What Really Happened to the Centre and the Left?

In the wake of the general election, there has been a lot of talk about the ‘quiet Tory’. It makes sense; frankly admitting to voting Tory would be a social death sentence for some, and highly embarrassing for others. The media quite enjoy blaming Major 1992 victory on the ‘quiet Tory’ vote- those who were so embarrassed to admit that they supported such a useless Conservative leader that they physically lied to pollsters. Where Cameron has enjoyed similarly negative personal approval ratings, his record is similarly poor, and his campaign has been similarly uninspiring, it is a mistake to simply blame the Conservative’s victory on social stigma. Having campaigned for both Labour and Lib Dem candidates across the country, and being simply shocked at the count, I firmly believe that there’s something much more interesting going on.

You may already know that the majority of Britain voted for someone other than the Conservatives. Only 37% of voters supported the Conservatives at the polls, meaning that 63% of voters opted for other parties. The unique way our system works means that the Conservatives received just over 50% of the seats in the House of Commons.

Yet the Conservatives didn’t gain huge amounts of support in many constituencies. The Tory vote simply remained stable, as it always seems to. It would be more accurate to say that their opponents went backwards.

The result was blatantly obvious looking back at the campaign. There are only two parties on the British right, the Conservatives and UKIP, and UKIP’s ‘blue’ supporters were openly switching back to the Tories weeks before elections. Simultaneously, the left became increasingly fractured. Ignoring parties that only received a few dozen votes in most constituencies, like TUSC, centre and left wing voters were choosing between the Greens, Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru. And, except in constituencies where the parties weren’t standing, many simply voted indiscriminately for one of these left wing parties.

On Election Day, I knocked on a lot of doors. When I asked a lot of people if they supported the Lib Dem candidate I was representing, they said yes and that they wanted him as their MP. However, they said that they were voting Labour or Green because they wanted to ‘go with their hearts’ (despite understanding that neither of their candidates had any chance of winning, and often not knowing who the candidate was). A few weeks earlier, I found the same while campaigning for a Labour candidate in the midlands- people wanted him to win, but wanted to vote for someone else anyway. Britain swung right, so far as I can see, because the centre and left became fractured, and because so many voters didn’t understand the importance of your vote in a general election: you have to vote for the person you want to win, rather than vote for someone you somewhat agree with but want to lose. After all, it is a first order election.

It would be incredibly easy to just say that Britain’s now Tory because the electorate are stupid. Certainly people that voted against the candidate that they wanted to win should feel bad that their candidate lost. However, the fracturing of all bar the right of British politics isn’t really a sign of a stupid Britain but rather a centre and left that feel angry with the Lib Dems, uninspired and embarrassed by Labour, and are furious with the Tories. British politics has fractured because so many wanted to vote against the Conservatives, but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for ‘Red Ed’ or ‘Nearly-Tory Nick’. Voting for the Greens, a left or centre no hoper in your constituency, or UKIP was a very efficient way for many to demonstrate their anger at our politicians. Many weren’t being stupid, but were voting against everyone.

The battle to regroup for the left and centre shouldn’t be focussed on bashing the Greens, the Conservatives, or UKIP. The Green’s record and policies speak for themselves in condemning a party whose policies all seem to have been written by a drunk child, and Red and Yellow UKIP voters are no less likely to switch back than the Blue UKIP voters that switched before the election. If Labour and the Lib Dems start to provide a real vision, and their new leaders have the capacity to inspire people, the electorate will start to switch back. Just as importantly, many will start either voting for the candidates that they want to win, or tactically voting in swing seats.

Of course, the SNP now have a legitimate stronghold in Scotland and have become the obvious anti-Tory choice in many of the seats they stand in. With the infrastructure such an electoral victory brings, the SNP aren’t a flash in the pan. Labour may never fully recover in Scotland, but we may expect that such a total electoral victory marks a high water mark for the SNP.

The Left and Centre of British politics will need time to recover, but it is not all lost. New leaders and new visions will win the disillusioned back, and the day in which a majority government gets more than 37% of the popular vote may not be too far away.