In the space of three hours, three of Britain’s distinguished party leaders have resigned from their positions. First Farage, then Clegg and now Miliband, such a profound shift in Britain’s political leadership will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications.
All three have been forced to face the music due to the disappointments of this election. Farage’s failing was a personal one – being unable to win the seat of Thanet South. In the case of Clegg and Miliband, party failings have rendered their positions untenable. Indeed, both Labour and the Lib Dems have markedly underperformed in this election. It had been estimated that the Lib Dems would retain 20-30 of its 57 Commons seats. In reality, the party has retained just eight. As for Labour, so-called ‘authority’ figures unanimously maintained before the election that the party would improve on its 2010 standing. In many pre-election predictions, including our own, it was estimated that Ed Miliband would have manifestly greater opportunities to form a government than David Cameron. Yet, from 10:00pm yesterday evening, such predictions became vastly optimistic. Rather than shifting in favour of Labour, the population moved even further towards the Conservatives. Labour will enter the next Parliament with less seats than Gordon Brown managed to gain in 2010.
As a result, Clegg and Miliband have been forced to accept a future of relative political obscurity. Commentators will now evaluate the credentials of potential replacements. The Liberal Democrats have few options, given their distinct lack of MPs, but this may act to their advantage. There is unlikely to be a heated ideological debate within the party – Tim Farron (a candidate on the left of the party) – appears to be the standout contender, and it will be difficult for the right to overthrow his ascendancy. As for Labour, the battle is likely to be more complex and heated. Indeed, a debate has already begun in order to deconstruct the ideological roots of Labour’s electoral failing. Did the party leave too much room on the left for the SNP to exploit with a radical, anti-austerity agenda? Or did ‘Red Ed’ alienate Middle England with his anti-capitalist ideologies? The outcome of this debate will go some way towards determining the future leader of the Labour Party. Chuka Umunna has already been tipped as a carrier of the centrist, Blairite flame. In contrast, the likes of Stella Creasy may inject the party with a reinvigorated left-wing agenda to rival Nicola Sturgeon.
Whatever the outcome of these leadership contests, Britain’s political climate has shifted radically over the past twenty-four hours. We are entering into a new phase of politics – one barely envisaged a day ago.