It was a surprise and delight to see my majority increase to over 20,000 votes, particularly given that I had been expecting to see it squeezed. I campaigned until the last possible moment –‘knocking-up’ pledged voters as the close of poll approached, having risen at 3 am in order to be at the rendezvous and start leafleting by 4.30 am (taking care not to rattle letter boxes or wake the dogs). I continued to present a determined optimism to my fellow activists, reminding them that the bookies would no longer take bets on a Conservative majority, whilst secretly preparing myself for defeat. I confess to having been duped by the polls. I was mentally adjusting to defeat. I had even typed up my final tweet to be released when my result was announced, quoting Julien from Stendal’s classic Le Rouge et le Noir:
“Au milieu de tant de perils, il me reste moi”
In the event I never sent it, because by the time my result came through, the unfolding national picture was already confounding the polls.
I have three particular reflections on the election campaign. First, the brutal punishment meted out by voters to the Liberal Democrats. In my estimate they did the right thing in 2010 by setting aside their profound differences with the Conservatives, and coming into a coalition government in order to give 5 years of stable government so necessary for the recovery of our economy. It never really worked for their voters however. The party itself has always believed in coalitions as the proper and normal form of government, and they were always intent on achieving power through coalitions. Their voters however, have been disproportionately made up of protest voters, objecting to those in political power, rather than seriously seeking to get it themselves. In my experience it was always a deeply frustrating experience arguing with a Liberal Democrat voter on the doorstep: no matter how far you could demonstrate how Lib Dem policy differed so dramatically from their own point of view (often particularly on Europe), they maintained their determination to vote for them. Why? I believe it was because they never expected those policies to be implemented, because they never expected the party to win power. Their vote was essentially against governments. Consequently, when the party became part of government they were bound to lose the support of this significant segment of their former supporters.
Second, whilst canvassing this time I have been quite astounded by the proliferation of those notices on doors announcing that canvassers and cold callers are unwelcome. In the past voters used to complain that nobody had called, now they make it clear that they don’t want you to. I came across several notices stating ‘no unwanted callers’. Well, how would you know if you were unwanted or not until you’ve called? The demeanour of many residents when they answer the door makes it clear that absolutely nobody is welcome. Are a significant number of our people determined to seal themselves off entirely from contact with the world outside the security of their castles?
Third, demand for electoral reform voiced by the disappointed leaders of the single issue parties is quite at variance with the clearly expressed wish of the British people. As recently as 2011 we held a national referendum with a high turnout in which we rejected such electoral reform by 70% to 30% -enough to settle the question for a generation.
The British electoral system makes life harder for small parties, but we knew that very well when we voted to keep it in 2011. The advantage of our system is that it encourages ‘broad church’ political parties that seek to reach out to a wide range of voters, and that it has tended to deliver decisive government that have majorities necessary to implement their legislative programmes. It was a bizarre experience to hear Nigel Farage demanding the sort of continental voting systems that deliver perpetual coalition, and the enduring political establishments of which he has claimed to so disapprove