After the bedwetting excitement of two elections, the political establishment of the UK now takes a new and chaotic form: Ukip steaming ahead to make massive gains; the Lib Dems sinking, making massive loses; and Labour and the Conservatives hoping that they can now wake up from their respective nightmares. So where do the newly christened ‘big four’ parties go from here?
The Conservatives managed to survive humiliation in the European elections, coming in a modest third place behind Labour. In the local elections, however, they did far worse, losing control of 11 councils as well as 230 seats. In fact, when David Cameron appeared before the cameras to say that his party must try harder, his worried expression showed that he will probably try going to church more often.
But it’s not all over for the Tories; so long as the economic recovery continues (and Osborne eventually phases out the cuts) the party will have achieved its biggest aim since entering power. They also need to tackle the problem of immigration (which they have so far been unsuccessful at doing) and seek to reform the EU to benefit Britain; while at the same time reiterating Cameron’s necessary promise of an EU referendum in 2017.
Although not appearing to suffer too badly, Labour’s results were not exactly convincing. Despite winning the local elections, its gains were not huge and its projective share was only 2% ahead of the Conservatives – a similar hollow result being achieved in the Euro elections.
There seems to have been a lack of momentum from within Labour to actually try and convince voters. Only a hand full of policies have trickled out from the party and these, such as plans to cut energy bills and renationalise the railways, appear to have been hastily thought through and poorly planned.
Ed Miliband’s leadership of his party must be put into doubt. Put bluntly, he’s not a very influential leader and he doesn’t inspire confidence with voters. Indeed, Labour MP Graham Stringer accused him of leading an “unforgivably unprofessional campaign” in the elections.
The Lib Dems are quite simply in dire straits – and I’m not talking about the band. After a completely disastrous performance at the polls, their prospects for 2015 do not look rosy. If you’ve ever wondered what the captain of the Titanic thought as his ship went down, just speak to Nick Clegg.
The party needs to detach from the stigma it has gained while in coalition with the Conservatives, emphasising that they are an independent party separate from their Blue partners. But without causing heartbreak by breaking up the beautiful relationship of the coalition, there is little chance of the party being able to do this before the all-important general election. The Liberal Democrats have been bulldozed and it will take some time for them to rebuild themselves.
The biggest problem for Ukip is repeating their success next year. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that Ukip’s victories were partially down to “lender voters” who would return to the Conservatives in 2015. He’s not wrong; once the Conservatives and Labour get their act together, dealing with the issues raised by Ukip, Nigel Farage’s party will not be as appealing. For Ukip to do well next year they will need to expand and defend their current policies – simply telling Romanians that they are not welcome in the UK and cutting the education budget to buy aircraft carriers isn’t going to win them much support.
We’d known for a while that these elections were going to throw Ukip into the limelight and the Lib Dems into the landfill, but now that the actual results are available the full extent of the public’s political desires have become apparent. The Lib Dems are dead, but will Ukip dip? If the Conservatives and Labour get into gear, then yes.
By James Morris