Along with the rest of the political world I got the result wrong.
Nothing in any of the polls suggested the Tories could win an outright majority and when the exit poll was announced I told a roomful of people it was far too tough on the Lib Dems and certainly over-optimistic as far as the Tories were concerned. While I’d written about the ‘Shy Tory’ syndrome and how there is always a swing to the government of the day, I read the polls like all the other commentators. David Cameron becomes the first party leader since 1983 and only the second since the start of the 19th century to win more seats in his second term than his first. So, with that caveat, I humbly offer thoughts as to the future.
Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues have arrived at Westminster with all guns blazing. But after all the election hype, reality is dawning. The SNP’s success is no guarantee that Scotland has changed its mind on independence. And full fiscal autonomy is the last thing she wants right now, with the oil price where it is and the enormous gap between what Scotland spends and what it earns in taxes. Her other great demand, much echoed by the Greens and Plaid Cymru, is an “end to austerity”. I’m all in favour. And the best way to end austerity is to create real jobs, which requires a government that doesn’t constantly treat business as if it is the enemy. If, however, austerity means cutting back bloated public-sector spending when as a country you don’t raise enough in taxes to pay for it, then sadly Sturgeon might find ending it a tad more difficult than she thinks.
Labour and the Lib Dems are licking their wounds. Don’t write Labour off. The party will recover, learn lessons and move on. Some have said we are in for a decade of Conservative government. I only wish. Labour will have a new leader by the end of the year and he or she will know now, if they ever doubted it, that you don’t win elections from the extreme left or right. Blair won three elections by gaining the centre ground. MPs like Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt clearly get that.
The Lib Dems have of course been decimated. It is quite possible they may not exist by the end of this parliament. They are simply no longer a credible party, either of government or opposition. UKIP predictably rejected Nigel Farage’s resignation. He now leads the third largest party in terms of votes cast, despite having only one MP. He will certainly hold Cameron’s feet to the fire on the referendum.
The good news in the short term is that we have a government with an overall majority, which will not raise the top tax rate to 50p, will not introduce rent controls, will not persecute non-doms and will not pursue a mansion tax. Corporation tax should fall to 20% in the next Budget. Little wonder that property shares rose along with energy companies and the pound.
But it won’t all be plain sailing from here on in. Abolishing the Human Rights Act so that British judges are not overruled by the European Court is popular with many but fiercely opposed by the whole civil liberties movement. Having to find £12bn of welfare savings is a challenging task even for Iain Duncan Smith and of course the impending referendum on Europe will need careful handling.
So far, the new cabinet looks a safe bet, with some good new faces and the core team retained. Cameron has an easy run in the next few months, as the other parties look inward rather than outward, but he must use his new-found authority at home and abroad to ensure that his party sticks together. The road ahead was always going to be rocky, whoever won last Thursday. But that’s politics - never as easy as it looks.
Steve Norris is a former Conservative minister and London mayoral candidate. He is chairman of Soho Estates and the National Planning and Infrastructure Association