I'm no tribal politician and have never felt drawn to one party over another. I've worked with talented and inspirational politicians from all the main parties in local, national and EU politics. And I've worked with some turkeys from those same parties too. So, I've not been very fussed with the General Election campaign, but I did vote and I do have thoughts about the result.
First of all, the scale of this election result is arguably greater than that of any for a generation. It will take a while for the full implications to work through.
The Farage UKIP project is stalled which is good news and a testament to the fairness of most of the British population who generally have recoiled at the nastiness of the current crop of UKIP people.
The Greens have just about stood still and despite generally increasing their share of the vote, neither they, nor the mainstream environmental bodies, have got anywhere getting serious environmental debates into politics. Natalie Bennett's anti-austerity pro NHS is a far cry from the leaders of the Greens elsewhere in Europe and in the party's honourable past. Whilst I don't agree with everything Caroline Lucas says, her ability as a spokesperson for environmental issues is unrivalled and It's a good thing for politics that such a talented person is back in Parliament.
In my old job, I worked with some good Lib Dems (and a few less able ones) and personally feel sorry for Nick Clegg who I got to know moderately well. It's a pretty miserable prospect being Leader or ex Leader of the tiny, shattered remains of the Lib Dems for what must look like an eternity of a 5 year Parliament. Perhap history will show his biggest failing, evidenced by the remarkable turn of events in Scotland with one party dominating with only a fraction of the popular vote, was Clegg's failure to deliver any kind of electoral reform.
If the big Lib Dem gamble on the Coalition had any purpose, it must have been to achieve their strategic long term goal of a fairer voting system. And they didn't so it might be good if for the next 10 years we don't hear much from the Lib Dems on this particular broken record.
I think the Lib Dem record on the environment was patcher than I'd expected when they joined the Government in coalition. Most of the clever running on the environment in the Coalition came from the Tory Ministers, although it was good to see Norman Baker make some progress on cycling. The Lib Dems din't have any influence over Defra for the first half of the coalition and when they did, it was all a but backwoodsman rural and certainly not progressive.
The combination of a surge locally in UKIP and the SNP, a stronger performance by the Tories and what I suspect is a still strong desire (justified or not) by voters to punish the Labour Party for the economic crisis led to a pretty bad night for Labour and no real prospect they will play much of a leading role in Westminster for several years to come. There are some talented people in the Labour Party, but we'll not hear much from them for a while.
Which takes me on to the implications of a big (under the circumstances) Tory win. A few thoughts.
- Austerity budgets are likely to dominate with little practical challenge, and it's difficult to see the 'unprotected' departments doing anything other than being battered and bruised. Maybe a more coherent Conservative administration will take a more logical approach to spending, be more realistic about fees and charges for some selectively-beneficial public services and understand more the impacts of their cuts on the ground and perhaps they'll be kinder and cleverer about what they feel they need to do. But my hunch is George Osborne's sharp knife is out already.
- There must be a good chance that a rather more sophisticated Conservative strategy for reforming the public sector will be pursued, especially given that Cameron's team have had 5 years to see what works and what doesn't. The rather blunderbuss assault on public services, in my view, missed the opportunity for some real reforms. Maybe, without the need to pack two lots of politicians into Cabinet positions, Cameron will dispense with many of the smaller roles like Defra, DCMS etc? The Scottish Executive functions around 6 main Departments, Whitehall has dozens still.
- There's clearly going to be a strong imperative to look hard at the implications of a de facto independent Scottish Government and the pretty remarkable split between a Tory England and a SNP Scotland. As several commentators have said, this punches open all of those boxes around devolution and who votes on English issues (57 SNP MPs voting on the English NHS, or English Schools, or the future of English Heritage, Visit England or Natural England?).
- Whilst I've described this as a 'big' Tory win, in all probability it will be a tricky minority's government and minority governments aren't easy to run. there are numerous tails to wag the dog and the extreme or special interest groups may get prizes thrown at them with unexpected consequences for the Government's programme. And it may make Ministers less bold on some complex, long-term issues.
- Everyone, from you as a citizen and the political commentators ignore the other key elections in local government at their peril. More on that later.