2016 General Election, Part 1
The election sat in the middle of a global populist storm
“Many still hope the populist threat will fade. William Hague, thinks he can ride to re-election later this year on the back of an economic recovery, despite the pounding that his National Party is taking in the polls. Fractious and amateurish, some populist parties may melt away once they try their hand at governance. But others have shown staying power. Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom is now part of the political furniture in the Netherlands. Populists can also help keep the established parties honest. Voters troubled by immigration, bail-outs or austerity need channels for their concerns. The People’s Party may be led by Gramsci-wielding ideologues, but many of the youngsters who make up much of its base are motivated by a more homely concern. “What’s up? We still don’t have a house!” runs a favoured chant.” - Part of the furniture, The Economist (2016)
The fact the Hague administration had survived a full four year term was a minor miracle. Built on unstable foundations of a three way deal between National, Reform and the SNP, the Hague government had implemented unpopular austerity whilst facing down corruption scandals and internal splits. Both of the supporting parties had stayed loyal to their confidence and supply deal, despite the SNP losing its position as Scotland’s largest party and Reform facing electoral oblivion in the polls. Despite being personally unpopular, Hague had managed to stay in control of National through shrewd deals and careful party management, with no clear successor as leader.
Hague also benefited from the weakness of his opposition, going through three SDP leaders since ascending to Downing Street with the most recent leader Andy Burnham facing loud criticism within his own party and struggling with the rising support of the People’s Party. Attempts to unite the left of British politics had seen mixed results, whilst the People’s Party and Socialist Alternative had agreed a Ribiero-Addy coalition named the “United People’s Alliance”, this had been rejected by RISE, Forward Wales and the Workers Party - citing the UPA’s federalist, rather than separatist political positions. Political fragmentation was the main theme of opposition to National with five parties running a effective national campaign and dozens of smaller parties in the nations and regions.
The OutRage movement had broken politics
Polling at the start of the short campaign showed National in the lead with 28% of the vote, with a three way battle for the silver medal with the UPA on 23%, SDP on 20% and Unity on 16%. Both Reform and the Centrists were polling around 2%, meaning they would struggle to get into Parliament, with Reform crushed by its alliance with National and squeezed by Unity for the centrist vote, whilst the Centrists were damaged by the assassination of of Akala and the expulsion of Godfrey Bloom. In Scotland, RISE called the election a “last chance” for a multilateral, legal independence referendum, calling for Scottish voters to deliver Patrick Harvie a strong mandate to take to Westminster.
“The SNP must contend with tensions within its own party organisation on the issue of unilateral independence. Whilst the majority liberal faction of the SNP, has come to embrace this constitutional goal, its smaller conservative faction is opposed to a unilateral referendum. Voters don't like divided parties and a poor result for the SNP could lead to a party split over this issue. There is little doubt that in the coming months, British politics will be dominated by the constitutional question. What is less clear is the extent to which the Scottish sovereignty movement will be able to secure the response it wants from voters in July. Whatever the outcome, Scots look set to have to endure yet another year of wrangling over the future governance of their nation.” - The challenge for pro-independence parties ahead of the 2016 elections, Lecture by Anwen Elias, LSE (2016)
Hague’s main pitch to the public was economic recovery and stability, pointing towards Britain’s stabilising economy and the repayment of Troika debts telling a rally in Coventry “we’ve shown the British people we can make tough decisions”. Hague also warned of growing instability, highlighting Britain had - for the first time ever - four parties polling above 15%. National campaigns warned of a hard-left coalition of chaos led by the UPA where dozens of squabbling parties would struggle to get anything passed. With the Greek Syriza Government hitting a rocky patch, National Party strategists were keen to squash the growing radical left insurgency.
A strong result for separatist parties would bolster the case for a unilateral referendum
Andy Burnham and the opposition meanwhile made corruption a central plank of their campaign, with the Rupert Harrison inquiry conveniently expected to deliver it’s findings after the election, Burnham hammered home the need for radical constitutional overhaul, including more power for regions, stronger checks on MPs and a more proportional voting system. Burnham also needed to squeeze the progressive votes leaking on his left and right, reminding voters the SDP was the only party that could realistically challenge National’s hegemony. The Social Democrats were especially pushing to retake Britain's cities where the UPA dominated, appealing to younger and ethnic minority voters, as well as the SDP’s core base in the towns and smaller cities of Northern England.
With four parties competing for Downing Street the chance of a clear majority was becoming increasingly slim - thus talk naturally moved to post election coalitions - however after several years of animosity none of the party leaders were in the mood to compromise. With all four having at least a slim chance of winning the Prime Ministership, none wanted to accept the need for coalition and thus make them look weak and weaken their claim to the top job. All four parties would claim they were fighting to win and refused to answer when journalists pushed them on this issue. The biggest beneficiary of this was National, with the Centrists on the run their right-wing flank was secure, and Hague could make a reasonable claim to be the man with the best chance of forming a stable majority.
“William Hague has said he does not want to speculate about any possible pact or offer he might make to Unity after July’s general election. He told the BBC Radio’s Today Program on Wednesday that “all the parties are tied at zero” until the election, and avoided talk of any deal with Alan Sugar. Unity is the only political force expected to garner the results on July 1st with which National would consider a post-election deal. For his part, Sugar said on Wednesday that he was against signing any deal with either National or the SDPs. “Brits need a new government,” he said. “Neither Hague nor Burnham represent that change.” The latest opinion poll carried out by YouGov shows the National winning between 169 and 173 MPs. The UPA are predicted to place second, earning between 121 and 124 MPs, with the SDP third (114 to 116 seats).” - PM steers clear of post-election pacts talk, BBC News Bulletin (2016)
National led in the polls but had few viable coalition partners