceptable one-nation Conservatism of Cameron. Clearly, this position has been soundly rejected, along with their brutal Brexit.

More generally, we have seen a shift back towards a more bi-polar electoral map. The presidential feel of the campaign clearly helped Labour against the Tories, but it has also resulted in a shift back to extreme divisions between left and right, where people are more likely to vote to keep out the opposition they really dislike. Certainly Labour energised voters (it seems they even got the sought-after boost in young voters), but at least some of that vote will also have resulted from the desire to keep out the Tories, which is clearly more pronounced now that two years ago.

The Lib Dem Picture – we can build on this

As a proud Liberal Democrat, this election cycle has been one of huge personal swings, from massive optimism through to outright terror. At 8pm yesterday, I was pretty sure we would be down to about five seats and facing a Tory majority. On balance, I am not unhappy about moving from nine to twelve seats (an increase of 1/3). This is a small, but significant step to rebuilding the party. It is great to have Vince Cable and Ed Davy back in parliament, to have regained Bath and Eastbourne, to have taken Oxford West, and to have the beginnings of a restoration in Scotland.

There are, of course, great frustrations. Foremost amongst those was Fife North East (a seat once held by the late, great Sir Menzies Campbell), where just 2 votes stood between us and victory! Likewise, the loss of Richmond Park to Zac Goldsmith by 45 votes is a blow. However, small margins will, one hopes, spur the local parties to work even harder next time around – these seats are clearly winnable. Sarah Olney had been given little time to build a local presence, and of course this time round Zac Goldsmith had the full weight of the Tory party behind him (despite the party committing to Heathrow expansion in their manifesto, the policy which first led him to resign the whip).

Other seats we lost were greater blows – to have no MPs in Wales is a setback, as are the losses of Greg Mulholland and of course Nick Clegg, who, above all others, was a media-friendly face for the party (though his departure from the party’s front line may, with time, help us recover support among those who have still not forgiven us for the coalition era).

In terms of wider trends, we have suffered from the presidential, two-party style of this election, with a drop in vote share of 0.5%. The pattern of Labour up and Tories down has hit us too – our losses (with the exception of Richmond Park, and Southport, where we had lost our incumbency bonus with the retirement of John Pugh) were primarily to Labour. This trend also explains the failure of target seats such as Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes’ patch), and Cambridge (Julian Huppert), to turn orange (in the latter of those seats, I fear we are still haunted by tuition fees).

In contrast, our gains have been entirely from Tories and the SNP (who have been thoroughly bloodied). Opposition to the Tories explains successes in Bath and Oxford, in Eastbourne, Twickenham and Kingston & Surbiton. Some failed targets, such as Cheltenham, also saw positive swings to us.

So what can we learn from this. Our results prove yet again how deeply unfair our voting system is: 7.4% of the vote could, in a more representative system, give us some 48 seats (by the same token, the SNP’s 3% of the vote should have given them 19 seats, rather than 35). Sadly this is not about to change. Labour and the Tories both benefit from the status quo – this campaign proves that. With that in mind, it is a relief that our results show improved targeting. We must continue to build on this, with an ever more ruthless approach to local campaigns (as well as a realistic core vote strategy).

The results also give us a clear sense of our more obvious targets – socially liberal voters who would have considered Cameron, and Blair before him. Places like Richmond Park and Cheltenham are prime examples of where we need to look next, Bath and Oxford West of what we can achieve. These seats also, to some extent, vindicate our position on Brexit. No, we didn’t get 48% of the vote, but we did win remain voting seats from the Tories, and are seen as plausible in Scotland (which might not have been the case were we less ardently pro-remain)… It is arguable that we were seen as too much of a one issue party this time round (at a point when, as it turned out, this wasn’t the issue most on people’s minds). Nonetheless, our position on Brexit is a good indicator of our values (outward-looking, internationalist), and can, alongside policies such as 1p on income tax to fund the NHS, help highlight the distinctive voice of the Liberal Democrats in our politics,

All told, it may not be as good as we hoped, but these are results we can build on.

What now?

In the short term, we have a hung parliament. A Tory minority with support from the DUP looks like the most obvious outcome. Predictions for the date of the next election on a postcard please.

The big unknown in all this is of course Brexit. Mrs May went into this election seeking to strengthen her negotiating position – she has done exactly the opposite. If we are lucky, the EU will take pity on us, but time will tell. One thing is certain. The nation has voted for chaos.

Ohh, and UKIP need a new leader (again). Ant takers?!


Overlit by Joy

Overlit by Joy

Last weekend, once again, innocent people were killed on British soil, by people driven by an ideology built on hatred and division. Lives were ended prematurely, and others were irrevocably changed.

I have written before about how we respond to acts of terrorism, and after three attacks in three months, it feels like I can say little which has not already been captured by others. I can share stories of people helping out, of little acts of resistance, whether fleeing pint in hand, or returning to settle up the next day. I can point out that acts of terror do little to increase the risks we all face in modern life (though this is no comfort to those directly effected). And I can reaffirm the importance of standing together. Of living boldly.

But there is one thing I can say, which has not, perhaps, been said before.

You see, London Bridge is somewhere I spend a lot of time. I sing at Southwark Cathedral, so this attack felt, in some ways, far closer to me than even the Westminster attack (which led to my boss being stuck in Whitehall). Indeed, just last week I enjoyed a curry and drinks with friends in exactly that part of town.

But on Saturday night I was nowhere near London Bridge. Instead, I was in the Cumbria, at the wedding of two people I love well, Matt (who followed me as an intern at Coventry Cathedral), and Ellen (who lived with us when she came to Coventry, and who was there through some of the worst frustrations of job hunting).

Matt and Ellen are people who live out, perhaps better than any couple I know, an example of love and service. Matt devotes his time to working with Refugees and Asylum Seekers, while helping churches in Coventry improve their interfaith relations. Ellen spends her days supporting children with lives far more complex and painful than I can imagine, as a learning support mentor. They do all this, while building a life together in Coventry, a city which neither of them knew before two years ago. And yet somehow, they always have time for their friends and family.

Their wedding was, then, an occasion which spoke of love at every turn. It spoke of their love, and of God’s love for them and for the world. It is fitting that they met each other as they met God in the waters Baptism. They are from a far more evangelical tradition than me, which meant their wedding was more openly fervent than many I have seen, and everyone I met at their wedding was clearly aware of God’s love for them, and of God working through them.

Put simply, their wedding overflowed with love and light and life. I did not expect to be named as a surrogate brother, nor to feel so very welcome and comfortable, though surrounded by people I didn’t know.

It was shortly after my mum and I got back to our B and B that we heard about the attack at London Bridge. I could barely comprehend the sorrow, full as my head was with love. And that is a great blessing. If, somehow, the joy of that wedding had been pushed aside by the London Bridge attack, I would have lost something immeasurably precious.

For me, the 3rd June 2017 will always be Matt and Ellen’s wedding day. And when other people speak about the London Bridge attack, I will remember their love, and their importance to everyone who is touched by their lives. Their wedding will not be overshadowed by the deaths of innocent people at Borough Market. Rather, those deaths will be made a little less dark by the light they cast.

Because light will always outshine darkness.

Sorrow is overlit by joy.