The Sunday after the elections before – and what, if anything, is the significance of the results

9th May 2021

Party support comes and goes.

It was not too long ago that an electorate very similar to the current one returned a hung parliament.

It was also not too long ago that the Conservatives had consistently failed to get an overall majority from 1997 to 2015.

And now the conventional wisdom is that the Conservatives are now so dominant that they will not easily be displaced.

That populist Conservatism from time to time does well is not unusual – like Benjamin Disraeli, Boris Johnson irks the liberals and progressives and attracts political support from those who political scientists tell us should be voting for the Left.


If it is now the case that, given our electoral and parliamentary system, there is no viable alternative national government then that would be significant.

It it becomes politically impossible for any one opposition party to form an overall majority then this means either the Conservatives will continue to dominate Westminster or the opposition parties have to work together rather than compete with each other.

For the growing Green party (for which I voted, finally at fifty aligning my voting preference with my surname), this cross-party approach should come easily – as it does for Green parties elsewhere in Europe.

For the Liberal Democrats, however, perhaps the last thing they would want is the experience of coalition – for it was participating in the last coalition that seems to have effectively to have destroyed the credibility of the Liberal Democrats.

And for the Labour Party, it would seem that they are more than most parties already a coalition, though one which appears to be at the beginning of a civil war.

Our constitutional and electoral arrangements, therefore, make it difficult to see how the current governing party can be dislodged.



As I averred in my quick and short post on Friday, there are two liberal points to make about the recent elections.

First, a decline in tribal partisan voting is a good thing – and people who have changed their vote once can change it again.

And second, the impact of regionalism is stronger now than for any time maybe since world war two.

Regional mayors now have followings and power bases in a way that Joseph Chamberlain and Herbert Morrison the other politicians whose power bases were in the regions would recognise.

Regional power bases are as much of a practical check and a balance to central government excess as much as the judiciary and the legislature, if not more so.


Just a final note about the unexpected legacy of Tony Blair and his governments in all this.

The Good Friday Agreement and Scottish and Welsh devolution and the first steps towards English regionalism unintentionally provided an extraordinary matrix for post-Brexit politics to play out in.

There is a non-trivial chance that both Scotland and Northern Ireland may leave the Union, not only because of Brexit but also because of policies and changes made a decade or so before in a different context.

Those changes, to a large extent, were intended by many at the time to strengthen the Union – as they may well have done, had it not been for Brexit.

But the unexpected addition of Brexit as an active agent may have the opposite effect to that first intended.

It is never easy to make solid forecasts about politics and constitutional affairs – the significance of the elections last week may seem very different in a few years or they may completely forgotten.

But there is a possibility, if not a probability, that the prospect of continued Conservative dominance will have an equal and opposite political and constitutional reaction.

And one day in hindsight, that reaction will no doubt be seen as having been inevitable all along.


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17 thoughts on “The Sunday after the elections before – and what, if anything, is the significance of the results”

  1. The Lib Dems signed their own death warrant, not by going into coalition with the Tories but by failing to reform the voting system.
    They should have brought the house of cards down after the failed (surely unnecessary) referendum.

    1. Having promised not to increase student fees, the LibDems were no sooner in the coalition than they agreed to triple them.

      From then on they were seen as next to indistinguishable from the Tories; they did, it’s said, prevent the Brexit referendum when in office. But they failed to get a proper electoral reform referendum; they should have walked then.

      1. The LDs have won the Luton by-election – from Labour – and increased their number of council seats. So there is some sign of the beginning of a renaissance. Unfortunately the assessment of the LDs as “same as the Tories” was what led us to discover how different the Tories with a majority were.

        Kate Hoey was on Radio 4 this morning criticising Labour for failing to represent the “Brexit-supporting working class”, and becoming a remainer party. But Corbyn’s fence-sitting didn’t do them any good either. They have a difficult game to play to make themselves relevant to a large enough electorate. How long will Brexit be a defining issue of who you vote for?

  2. You may be interested in the Oxfordshire County Council results. Here the Tories did not have a good night. Technically the previous council was hung with the Tories on 31 seats, but the Independents threw their lot in with them, so it wasn’t. Today, one seat is disputed, but the Tories are down 9 or ten and Labour up five or six with the Lib Dems up 8. Which results in a genuinely hung council. Oxford City remained in Labour control, losing only 3 seats I think to Green, LibDem and Independent. This has caused me to wonder, with all the talk about Labour and LibDem demise, whether that is fully the case, or whether we are beginning to see a fundamental realignment. The old Tory council leader of OCC also lost his seat, which some might have felt was justice since he had wanted the elections to be delayed for another year.

    1. Plus 3 Greens.

      The disputed seat is fascinating. The Returning Officer transposed a set of results. The Labour candidate had the most votes. The Tory was declared elected and post-declaration is therefore the councillor. There needs to be a court hearing to overturn the result. Apparently.

  3. Interesting to see you voted Green, as did I. Would be interesting to hear more of your rationale. Their growth is encouraging but still hugely hamstrung by the various voting systems in place at all levels.

  4. I would have voted Green too, but here in Scotland the Greens are supporting the SNP and I don’t want to split away from the UK so I feel unable to support them.

  5. On a related note is the Conservative government proposing to bring in legislation this parliament for mandatory ID cards to vote; That will likely result in less voting by minorities and young people (who generally don’t vote Conservative I understand).
    See Guardian article – 10 May 2021 Queen’s speech: voters will need photo ID for general elections.

    1. I know a very hot topic in the UK and US but if done like in other country people won’t need to register for vote because you get your Polling Paper per mail and so I would guess you would get more Voters because it is easier.
      But I guess the UK gov won’t take other countries as example so in the end you are right with your fears I guess

  6. This govt. Wants to centralise all power. A good card for labour to play should therefore be UK-wide devolution. If the cities run themselves well in the teeth if the inevitable tory intransigence, then the towns will turn.

  7. “Regional power bases are as much of a practical check and a balance to central government excess as much as the judiciary and the legislature, if not more so.”
    It seems the tories would agree. And so they are changing the electoral system used in regional elections to FPTP to favour themselves in future elections.

  8. I don’t want to see the break up of the UK, but, given a devloved model, Westminster must be more defferential to the other parliaments. Since (under Johnson, at least) this will never be the case, the best option would be a federation of the nations with the creation of an English assembly and a (much weaker) UK government.

    Economically, Brexit has killed Scottish nationalism since a Scottish EU state would have to treat its major trading partner as a third nation with all of the border customs implication that goes with it. Ironically, the same foolish decision makes a united Ireland all the more possible, but for the wishes of the loyalists.

    For me, the solution is to become federal and rejoin the EU (don’t suppose we could try Bojo et al for treason… pity!)

    1. The basic problem with the UK’s devolved model is that it is “top-down”, a form of largesse. The three devolved parts all have differing capabilities.

      Consider the Swiss model. This is a “bottom-up” model. After the 1847 Civil War, the Constitution was rewritten. The powers and responsibilities of the Cantons (roughly “counties”, but really independent states) were retained, but an extra federal level of government was added. This is responsible for Swiss-wide activities such as foreign affairs, the military, general economic development, etc. But the federal government is only allowed to do what the Cantons permit it to do.

      Such a model would be theoretically possible in the UK; a combination of Scotland, NI, Wales, and English regions based perhaps on ancient pre-unification kingdoms or today’s mayoralties. But it’s unimaginable that Westminster politicians would give up any of their powers.

  9. Many interesting thoughts in the comments. In the end though most come down to what I would call liberal hopes for the future. Perhaps this is inevitable given the probable profile of your blog’s readership.

    We are in a period of quite radical change which started in 2008 and which has included two referendums and a pandemic. These have yet to play out. The referendums I would argue are still to show their effects and the pandemic has at least a year to run. The effect on employment, earnings and opportunities at the moment are cushioned but for how long.

    There is certainly a move towards a more regional politics but will it be able to stand up against the might of central government? Andy Burnham talked a good talk today and certainly there are pockets of bottom up politics as has been written up by John Harris in the Guardian for many months. But is it any more than just local reactions to specific circumstances – local politics which seem to be exhibited in places like Oxford and Cambridge but certainly not a movement.

    Is levelling up just another slogan – I think so. Change in people’s lives, opportunities, wealth, employment, education, homes are all long term projects. How much patience is there in deprived communities?

    Are national identity and foreign worker mistrust deeply felt and if so how will they be exhibited. Has Trumpist type politics disappeared or will it it return?

    This makes politics so fascinating now.

    1. If “levelling up” was some form of Conservative vision, the agenda would not be “about to start” after 11 years of their rule. It is simply another populist soundbite (remember “the northern powerhouse” and governing for the “JAMs”?). The cynics at the heart of the Tory machine know that the memory of (most of) the electorate would not compare favourably with that of a goldfish, alas.

  10. An interesting point about Scotland and the effect of devolution. Labour will find it an impossible task to form a government without a large number of Scottish MPs, and the current – and future? – state of Scottish politics indicates a double-digit number of Labour MPs in Scotland is equally unlikely.

    Did Scottish devolution, one of the Blair administration’s proudest achievements, ruin the electoral chances of the UK Labour Party forming a majority government in Westminster?

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