BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Paul Mason
« Previous | Main | Next »

Election: Disjointed thoughts from my tired brain

Paul Mason | 09:16 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

I spent 12 hours at the joint count at Richmond Park and Twickenham. Vince Cable got 32,000 votes (and the Tories grew their vote too). But in the neighbouring Libdem constituency Susan Kramer was ousted by Zac Goldsmith.

How come? Zac ran a high profile zippy campaign with blue windcheaters, electric bikes and what looked to me like several chapters of Debrett's peerage in tow.

Yet he - anecdotally - took votes off the Libdems and Labour in the least affluent wards.

Just like Tommy Carcetti in Series IV of The Wire, he took in one ward 2/5 of his opponents' base. As a result he had a 3,500 majority compared to Susan Kramer's 3,500 before.

Does this hold any lessons for where we go next? I think it might. Goldsmith won because he looked unlike a traditional Tory. The Zac machine "k-i-nd of fitted" on top of the traditional Tory machinery, the constituency Chair told me, with a long melismatic swoop over the word "kind" that indicated that it had not been easy.

Zac won, Caroline Lucas won, the Alliance ousted the DUP's figurehead Peter Robinson. People voted for change - but their idea of change was not the same as that of the major party leaders.

The political system was not capable of capturing it (that's not to say any other proposed system would be any better either).

So where now? I've said before the markets factored in the idea of a hung parliament, but not a chaotic one, where the arithmetic is so tight that small parties call the shots.

What's changed is that Britain's political stasis emerges in the middle of a global panic over two linked things:

a) Europe's fiscal crisis is getting out of control
b) Europe's political class does not have the skill or willpower or institutions to sort it out.

As of right now - with the polls predicting 306 Conservative MPs - Britain fits very neatly with point b) even if our fiscal situation puts us last on the list of economies that will fall over if the Greek contagion spreads.

I think just because Cleggmania fell away it does not mean that the new enthusiasm of young voters, and their clamour for something better, will go away.

I see the Zac phenomenon, the Greens in Brighton, the Alliance in East Belfast as part of the same wave. Also the massive queues outside hapless polling booths betoken the enthusiasm of young voters.

Now we are the other side of the big vote, all that prevarication about not specifying tens of billions of cuts will come home to roost.

It is very hard to imagine a minority government getting through an emergency review of the public finances which discovers the existing budget to be "fiction", then an emergency budget and £6bn of in-year cuts.

But the scale of the debt panic in the world probably also demands more in the way of credible fiscal austerity than Labour were offering, and a faster move towards cuts.

The crisis is, once again, moving faster than the politicians' brains, and the political institutions can cope with.

In the midst of it all I can only leave you with an image from the end of Zac Goldsmith's triumphant count. As his supporters filtered out, looking like the cast of Brideshead Revisited would if they had discovered hair putty, one woman said to another: "I feel so alive!"


  • Comment number 1.

    but will it be cameron?

    old tories make deals with the beardy tree huggers? i suspect they'd prefer to set the beagles on them?

  • Comment number 2.

    The amount of votes Cable got is almost the same as the number that voted in those diddy Sunderland constituencies.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Oh dear, my prediction (@1, two blogs ago) is looking remarkably prescient.

    That we'll need another election to sort out the mess (postal vote fraud allegations, postal votes denied, polling station lockouts, insufficient ballot papers) and the impasse between the various blocs, is becoming increasing likely - I just cannot see that we can maintain a tight ship on the lines of the German coalition model. How long it takes could be a few months ("sell in May and go away").

    At a time we need a strong Government to face down the threat of bond downgrading, we're faced with so much uncertainty.

    Is that the sound of horsemen, or the IMF?

  • Comment number 5.

    Zac Goldsmith would not have been dropped into that constituency without a clear expectation that he would win. I am sorry to have to say it but Susan Kramer is a typical example of the sort of personality the Liberal Democrats are fond of advancing. Such people lack gravitas. Overblown is a useful description.

    I think this election lacked gravitas all the way through.

    Don't talk about the deficit!

    Don't talk about the debt!

    Don't tell it how it is!

    Where was the leadership?

    Perhaps the view is that history doesn't happen in the UK.

  • Comment number 6.

    Notable for anyone really keen on proportional representation, as I would presume most Greens are, I point out that the BNP got twice as many votes as The Greens and UKIP got 3 times as many.

    So together, those who recognise that the EU is primarily a mechanism for transnational capital to exploit people - and were prepared to prioritise it in their voting, cast 6.5% of the votes just for these 2 anti EU parties, and there were additional Eurosceptic parties and votes too.

    (By comparison The Greens got only 1% of the overall vote, and LESS than they did last time. They must be thanking the Green goddess for the ambiance of Brighton pavilion, a stronghold of No-Borders by the way, which is perhaps why Caroline Lucas, who has enjoyed privileged access to information on the international trade committee of the EU in addition to her privileged and well paid MEP posisiton all these years, has failed to inform the UK public about the secret opening to cheap labour going on at the trade level. Same as Mandelson)

    I remind you that EU scepticism was the main challenge to established politics before the media refocused the public and effectively narrowed choices to 3 pro-EU, big business parties. The voting, in numbers if not in seats, shows that EU scepticism lives.

  • Comment number 7.


    1. the country has a fully fragmented political pattern no longer capable of being described or understood by the simplicity of a national swing. evidence: the variation of swings from 20% + to Lib Dem to 15% Tory to 3% Labour as well as a more broad swing in southern England to Tory of 5 - 6% or so. Tory England against a nationalist/leftish Scotland and fully confused Wales.

    2. despite the TV debates, Cleggmania, and the Presidential campaigns on TV the localism of results suggests that in rejecting the parties' meta-narratives voters have made very specific choices on a number of factors including incumbency, reputation/scandal, boundary changes, tactical voting to keep x or y out.

    3. given the lack of a consistent narrative voters have not been able to be join a "national mood" as in 97 or 79 but rather have been forced to think carefully about their own constituency not knowing how the rest of the country would vote. unlike 97 when there was a national mood to "Trust Tony/Kick out the Tories" when everything was swept away in a huge tide of popular support, this time voters have maybe been forced to think far more deeply about what they truly believe, abandoning tribal loyalities in some places, voting tactically in others to keep the Tories/Labour out, wanting to believe in the Lib Dems but then getting cold feet re immigration/Euro/"wasted vote", and glory-hunters/floating voters forced to make a conscious decision, rather than see which way the wind is blowing and voting for the winning side.

    4. the country did not make a decision but rather made a non-decision as it probably distrusts all parties to deliver a comprehensive vision. the political class has made a mess of creating a genuinely balanced economy over 35 yrs, made a mess of it's own house with the expenses scandal, and not been open about the decisions to come (for fear of being punished). so the public has said, you've made your bed, lie in it.

    5. the concentration of wealth/aspiration to wealth and hope for prosperity through individual endeavor (Tory world view) is a predominantly southern England view. Very little evidence of economic hope elsewhere in UK. great swathes of the UK simply have lost all faith in the market to deliver either individual or national prosperity and the belief that opportunities exist for social mobility die out north of Watford. that we are the masters of our destinies is a dying belief and that powers beyond our control, either collectively (the left world view) or individually (the Thatcher striving C2s' world view) govern our lives and our country. however a significant minority (36%) DO hold that wealth creation, and happiness is possible through individual endeavor. a North-South divide not between Capitalists and Socialists, rather hope and hopelessness.

  • Comment number 8.

    so what happened, Nick? All the guff about a hundred seats and you ended up with less than last time, you should be hiding in shame for a bad campaign yet you are kingmaker, sleepwalking to oblivion...hopefully..


More from this blog...

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.