Yorkshire was one of the traditionally red northern regions that the Conservatives managed to flip. Led by Blairite David Blunkett since 1999, Blunkett had once been considered a future President but had fallen from grace, the recession had hit Yorkshire hard and the Labour coalition had lost its majority back in the 2008 Parliamentary election and was requiring the aid of Greens to keep going.
The Conservatives nominated William Hague, the former Presidential candidate who had led the Yorkshire Tories to their best result ever in 2008. Since his defeat in 1999 Hague had transformed from a Thatcherite oddity to a veritable elder statesman. Hague used the financial crisis to reach out to unemployed urbanites and disaffected rural voters alike, scoring particularly well in the outer suburbs of traditionally Labour cities, like Harewood in North-East Leeds.
Blunkett's premiership was flagging, original the first ever disabled Premier, multiple corruption scandals and a financial crisis had tanked his approval ratings, Blunkett also lost support amongst Labour members, Yorkshire became a hotbed of BNP activity, sending four MPs to Parliament from Yorkshire, Blunkett responded to this by taking even more draconian measures on immigration, which only caused more dissatisfaction amongst Labour supporters and emboldened the BNP. Both publicly and privately many in the YPLP called for Blunkett to stand aside in favour of his younger First Minister Yvette Cooper. Maybe she could have prevented the disastrous outcome for Yorkshire Labour.
The Lib Dem's Deputy First Minister Greg Mullholland led the party into the Premier elections, Mullholland was a strange case for a senior Lib Dem, a devote catholic he contributed to the book "Liberal Democrats Do God". He faced criticised for his opposition to liberalising LGBT and abortion laws, however he was very popular in rural Yorkshire, his maverick reputation as a thorn in Blunkett and Cooper's side garnered him much popularity, essentially running as the "shod them all" candidate he put in a strong performance, coming within a handful of votes of overtaking Blunkett in the third round.
As for third parties, UKIP went with their Yorkshire Parliamentary Leader Jonathan Arnott, just 27 years old Arnott was a relative moderate in UKIP and his main priority was seeing of the threat from BNP, Arnott ran as a respectable traditional politician hoping to win over disaffected Tories. The BNP put a lot of stock in Andrew Brons' campaign, Yorkshire was the closest thing the party had to a stronghold and Brons boasted he would overtake UKIP and the Lib Dems to become Yorkshire's third party. Brons' campaign was bitterly disappointing, allegations of his past membership of the "National Socialist Movement" a neo-nazi hate group, and the anti-immigration tones of almost all the major candidates meant Brons didn't make the great breakthrough he had hoped for. The Greens elected not to run a candidate, they were nearly booted out of the Yorkshire Parliament in 2008 with only 4.7% of the vote, polling for 2011 showed them on as little as 2% so they elected to save their resources for the Parliamentary elections.
In the end Hague achieved a resounding victory, becoming Yorkshire's first ever Tory Premier
"Blunkett and Hague, are now locking horns over the spending cuts in Yorkshire in a debate which is being echoed across the country. Hague accuses Blunkett of wanting to return to the days when Labour used Yorkshire as a "political battering ram". The Conservatives were enraged when the Premier warned of a "post-Soviet" meltdown. Blunkett warned of scavenging in the streets if a Hague premiership was elected and scrapped the Yorkshire deprivation grant. Hague, who appeared on the platform with Blunkett, denied that he would scrap the grant (also known as the Working Neighbourhoods Fund). Hague says the warning from Blunkett is typical of a Labour party that fails to take responsibility for the "financial mess". Hague accused Blunkett of failing to acknowledge that he would be imposing similar cuts in government." - Warning by David Blunkett sets scene for battle in William Hague's backyard, Nicholas Watt, The Guardian (2009)
Jack Straw was the last of the New Labour "old guard" to depart centre stage
“Jack Straw is to step down from frontbench politics after 30 years, he announced today. The North West Senator, who served as Premier, Senator and Senate Opposition Leader, said he believed Labour needed a "fresh start". "I was first appointed to the Labour frontbench in 1980, and then elected to the Shadow Cabinet in 1987," he told the Press Association. "But now I want the freedom to range more over foreign and economic policy." He added: "I'll be spending more time on my constituency, and I will be writing a memoir in time." Mr Straw said he would leave in early 2011 when Labour supporters had voted on a fresh Senate leader. Straw said he was not planning to quit as a Senator. "They seem to want me," he added. Mr Straw,joins senior Labour figures like Gordon Brown and David Miliband in retiring from frontbench politics. Mr Straw told the Lancashire Telegraph he had been "lucky" with his career. "My decision (to leave the leadership) was voluntary. I decided a few months ago that I wouldn't stand.” - Jack Straw retiring to the backbenches, James Tapsfield, The Independent (2010)
In his departing speech, Straw called on the party to address voter "disappointment" in Labour
In the Senate Labour also had a leadership race, Jack Straw was retiring after over a decade in top tier politics. If the Parliamentary Leadership election was a Brownite blowout at least it had a non Brownite candidate. For Labour’s senate leadership race only two candidates emerged, right-leaning Brownite Douglas Alexander and left-leaning Brownite John Healey.
The Blairites considered a raft of candidates including West Midlands Senator Laim Byrne and South-East Labour leader John Denham. Byrne was Labour’s ranking member on the Senate’s treasury committee and could bring the party much needed economic credibility, however he was virtually unknown by members and only had a small caucus of supporters in the senate. Denham wasn’t even a Senator, leading Labour in the South East Parliament, Denham was associated with the Blue Labour brand and could win over the rural south but he was completely unheard of outside the South East and had none of the Senate connections other candidates had. Even if there was a perfect candidate, none of the big names were particularly keen to run against the prevailing winds and the majority of the right of the Labour party decided to fall in line behind Alexander.
“Labour's Leadership front-runner Douglas Alexander has insisted the party is on track to the centre ground. With some polls showing Labour and the Tories neck-and-neck, the Mail on Sunday said there was a "vicious feud" over election tactics. Mr Alexander rejected the newspaper headlines and told the BBC Labour could be both "credible and radical". He also insisted that he hadn't axed US election strategist Arnie Graf and she would play a part in his campaign. Mr Graf, whose arrival after success with the Obama campaign was hailed by the party as a coup, has returned to the US. But Alexander, Labour's likely candidate for Senate Presidency, told the Andrew Marr Show he had not fired Mr Graf. "He's going to be involved in the election campaign." He said the party had now appointed its 100th community organiser adding that "the work he (Graf) has started is being carried through". Labour have focused on whether they should adopt a "safety" approach, and target its core vote, or whether it should seek to broaden its appeal.” - Labour can dominate centre ground - Douglas Alexander, BBC (2011)
Alexander pitched himself as the electable candidate
Former Defence Secretary Douglas Alexander remained in the spotlight despite the Government’s defeat in 2008, he spent his time out of power making overtures to Britain's trade unions and building up his formidable bastion in Scottish Labour. In the 2009 Presidential Campaign he worked as Candidate Brown’s National Security Adviser and he was a common surrogate for the campaign on TV and the campaign stump. Alexander also made a name for himself as a crusader against the SNP, Alexander talked Brown into taking a break from his Presidential Campaign to go up to Scotland and campaign for Jim Murphy, who was on the verge of losing the Premiership to the SNP, Brown’s last minute intervention saved Murphy’s campaign and Alexander was credited with stopping the SNP.
On the other side of the ring was John Healey, from the left-Brownite wing of the party Healey had the support of much of the soft left, and grudging acceptance from the hard left, Healey was regarded as a safe pair of hands and his campaign revolved around winning back areas the party lost in 2009 like his home region of Yorkshire. Whilst he wasn’t a well-known national figure like Alexander was, Healey used his decade in the Senate to grow his experience and build up a formidable list of contacts, now he just had to appeal to the ordinary members.
Healey was popular among Senate colleagues but lacked the prestige or media support of Alexander
“Healey said it was hard for Labour to attract public attention at this stage in the electoral cycle. "It's a tough fact of life in this period of opposition ... that what Labour says matters less than what almost anyone else says. He said he would like to see the Government give honours to people involved in local political activity. "I don't see any reason why political activity and service shouldn't be considered as part of broader public and community service," he said. He also reaffirmed his call for local Labour parties to get involved in social enterprises, such as running sports clubs. He warned that it would be a mistake to assume that the collapse of the Lib Dem vote would benefit Labour. He said the Presidential election showed that, if voters in the south-east desert the Lib Dems, they are more likely to switch to the Tories. He said the Labour party "tends to look too much inward". Backing the calls for internal party reform set out in the Refounding Labour report, he said the party needed to reach out to non-supporters. "Parties that lose touch lose power,”" - John Healey: Labour’s establishment insurgent, Andrew Sparrow, The Guardian (2011)
Much like Ed Balls, Alexander had to just lie back and let the votes roll in, with the endorsement of Brown, Blair and most the major unions Alexander formed a formidable block vote. Alexander tried to put a hopeful tone to appeal to party members, he invoked JFK comparing the task of reclaiming a Labour Government to that of landing a man on the moon. Alexander also tried to distance himself from the Blair/Brown era. In a speech to the Northern Irish Fabians in Belfast Alexander said “We have to offer a better tomorrow, not a better yesterday.”
Healey was more critical of past Labour administrations than Alexander. Healey criticised Alexander for being part of a Government that first introduced competition into the NHS. Healey also pushed for more local involvement by Senators. Healey portrayed himself as a fresh start compared to Alexander who had been active in the spotlight since 2003.
Whilst Healey put in a good fight he couldn’t defeat the combined firepower of the united party right, Alexander won nearly two thirds of the votes from supporters. Alexander had done what had seemed impossible just a few years ago, he had united the Blairites and Brownites into one cohesive blob. Alexander’s victory speech was patriotic and ambitious, he spoke of the good work Labour had done in Government for his home city of Edinburgh, most notably on the near eradication of child poverty, Alexander promised a Labour Government would quash child poverty. His speech also tried to capture the spirit of 99: “What 1999 taught us was that with a dynamic, independent and vibrant global civil society campaign, – we can do great things. Some will contest this point. But I think it is important to recognise that our delivery on our promises was made by choice – not chance. By people like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Miliband – buoyed by the knowledge that thousands were backing them. Times are tough – but we can make that difference again. And to that task, let us re-dedicate ourselves tonight.”
For the first time in years both Labour’s Parliamentary and Senatorial leaders were from the same faction and had a strong working relationship, the two made a formidable team and even made a joint speech at the conference, virtually unheard of before. Exhausted Labour activists could finally dare to dream of a united party for the first time since 1999. The party had made its decision, now they had to take the fight to Osborne.
“Conference, let's get down to business. This is a dangerous time for Britain, and for Britain's economy. The Government's austerity plan is failing. You can sense the fear that people have as we watch the economic crisis that stalked our country in 2008 threatening to return. Stock markets around the world are falling. The United States in difficulty. The Eurozone is struggling. And people in Britain are losing their jobs. Now is not the time for the same old answers. From us, on the issues that lost us your trust. From this Government, on the growth crisis we face. You need to know that there is an alternative. You need to know that it is credible. So people need to know where I stand. The Labour Party lost trust on the economy. And under my leadership, we will regain that trust. I am determined to prove to you that the next Labour Government will only spend what it can afford. That we will live within our means.That we will manage your money. I have a special responsibility to show you that every pound that we spend, we spend wisely.” - Ed Balls’ contribution to the joint speech (2011)
"Austerity has been a painful but correct response to the economic situation since 2008." Discuss. (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (2019)
The South East held particular emotional significance as it was Britain's largest region, and thus the Commonwealth's most desirable prize, with nearly 6 million voters it's premier would play a major role in national politics. Theresa May had first been elected Premier in 2004, defeating Labour's Andrew Smith, she initally ruled with a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition until after the 2005 election where she Tories went into coalition with UKIP and the Senior Citizens Party, UKIP subsequently cannibalised the SCP at the 2008 election and May had overseen a Tory/UKIP Government ever since.
Theresa May sought a second term at the head of the South East. May was one of the best known Tory women in the country and was very popular with South East voters, frequently talked up as a future Presidential candidate, the daughter of a vicar and a comprehensive school girl, May wasn't flashy or charismatic but seemed to connect with a certain set of voters, she was also a strong ally of President Howard and since her victory was near guaranteed she spent most of her time in 2009 campaigning for Howard. May's campaign was a traditional Tory one, campaigning on her personal profile and the lowering of taxes.
Leader of the Opposition Norman Baker stepped up to bat for the Lib Dems, from the left of the Lib Dems, Baker focused his campaign around trying to unite progressive voters in the South East under his banner. With both Labour and the Greens struggling nationally, Baker thought he could rally the left and push the Lib Dems out of their traditional strongholds like East Sussex, unfortunately for Baker the national coalition dragged him down and he was defeated in the first round.
Labour's South East Parliament Leader John Denham was nominated to bring the red flag to Brighton, an arch-Blairite member of Blue Labour, Denham came from the socially conservative wing of the party, his campaign promised to lobby for tighter restrictions on immigration and for tougher policing, Denham "patriotic campaign" often ran to the right of Baker, all it really did was discourage Labour supporters and push them towards the Lib Dems or Greens, this coupled with the national swing meant Denham got only 8% of the vote.
UKIP ran Deputy First Minister Marta Andreasen, as well as being DFP, Andreasen was the South Easts' finance minister and ran on her record of reducing taxes for South East votes, however a lack of resources and divisions in UKIP prevented her from making huge impact. For the Greens they ran party legend Caroline Lucas, Lucas attempted to take advantage of Labour and the Liberal's move to the right, but like many Green candidates around the country she was drowned out by the drama of the Presidential Election.
All in all May easily walked back to the Premier's residence in Brighton with a clear mandate in the first round.
"Theresa May, the South East Premier, could well be the most powerful woman in British politics. Yet she is far from typical among the present coterie of senior Conservatives. For a start, she didn't go to a public school, and at one point she was described in her literature as having been educated at Wheatley Comprehensive. She did go to Oxford University, although she didn't study philosophy, politics and economics like so many of her colleagues. Instead, she studied geography, which suggests that the Premier has some awareness that there is life beyond the home counties. Nor has May always been a career politician. She had a job for some years in the "real world" before hitting the stump. She worked in banking, which these days seems like an environment so removed from reality that politics, looks humdrum. May emerged from the expenses scandal without taint which suggests a rejection of the distorted sense of entitlement her colleagues seem to have." - Five Possible Women Presidents, Alyssa McDonald, New Statesman (2009)
Osborne consulted with aides on how to deal with the rebellious right wing Conservative faction: the "British Freedom Caucus"
“Osborne's premiership was characterised by constant criticism and resentment for the right. This manifested itself not only in Parliamentary votes, but also in public comments and alternative policy. Osborne often had more difficulty in managing the Conservative Party than he did in maintaining a relationship with Ed Davey. Although relations with the later became less convivial and cordial. Instead the relationship became more formal and business-like during the coalition's lifetime. One factor increased disquiet among some Conservative backbenchers during the Coalition Government. The privileged socio-educational background of Osborne and some of his closest colleagues. This prompted the Conservative backbencher Nadine Dorries to claim that "Osborne is a posh boy who doesn't know the price of milk. He is an arrogant posh boy who shows no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others.”” - The British Coalition Government, 2008-2011, Peter Dorey, (2016)
2011 started badly for the Conservatives when their Senate Leader, David Davis announced he would be resigning, a long time critic of the coalition Davis had approached Osborne and Howard demanding a guaranteed end to the coalition at the 2011 election, to which they refused. Davis said he could not reconcile his conservative and eurosceptic views with the direction the coalition was travelling, saying he would retire to the backbenches in order to give himself freedom to criticise the coalition.
A long time maverick, Davis was much more comfortable throwing hand-grenades from the backbenches then trying to hold together a coalition he didn't really believe in
Davis’ resignation was great news for the Osbornite moderate wing of the party, Davis had long been a lightning rod for the Tory right and with him out of the way Osborne could hopefully get someone closer to his politics. Originally Osborne considered Philip Hammond, a long time Senator and loyal Osbornite who was supportive of the coalition and popular amongst Senate colleagues. Unfortunately Hammond had the charisma of a damp fish and Osborne was worried he would lose control of the senate.
Another option was the young Justine Greening, first elected to the Senate in 2003 at just 33 years old Greening had quickly risen through the ranks of the Senate’s Tory hierarchy, like Hammond she was moderate and supportive of the coalition, and appointing a young woman would break the Tories pale, male and stale image. However Greening didn’t have the support in the Senate.
In the end Osborne gave his endorsement to Ken Clarke, the returning European Commissioner. Clarke was a giant of the Conservative movement, a twice Presidential Candidate and giant of the Senate, Clarke had the contacts and gravitas necessary to win and quickly became the front-runner.
Unlike Osborne, Howard hadn’t been cultivating allies in the Senate, many friendly Senators like Chris Grayling had been elevated to the Senate and the Open Primaries mainly produced moderate candidates to replace them. The only truly Howardite senior Tories in the Senate were Owen Paterson of the West Midlands and Cheryl Gillian of the South East. Neither were particularly eager for the top job and were comfortable as backbench senators. Howard seemed fairly laissez-faire about the Senate leadership and didn’t put a huge amount of effort into recruiting an ally for the top job.
Howard was from the old generation of Tories, most his allies had moved on or retired, the only senior Tories remaining from his generation were ideological opponents like Clarke
“Freedom Caucus members have warned George Osborne that he faces years of warfare with backbenchers if he backs Ken Clarke. Loyal backbench Senators told Osborne he will face rebellions unless he takes a tough stance on the coalition. The warnings were issued as a third of Osborne's Senators defied a three-line whip and voted in favour of a motion calling for a referendum on the EU. 30 Tory Senators voted in favour of an EU referendum. Meaning that Osborne failed to convince nearly a third of his backbench Senators to support the government. Adam Holloway, Senatorial Private Secretary to the International Development minister, stood down. Holloway accused the government of a "catastrophic mismanagement" after imposing a three-line whip. Chris Huhne, the Foreign Secretary, said it was time to move on after Senators the referendum motion by 257 votes to 77, a majority of 180. But Tory rebels pointed out that Osborne only secured victory because Jack Straw imposed a three-line whip on his Senators. There were eight Labour rebels and one Liberal Democrat rebel.” - George Osborne rocked by record Senate rebellion as Europe splits Tories again, Nicholas Watt, The Guardian (2011)
Howard allies were concerned about a Clarke leadership worrying he could split the party or force a formal electoral alliance with the Lib Dems. A group of key Howard staffers and allies eventually decided to approach Theresa May, the South East’s ambitious Premier, a two term leader of the South East; she was the only candidate who could feasibly stand up to Clarke, after much persuading May reluctantly accepted.
For the right of the party who adored Davis as the scrappy insurgent against the coalition consensus even May wasn’t acceptable as she still wanted to keep the coalition in place. The “British Freedom Caucus” was formed over Eurosceptic right wingers who supported Davis. they too had a lack of a clear successor, Barnet Mayor Theresa Villiers and Welsh Senator David Jones were considered, but they both lacked the prestige of a former commissioner or major Premier, after much lobbying they managed to recruit South West Premier Liam Fox as their candidate.
Fox's leadership campaign was shameless eurosceptic and critical of the coalition
Clarke ran with the clear backing of George Osborne as the candidate best placed to keep control of the senate. Polls consistently showed Clarke as the most popular of the three candidates amongst the public, with many Tory Senators anxious about losing their seats those who were less ideologically aligned with Clarke were willing to give him their backing if it meant they could hold onto their jobs. Clarke was fairly light on policy but was the most committed to maintaining the coalition.
“The catflap, as it became known, was not a scandal. It sprang from a section of Senate Leadership Candidate Theresa May's speech on illegal immigration. May claimed that the legislation was making it far too easy for those facing deportation to remain in the UK. She mentioned an "illegal immigrant who the Government cannot deport because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat". It proved rather unfortunate that, in fact, she was making this up. The case cited the existence of the cat as part of evidence that the foreign national had a long-term relationship with a British national. Worse still, the existence of the cat was not the decisive factor in the courts allowing the foreign national to stay in Britain. Ouch! May was red-faced. But the news story would have faded into insignificance had it not been for the outspoken criticisms of Ken Clarke. As her opponent he has been at loggerheads with May throughout the year, which may have explained why he got so carried away in lashing out. May's speech was "laughable" and "childlike", he told a local newspaper.” - Top ten political gaffes of 2011, Alex Stevenson, Politics.cw (2011)
May ran as a unity candidate, the one best placed to unite the Tories’ Senate caucus, whilst Howard was officially neutral in the selection she was generally accepted to be his preferred choice. Many Tories were weary, May was not the best electioneer or media performer and she had never served in the Senate, being an MP and then a Premier, this meant she had few contacts to back her. With electability front and centre of most Senators minds May struggled to pick up a support.
Still May’s campaign avoided the car crash that was Fox’s campaign. After Fox announced he was running journalist poured threw his dirty laundry as discovered that whilst he had served in the cabinet he had passed on classified papers to his friend, lobbyist Adam Werritty, it also emerged that whilst serving as a Minister Fox had paid Werritty with public money and allowed him to act as a surrogate and adviser, but Werritty never went through the process of background checks and security clearance and wasn’t on any official books. These revelations not only crashed Fox’s campaign for Senate Leadership, it tanked his approval ratings back in the South West. Fox later described running as “one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.”
The end result was a clear victory for Clarke, despite their ideological objections Tory Senators had decided their priority was holding onto power, if this meant a wetter leader so be it. For the punditry it was yet another example of Osborne asserting himself over Howard as the senior partner in Government, and rumours began to swirl of Howard standing down for Osborne at the 2014 Presidential Election, or worse Osborne challenging him in a divisive primary.
“Howard's limitations as leader are best summarised as an insufficiency of "emotional intelligence". As we have seen, Howard was far more engaging in private than most voters would have imagined. Yet Ann Widdecombe's suggestion that there was "something of the night" about Howard, which helped to thwart his leadership bid in 1997, hampered his attempts to build a more constructive relationship with voters and politicians between 2009 and 2014. It was this lack of communication and control which prevented him from building up a loyal following in Parliament and the Senate, again and again Howard would lose internal elections to his more politically savvy Prime Minister. It wasn’t complicated, Osborne was simply friendlier and more approachable.” - Commonwealth Presidents, Timothy Heppell (2014)
The Osborne era Conservative Party was more pragmatic rather than ideological.’ Discuss. (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (30 Marks)
Several anti-coalition motions were passed at 2010 conference, a warning of the splits to come
The Liberal Democrats were in trouble, the coalition was increasingly unpopular with some polls showing the party winning as little as 50 seats in the 2011 election. Davey was particularly a lightning rod of discontent, many voters blaming him for selling out, especially on issues like tuition fees. Davey had an approval rating of -43%. Whilst Afghan withdrawal and voting rights for prisoners had been great victories for the Lib Dems, for those on the coalition sceptic wing of the party it showed the party needed to assert itself further.
Discontent around Davey had been growing in both the upper echelons of party leadership and amongst grassroots members, this culminated in a group of senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including former Presidential Candidates Kennedy and Ashdown, entering Davey’s office with a proposal, either Davey stood down of his own volition, or they would support a leadership challenge.
Davey made it abundantly clear he would not be stepping down. Lib Dems dug in for a long fight
Davey refused, he still believed in the coalition and that he was the best candidate to lead the party into the next election, Davey warned renegotiating the coalition would lead to further Lib Dem losses and an illiberal Labour Government, or worse a Tory/UKIP Government. Davey was stubborn and in a press conference he said he would fight a leadership challenge “against anyone and at any time”.
The social liberals now needed to find someone to challenge Davey, Defence Secretary David Hughes and Northern Irish Secretary Tim Farron both supported a challenge to Davey but ruled themselves out of contention. Cable would have been the obvious choice but he opted to remain neutral in the leadership challenge, the only senior Lib Dem to volunteer was Foregin Secretary Chris Huhne.
“I remember some years ago Norman Tebbit shocking some elements in the House of Commons. He pointed out that there was a difference between right and wrong and good and bad. And I remember, too, Liberal raising hands in horror. A Bateman-cartoon type of reaction to what they regarded as a Neanderthal opinion. Davey's problem is that he has to serve two conflicting masters. One of them, a party, large swathes of which believe he has sold them down the river by jumping under the duvet with the Tories. The other is the Government whose policies he at least has to pretend to support. But Davey is not helped by the antics of Chris Huhne or Tim Farron both of whom covet his job and who have demonstrated their hatred for the Tories. Davey has kept his balance so far - but he should watch out for that fatal puff of wind.” - Davey walks the tightrope, Mail Online (2011)
Huhne was a strong candidate, popular amongst party activists, well known in the media and eminently experienced as Foreign Secretary. Supporters described Huhne as “quietly effective” and he had no shortage of allies at all levels of the party. Polls among party members showed Huhne well ahead of Davey amongst registered supporters and he quickly racked up support amongst MPs, over 50 Libeal Democrat MPs broke ranks to publicly support Huhne, 40% of their Parliamentary caucus.
Huhne officially launched his campaign at a Cornwall wind farm
Huhne appointed rising star Lynne Featherstone as his campaign chair and got to work fundraising and recruiting volunteers. Huhne’s popularity was with party members rather than party donors and he built his campaign on the power of volunteers and small donations, these resources combined to form a formidable war chest.
Davey ran on a position of maintaining the coalition at the next election, arguing for a progressive centrist Government, Davey pointed to the coalition's achievements in Government like the cutting of tax for the lowest earners and a green investment bank, Davey particularly elevated the coalitions environmental achievements in an attempt to outflank Huhne on green issues.
Whilst Huhne didn’t decisively condemn the coalition, he said if he won, at the next election the Liberal Democrats would favour a Labour Government, but would prop up a Conservative Government if they had a large mandate and it was necessary to keep UKIP away from the levers of power. Since Huhne had served in the coalition Government he couldn’t be as aggressively anti-coalition as some would have wanted him to.
Despite frequently visiting Downing Street for cabinet meetings, Huhne made sure the cameras saw him looking as miserable as possible
“Leadership candidate, Chris Huhne, has attacked the Conservatives for scrapping environmental regulations. Huhne made the comments at the weekend to the "Social Democrats Caucus" of left-leaning Lib Dems. Huhne made it clear he is opposed to the Government including laws such as the Climate Change Act in its review of regulations. His views reflect a range of opinion within Liberal Democrats in government. A source close to Huhne said the Chancellor Vince Cable supported him and Lib Dem ministers were braced to do battle. The move is part of a Huhne's strategy to fight the Lib Dem corner more in order to put pressure on Davey during the leadership challenge.” - Chris Huhne attacks Tory 'zealots' over proposed scrapping of green laws, Allegra Stratton, The Guardian (2011)
However Huhne’s campaign was fairly aggressive against Davey personally. Huhne accused Davey of “bumbling around worrying about the future rather than rebuilding the party.” In one interview Huhne described Davey as “just a cork bobbing on the waves" with "no strategic vision at all”. The main thrust of Huhne’s campaign was on the issue of political courage, Huhne said that Davey lacked this courage and had failed to stand up for party interests on issues like benefits and the NHS. Huhne argued he had the political courage to get the party what it wanted. Huhne boasted of “standing up to” Osborne and Obama to ensure British troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Polling seemed to support Huhne’s case. 60% of voters agreed the Liberal Democrats would be better off without Davey, especially younger voters in large university cities that had abandoned the party for Labour and the Greens. Whether he liked it or not Davey had become the public face of tuition fee betrayal, many Liberal Democrat supporters saw dropping him as the only way to save the party.
“We asked respondents how much they trusted each of the main party leaders to keep their promises. Disillusioned Lib Dem voters say that they have more trust in Ed Balls and George Osborne than in Ed Davey. A huge 77% of this group has little or no trust in Davey to keep his promises. Cameron came a close second, with 76% saying they do not trust him. Balls fared the best of the three main party leaders with 29% saying they trust him a great deal or to some extent, and 53% saying they do not trust him at all. What’s more, this latter group considers the Liberal Democrat party to be ineffective in Government. 71% of ex-Lib Dem voters believe the party has little or no influence on decisions taken by the Government. 16% think they have a good influence, 5% think they have a bad influence). When asked whether the Liberal Democrats should be blamed for going back on their pledges, 66% say the party has ‘betrayed that commitment’. Only 24% think that as ‘minority members of the Coalition at a time when the Government finances are in a terrible condition’ they should not be blamed.”” - Disloyal Lib Dems, Coralie Pring, YouGov (2011)
As the results were announced at a special conference in Manchester it was a landslide for Huhne. Huhne had the support of party grandees and the grassroots in an unstoppable coalition. Davey was dragged out of the leadership by his fingernails in a humiliating public display. Now it was time for Huhne to save his party's flagging poll ratings and try to keep them in Government.
Huhne’s victory speech was not the fire and brimstone the Lib Dem left had hoped for, instead it emphasised the need for cooperation and compromise: “If you fail to compromise, if you fail to seek the common ground that unites us, then you will put in peril the most crucial achievement of this Government. You will wreck the nation’s economy and common purpose. At the same time, compromise cannot be a concession, we cannot roll over on every issue. Or follow George Osborne off every cliff. If we get a better deal for this country and our voters we will take in the national interest. We are all in this together and we can’t get out of it alone.” Huhne’s speech was a clear attempt to try and reach out to Davey supporters after a bruising and divisive campaign, the Liberal Democrats were holding together by the skin of their teeth and a small breeze could topple the whole operation.
“The Liberal Democrats' presentation of the coalition became confused as the Parliament proceeded. Voters soon became sceptical of the party's actual role. A 2011 poll found that 71% of ex-Liberal Democrat supporters felt that the party had little or no influence on decisions taken in government. Of course, Davey and his fellow Liberal Democrat ministers were hamstrung by the coalition deal. They needed to walk the tightrope as both defender and critic of coalition policies. To work as colleagues but remain bitter rivals to the Conservatives. This proved unsustainable over the long term. Early on the Liberal Democrats were supportive. This reflected their perceived gains from the coalition agreement. This included commitment to a pupil premium and increasing the tax threshold. Vince Cable's attack on Howard's immigration remarks in early 2011 was the sign of things to come. The compounding effect of poor poll ratings and bad local election results ratcheted up the pressure on Huhne.” - From Coalition to Catastrophe, David Cutts (2015)
Compared to the old political system, to what extent are party leaders less politically secure in the Commonwealth? (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (2019)
Osborne and Coulson were close personal friends, it was difficult for Osborne to let him go
“George Osborne employed Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor as director of communications between 2006 and 2011. His appointment came months after he had quit the tabloid following the jailing of former NoW royal editor Clive Goodman. Mr Coulson took up a similar role in Downing Street when Mr Osborne became prime minister in 2008. This was despite allegations about his knowledge of phone hacking while at the News of the World. Mr Coulson resigned in January 2011 saying the continuing phone-hacking row was distracting him from his role. Police arrested Coulson on 8 July 2011 on suspicion of corruption and phone hacking, and he was released on police bail until October. George Osborne has defended his appointment of Mr Coulson over the past two years. "It's wrong for newspapers to breach people's privacy with no justification. That is why Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World two and a half years ago.” - PM's defence of Coulson over the years,BBC News (2011)
The various parties’ leadership elections were not the only thing in the news in early 2011.The phone hacking scandal continued to engulf the national discussion. At the heart of the scandal was Andy Coulson, George Osborne’s communication director. Osborne had loyally defended his communications tsar, dismissing the allegations against him and refusing to suspend him from his post in the heart of Government, as the inquiry continued this seemed more and more of a mistake. The Coulson affair was hurting the Conservative’s poll ratings and eventually Coulson took matters into his own hands.
Coulson knew the election was right around the corner and couldn't risk carrying his baggage into the campaign
In January 2011, Andy Coulson resigned. Coulson said coverage had "made it difficult for me to give the 110% needed in this role". Coulson still denied knowledge of phone hacking, saying he quit as editor in 2007. But Coulson said he took ultimate responsibility for the scandal. In a statement, he said it had been "a privilege and an honour to work for George Osborne for four years. I stand by what I've said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman, it's time to move on." He said he would leave within weeks and was proud of the work he had done. In a statement Osborne praised him as a "brilliant member of my team". The prime minister said: "I am very sorry that Andy Coulson has decided to resign as my director of communications. I understand that the continuing pressures on him and his family mean that he feels compelled to do so. Andy has told me that the focus on him was impeding his ability to do his job and was starting to prove a distraction for the government."
To replace Coulson Osborne appointed his rather elusive chief speechwriter Ameet Gill as Director of Communications. Gill had been working with Osborne for seven years. Unlike Coulson little was known about Gill, many had expected a more high profile appointment but Osborne decided he wanted a quieter backroom operator. Gill could be trusted to do his best to stay out of the limelight. At just 28 Gill would become one of the youngest members of Osborne’s inner circle and the first BME Director of Communications.
“Osborne had grown dependent upon Coulson for his authentic ear on "ordinary people" for whom Osborne lacked the intuitive "feel for". Osborne tried to keep hold of Coulson as the hacking furore grew from late 2010. He held on long after it would have been wise to let him go, which is admirable loyalty or naive depending on how one views it. Osborne's reliance on this tight circle of trusted advisers aroused particular concern among his own party. They saw him as cliquey and reliant upon those from the same narrow social background. Nadine Dorries summed up this trait in a devastating quotation, that Osborne was a "posh boy who doesn't know the price of milk".” - The Coalition Effect, Anthony Seldon (2015)
In cultural news the multi-academy award winning film “The Queen's Speech” was released to critical acclaim. The film portrayed the downfall of the British royal family and the aftermath of the Diana Crisis. Focusing on Queen Elizabeth II (Diana Quick) drafting a speech to the nation to try and hold onto power against her ambitious Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The film began with the assassination of Diana and ended with Blair's inauguration as President. The film won international critical acclaim, winning four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and making over 500 million at the box office. However the film was criticised for its sympathetic portrayal of the royal family. The film catapulted both Quick and Sheen to international prominence.
Sheen's portrayal of Tony Blair made him a global star
Internationally the situation in the middle east was heating up again. Inspired by revolts in other Arab countries, especially Egypt and Tunisia, violent protests broke out in Benghazi. The protests spread to other cities. This led to escalating clashes between security forces and rebels, marking the beginning of the Libyan civil war. British forces began to coordinate an evacuation of British nationals from Libya. Over 500 Commonwealth nationals were trapped in Libya, mostly oil workers trapped out in rural Libya by oilfields. President Howard pledged to "do everything I can'' to evacuate the Britons left in Libya. He vowed to investigate whether the Libyan regime had committed "war crimes'' during its crackdown on protests. BAF Hercules planes transported 200 British oil workers from desert locations south of Benghazi in Libya to Malta. The UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over Libya and air strikes to protect civilians, over which NATO assumed command. In March 2011 the House of Commons approved a bombing campaign, with the full support of the four largest parties, the Greens and BNP being the only national parties to vote against military action. Directly after the resolution over 30 British aircraft were dispatched to Libya to assist in the bombing campaign.
“Ministers will announce the deployment of attack helicopters to Libya. Secretary Hughes will announce the deployment on Friday after a meeting of the cabinet. At a joint press conference with Barack Obama, Howard all but confirmed Britain would send Apaches to Libya. We expect CBS Ocean, with three Apaches on board, off the Libyan coast within a week. The armed helicopters will protect a 16-mile buffer zone around Misrata, defence officials said. They could also be used to attack Muammar Gaddafi's forces' positions in the port city. The decision had already been taken, as far as military commanders were concerned. Chris Huhne, the Foreign Secretary, told the Commons the Government "had not taken any decisions''. He added that the deployment would represent "a shift in tactics not an escalation of what we are doing"." Ministers are frustrated about the failure to make headway against Gaddafi's forces. They fear that military operations will not end any time soon.” - Libya Apache deployment signals Britain's escalating role in conflict, Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian (2011)
The amount of British military hardware active in the Mediterranean dramatically increased
At home this enraged anti-austerity protests taking place in London. Nearly 300,000 people attended a march and rally in central London against public spending cuts. Labour Deputy Parliamentary Leader; Sadiq Khan addressed crowds in Hyde Park. The main march organised by the Trades Union Congress passed off peacefully. Small groups attacked shops and banks with a stand-off in Piccadilly. There were around 200 arrests and 60 people injured, including 15 police. In the largest public protest since the Iraq war rally in 2003, marchers from across the UK set off from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park. TUC general secretary Paul Kenny was first in a line of speakers. "We are here to send a message to the government that we are strong and united," he said. "We will fight the savage cuts and we will not let them destroy peoples' services, jobs and lives." Kenny was followed by Khan, who said: "The Tories said I should not come and speak today. But I am proud to stand with you. There is an alternative."
Whilst Khan was the headline speaker he was a minority in his party with senior Labour officials like Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander opting not to attend the protests. Whilst a good number of Labour candidates did attend, the largest cohort of MPs came from the Green Party, all thirteen Green MPs attended the march, including their Prime Ministerial Candidate Natalie Bennett, the mostly young crowd saved their largest cheers for Green speakers. In a speech Green MP Ricky Knight painted the party as the true force of the progressive left, deriding Balls and Alexander for refusing to attend. The loudest boos were saved for the Lib Dems, the crowd of mostly young people and students had turned their backs on the Liberals, now the Greens and Labour were in a battle for their hearts and minds.
“The Labour Party’s refusal to support reduction in tuition fees, had limited electoral impact. Labour lost support to the Green Party in the year before the election. Some of this they won back by election day. Any pro-Labour surge results from them picking up votes from the Green Party in late swings. This is corroborated in a survey of new graduates by the NUS. This put Labour at 37 per cent, the Greens at 20 per cent, the Conservatives at 17 per cent and the Liberal Democrats at 12 per cent. Around one-in-ten (8 per cent) respondents preferred not to say. This led the NUS to support the shy-Tory hypothesis but also to pose the question of whether there is also a small group of shy Liberal Democrat voters. Whilst Labour has a strong lead among students the lead is not insurmountable, 20 per cent is impressive for a party as small as the Greens.” - Students and the 2011 election, Nick Hillman, HEPI Report (2015)
The Green Party became a common sight on anti-austerity protests in the 2010s
How effective are protests and other forms of direct action in influencing Commonwealth policy outcomes? (30 Marks) - A Level politics exam (2019)
“Labour now have a pretty consistent lead in voting intention. The answers to other questions are often rather bad for Labour. On best Prime Minister Osborne has a 13 point lead over Balls. On dealing with the deficit the coalition led Labour by 14 points. Osborne and Clarke have a 9 point lead over Balls and Alexander on general trust on the economy. Ed Balls' own approval ratings are mediocre and 50% think he isn’t up to the job of Labour leader. If we look back at 2006-2007 when the Conservatives had a comparable lead over the Labour government, Osborne was neck and neck with Brown as best PM. What explains this paradox? Why have Labour got a solid lead in the polls, but bad ratings in supplementary questions? Or indeed vice-versa? Part of the answer is down to the new landscape of coalition politics.” - The Paradox of Labour’s Lead, Polling Report (2011)
Going into the 2011 elections it looked like it would be one of the closest in Commonwealth history. Labour had a polling average of 32%, four points ahead of the Tories on 28%, Balls had made a decent first impression on the country, and the various problems the coalition faced, coupled with the unpopularity of austerity, allowed Labour to crawl ahead. Whilst Osborne remained relatively popular, his approval ratings didn’t reach the heights they had in 2008. Relationships in the coalition had deteriorated, especially with the election of Huhne as Lib Dem leader, Osborne needed a clear mandate to keep the Liberal Democrats in the tent. Despite all this, a four point lead was only slightly above the margin of error, a strong campaign could create a strong Labour plurality, a poor campaign could allow the Tories to overtake.
As for the third parties, the Liberal Democrats were struggling to stay ahead of UKIP, polling at 14% and 10% respectively. The coalition had hit the Liberal Democrats hard, especially among younger voters, whilst chucking Davey overboard had given them a momentary bounce in the polls, the era of winning 20-25% of the vote seemed to be over. UKIP on the other hand was seeing a resurgence in the polls. With the BNP in Parliament the UKIP became the human face of reactionary nationalism, after Farage’s humiliating Presidential performance the party put a lot of stock into softening its image and distancing itself from the BNP. It’s MPs became more cooperative in Parliament, founding APPGs and working with MPs from other parties, this culminated with UKIP being given a select committee chairmanship and London MP Andrew Charalambous being elected to chair the Housing Committee. Whilst fairly procedural it symbolised UKIP officially becoming a legitimate party.
UKIP intended to overtake the Lib Dems as Britain's third party
“Alex Andreou has had a go at UKIP on the New Statesman website. It’s a detailed, but standard, attempt to critique the party. - They have no coherent, let alone costed, policies. Many of the people in the party or associated with the party are either nasty or mad or both. I do not disagree with either of these broad points, but I wonder whether attacking UKIP in this way actually works as a means of opposition. For UKIP this sort of critique does not matter. They are the anti-party party. While Alex’s critique appeals to someone like me who reads the New Statesman, such a critique is not going to do much good to stop UKIP’s rise.” - On UKIP and legitimacy, Jon Worth, EuroBlog (2011)
On the other end of the scale you had the BNP who were making no attempts to civilise themselves or join the Westminster club. BNP MPs would propose radical random bills on issues from scrapping human rights to an “end white genocide act”. These Bills would be met with much mockery and would never get more than 30 votes.
Labour’s campaign was based around honesty and straight talking. This was part of a campaign to spin Ball’s backroom bruiser image to that of a straightforward everyday person. The party’s slogan was “keeping our promises” a not particularly subtle dig at the Liberal Democrats and the coalition. Balls’ campaign was more socially conservative than previous Labour campaigns, owing to the influence of advisers like Maurice Glasman and Rowenna Davis, Balls admitted Labour had “got it wrong” on immigration saying he would bring in legislation to deter firms from recruiting exclusively overseas.
The Conservative’s ran a patriotic public interest campaign. The cuts to public spending had been incredibly unpopular and Osborne knew the party had to portray it as being in the public interest. The Conservatives slogan was “here for Britain” and particularly focused on old fashioned Conservative issues like the army and policing. He also made “patriotic business” a large part of his campaign outlining the growing number of British jobs. Ultimately though the economy was at the heart of his campaign, Labour couldn’t be trusted with money, the Tories could.
Labour struggled to built trust on the economy
“Having captured their coalition partners, the Conservatives co-opted them into a campaign to re-write history. In doing so, they could destroy Labour’s reputation for economic competence. Years of uninterrupted growth after 1997 had allowed Labour to build up a big lead on the issue. While Labour lost that lead during the banking crisis, the party had been closing on the Conservatives again. Seizing the opportunity provided by this hiatus Osborne and Howard rammed home that Labour had ‘maxed out the nation’s credit card’. This gave the impression that ‘the mess’ they were having to clear up was due not so much to a global crash as to Balls and Brown’s supposed profligacy. When the Coalition’s austerity programme damaged the recovery, Labour was unable to capitalise on its distress.” - The Conservatives, Tim Bale (2015)
The Liberal Democrats ran with the slogan “on your side”, Huhne was eager to distance the party from the coalition, trying to bring it back to its populist roots of the Kennedy era. Huhne’s campaign focused on “economic fairness” and “social mobility”. Huhne pledged an increase in capital gains tax and big cuts in pension tax breaks for the very richest. When Huhne did talk about the coalition it was to lean into the work he did as Foreign Secretary pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats Huhne’s radical message was muddled by three years of an austerity coalition and the fact that he had actively pushed for intervention in Libya, Huhne found it was very difficult to condemn Westminster politics whilst being Foreign Secretary.
As for third parties, Malcolm Pearson had stood down as UKIP’s Parliamentary leader during the 2009 Primary to be replaced by 33 year old scouser Paul Nuttall. Nuttall was strange for a senior UKIP figure, a young academic from the North West he was very different to the rest of UKIP’s Parliamentary cohorts of rich former lords and Tory defectors. Nuttall came from the “redkip” ideological tradition which sought to embrace centre and centre left economics to appeal to BNP and “old Labour” working class voters. Nuttall ran on a traditional UKIP platform of “believe in Britain” with policies like ending immigration and EU withdrawal, but he also pledged to raise the top rate of tax and radically reform council tax bands.
UKIP actively moved to the left on economic issues in the early 2010s
For the Greens Adrian Ramsay had stood down since being elected Mayor of Norwich. Members elected Natalie Bennett as their lead candidate, which was strange because she wasn’t serving as an MP, instead Bennett was the editor of the Guardian Weekly, the party decided they needed someone media savvy to take them to the next level, from the left of the party Bennett wrapped the Greens in the anti-austerity cause.
The BNP had a mixed year in Parliament, their caucus had been beset with internal splits and conflict, but for BNP voters many didn’t care, Griffin’s 2009 Presidential run was incredibly expensive but it did legitimise the party. Defending seats was a lot easier than attacking, Griffin’s made campaign plan was to dig in and try to keep the party above the 4% threshold.
With the pieces in place, Britain’s six party system officially began the election campaign, with Libya and austerity hanging over the electorate and incredibly tight polling it would be one of the most unpredictable elections ever.
“With only two weeks of campaigning left, the election of 2011 remains one of the most uncertain Britain has ever seen. The result itself is still unpredictable. Whether our Government will survive in its present form is an open question. And, according to many experts, we still don’t know what any of the parties would actually do about the huge hole in the public finances. So, when we vote next week, will we be doing so in the dark? Elections are the most nerve-wracking part of political life because they are so unpredictable. Some of the unpredictability is, as it were, to be expected; some of it is not. In this election we’ve had both.” - Still All to Play For, John Humphrys, YouGov (2011)
Polls were incredibly close across the whole campaign
To what extend did the Commonwealth have a "six party system" in the early 2010s (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (2019)
Much of the next generation of left-wing British politicians would come up through the People's Assembly
“The People's Assembly Against Austerity was launched in a letter to the Guardian in 2010. Signatories included Tony Benn, Peter Pinkney of the RMT and eight other union general secretaries; the National Union of Students and five MPs. The Assembly also now has 90 local groups in England, Scotland and Wales. 32 of which were formed after hundreds of thousands marched against the chancellor's class-war Budget in 2011. The Norfolk People's Assembly has "united thousands of activists and campaigners." They are led by women. Most officers are women and the majority at their meetings are women. The trade unions fund them. When Norwich Council threatened to evict families for bedroom tax arrears they extracted a promise that no one would be evicted.” - Who Stole the Town Hall, Peter Lathman (2017)
The main issue of the election was of course austerity. Protests organised by groups like People’s Assembly and the TUC continued in major cities across the country. This presented a headache for Labour, some figures like Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan believed the party should embrace the protest movements, take a lead and channel its supporters into the ballot box.
Balls and Alexander were more cautious, some of the protests had turned violent at points, images of broken shop windows and scuffles with the police, the Conservatives had put a lot into trying to portray Labour as dangerous extremists unprepared for the trappings of power. Balls opted to keep the protests and the anti-austerity movement at an arm's length.
Whilst some in Labour wanted Balls to run a radical street level campaign, Balls preferred to run a quieter, less risky traditional campaign
Instead of campaigning against austerity Balls “accepted Labour had got in wrong” on the economy, pledging to maintain a strict budget. Instead of cuts, Balls talked about the “British dream”. Balls put a particular focus on education and apprenticeships. The Labour campaign pointed out that Douglas Alexander had attended comprehensive schools in North Renfrewshire whilst Osborne and Clarke were both privately educated toffs, by keeping away from protests Balls hoped to appeal directly to ordinary working people. Balls was the man who had brought in apprenticeships as Education Secretary and he pledged to double their number if elected.
For the Conservatives the protests were a great opportunity, they ran a mostly negative campaign talking about Britain’s “maxed-out credit card” and the millions of pounds of interest on the national debt. Again and again the Tories rammed home the message that you couldn’t trust Labour on the economy. When they did talk about coalition policies they talked up the raising of the tax threshold or the cutting of council tax.
The Conservatives also tried to create a “rally round the flag effect” over the war in Libya, British troops featured heavily on Conservative literature and political broadcasts, the Conservatives were the patriotic party of defence. Some argued this missed the national mood, austerity had been occurring for several years and the people of Britain were growing tired of it, as indicated by opinion polls, the Conservatives needed something new to win people around.
“The story is not as straightforward as it seems. The initial economic policy adopted by George Osborne would have lost the election had he not changed course. The original austerity plan derived from a mixture of ideas about the economy, but it was also the product of an electoral strategy. In the 2011 campaign the Conservatives made much of the argument that Britain faced imminent bankruptcy. Warning the country was in a similar position to Greece and other cash-strapped EU countries. This rhetoric was driven by the need to provide a radical alternative narrative to that of the Labour Party. This narrative enabled both Coalition partners to blame Ed Balls and Labour policies for the Recession. This claim was very wide of the mark since the crash started when a real estate bubble in the US burst. It spread to banks which themselves had been creating opaque instruments that proved valueless when the crisis broke. The Conservatives’ economic argument proved to be a very potent message in the 2011 election.” - How the Conservatives’ austerity rhetoric impacted the 2011 elections, Lecture by Paul Whiteley, LSE (2017)
A meeting between Prime Minister Osborne, Oxford Mayor David Cameron, South East Premier Theresa May and Conservative Senate Leader Kenneth Clarke
The Liberal Democrat campaign had to do a quick 180 after Huhne’s election. The party’s literature and adverts had all focused on Davey talking about “tough decisions” in Government. These were quickly discarded for the fairness based campaign Huhne wanted to run. Huhne spoke of breaking the two party system, of challenging the old status quo, to give more money to pensioners and schools and to change politics for good. It would have been a very good campaign in the mid 2000s but unfortunately it was 2011 and the Lib Dems had been in Government for three years. The main issue was that of trust, Huhne tried to speak at an anti-austerity protest in Brighton and was booed and pelted off stage. The image of Huhne fleeing from crowds of angry students would become a defining image for the Lib Dems.
Interestingly on the issue of austerity UKIP’s campaign was wildly different to those done by Pearson and Farage, Nuttall toured dilapidated factories and abandoned high streets in the north of England, he would rail against the selling of trains to foreign Governments. At the same time UKIP attacked the Conservatives for being a traditional tax and spend party, pledging to cut taxes and red tape and ending the penalisation of motorists. Depending on who you asked this was either a confused mess of conflicting policies, or a genius attempt to appeal to both sides.
“UKIP has spent considerable effort on broadening its appeal. UKIP has spelled out how leaving the EU is the answer to a whole range of issues, like controlling immigration. At the same time the party is outlining plans to cut taxes for middle earners, speaking up for grammar schools and opposing gay marriage. And the message from leader Paul Nuttall seems to have struck a chord with disenchanted voters from the "big three". It's becoming clear that UKIP seems to have become the party of choice for the anti-government vote and the anti-politics vote. It has since proved capable of causing upsets in local elections in Tory and Lib Dem heartlands in the South of England. UKIP has realised the hard way that it is not enough to pitch up at an election with a loud hailer and some stunts. The party knows it requires months, even years, of groundwork in the local area.” - The story of the UK Independence Party's rise, BBC News Segment (2011)
UKIP had seen success in the 2010 local elections
The Greens meanwhile took the the streets as the inner-city party of protest, from marches against the war in Libya to tuition fees Green banners were seen far and wide. Green Senator Derek Wall called the Greens the “Old Labour Party” Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT was announced as a Green candidate for the Senate in Yorkshire and the party even opened talks for the RMT to officially affiliate to the party. The party also took steps to professionalise with an official Shadow Cabinet and formal media training for all its candidates. Whilst Caroline Lucas was still the breakout star of the party other Green figures like Natalie Bennett, Peter Craine, Derek Wall and Adrian Ramsay were common fixtures in the media on shows like Question Time. The Greens were quickly rushing to flood the gap the Liberal Democrats left.
The BNP were fairly quiet during the election, someone at head office probably realised the more the public saw of BNP MPs the less they liked them, instead the party continued to dig in, activists travelling quietly around BNP areas campaigning on local issues. It seemed to work the BNP’s poll ratings held steady around 4% and it seemed likely they would hold onto their representation in at least a few areas.
What was strange about the 2011 election was how quiet it was, there was no October surprise or big election defining event, the campaign showed voters fed up with the two parties, on average the combined vote of Labour and the Tories was below 60% polling showing neither party would have enough seats to form a Government even with the Liberal Democrats. With the Greens, UKIP and SNP surging the three traditional parties turned their guns on the minor parties. Howard proudly took on the role of Tory attack dog and travelled between rural Kent and Brighton to condemn UKIP and the Greens, however it seemed too little too late, as the main parties fell in the polls and the electoral gap between narrowed up, the public took their seats for Britain’s first true “rainbow election.”
“No one was more surprised than Adrian Ramsay when he became the Mayor of Norwich in 2009. He was left with Conservatives as the largest party on the Council without a majority. They assumed they could continue in power. It was not to be. For Ramsay, as a Green Mayor with only 14 seats on an 47-member authority, permanent opposition appeared inevitable. But politics is nothing if not unpredictable. He was seen as a conciliator, the person to bridge a wide divide. “My task was to try to get other parties to work together for the good of the county… and we found we all could,” he recalls. “But yes, of course, it all came as a complete surprise to me.” In a foretaste of what might happen in elections tomorrow – never mind in Westminster – Ramsay made a deal to keep out the Conservatives. The smaller parties – Greens and Labour – combined in a loose coalition, with support from the Lib Dems. They all outvoted the Tories 10 days after Ramsay's election as Mayor and formed a multi-party administration. It has every prospect of lasting until the next elections in 2014.” - Could Norwich’s ‘rainbow’ alliance be the future of multi-party politics?, Peter Hetherington, The Guardian (2011)
Polls showed Labour activists were much more willing to work with the Greens over the Lib Dems
To what extent did austerity lead to the decline of the two main parties in the early 2010s (30 Marks) - A Level Politics Exam (2019)
FORECAST LABOUR LARGEST PARTY IN BOTH CHAMBERS WITH 218 SEATS IN HOUSE OF COMMONS AND 126 SEATS IN SENATE
DD - And as Big Ben strikes ten we can finally reveal the result of our exit poll, first for the House of Commons. It goes without saying It's going to be a hung Parliament. Labour have won the most seats in the House of Commons; Ed Balls has netted 218 seats, an increase of 38. The Conservatives are on 196, down 35, the Liberal Democrats have taken a beating with just 89 seats, down 36. UKIP have jumped up with 53 seats, up 16. The Greens have more than doubled their Parliamentary representation on 31, up 18. Finally the BNP have seemingly not only held on but grew with 31 seats, up 3.
In the Senate it's a similar picture, Labour on 126 seats, up 13. Conservatives on 99 seats, down 17, Liberal Democrats on 40 seats, losing a third of their representation, down 21, UKIP's on 33 seats, up 14, the Greens are on 15, up 5 and finally the BNP have broken through into the senate, with 8 seats, up 8. Nick what do you make of that result?
NR - Well it looks like reports of the death of the two party system have been greatly exaggerated, with a bit of mental maths the two parties combined have 414 seats, that's way more than some polls were reporting with the two major parties on only 350, or 340 seats. Ed Balls has reasons to be cheerful he has the largest party and he will have his pick of coalition partners, but not a complete disaster for Mr Osborne he's nipping on Labour's heels, if Balls can't form a coalition Osborne could very easily swoop in.
DD - Yes some polls were showing UKIP on 60 seats and the Greens on 40, that would be made them both formidable voting blocks, but if this exit poll is true whilst they've certainly had a good night, two party politics isn't quiet dead yet.
NR - Interestingly for the first in the Commonwealth's history, the combined seats of Lib Dems plus a main party aren't enough to form an overall majority, so the big parties will have to come to some sort of deal with the minor parties, we might might see UKIP, Green, maybe even SNP ministers, in the days to come.
DD - You're quiet right Nick, ladies and gentlemen tonight you have witnessed a British political first, I wonder if they have Paul Nuttall's number in Downing Street, they're certainly going to need it.
NR - Of course the usual disclaimers apply, if this exit poll is even a bit off we could see a traditional LibLab or ConLab Government, or we might see the main parties fall even further, we just don't know until hard numbers come through.
DD - Either way tonight is going to be a fascinating election and to start us off over in the studio with me now we have the Labour Senator for the West Midlands Emma Reynolds, Senator Reynolds welcome, you've given the Government a bloody nose but you're still 120 seats short of a majority. Paul Nuttall or Natalie Bennett who are you calling first?...
DD - I'm sorry to interrupt you Senator Harper but we're getting the Parliamentary results announced in Yorkshire, Senator Mark Harper thank you very much. Before we cut to Leeds, Nick what should we expect?
NR - Well David, Yorkshire was one of those traditionally Labour regions that went for Micheal Howard in the Presidential election, so its one of the regions Mr Balls needs to win if he hopes to form a Government. As for the smaller parties its traditionally been the strongest region for the BNP so if the BNP hopes to hang on nationally they'll need a solid result here. It will also be important to the Green Party, they currently don't have any seats in the North of England but they have grown strongly in Yorkshire cities like Leeds and Huddersfield, so if we see the Greens winning seats It'll indicate even bigger gains in traditional areas like the South East.
DD - And is there a particular number we should be looking for?
NR - Yes our BBC boffins have been furiously making calculations and they are expecting around 1 million votes exactly for Labour.
DD - A nice round number, do you hear that Mr Balls one million that's what you're looking out for. We now go to Leeds where the results for the Yorkshire Region are being announced
TR - I am ready to declare the results for the Yorkshire and Humber Region. I Tom Roridan acting Chief Counting Officer for the Region of Yorkshire and the Humber hereby give notice that the total number of votes for each candidate for the Yorkshire and Humber constituency is as follows: Labour Party, 1,091,962. Conservative Party, 764,096. Liberal Democrats, 350,096. UK Independence Party, 211,170. British National Party, 200,056, Green Party of England and Wales. 122,257... As such the distribution of seats is as follows, Labour Party 22, Conservative Party 15, Liberal Democrats 7, UK Independence Party 4, British National Party 4 and the Green Party of England and Wales 2.
DD - So that's the Liberal Democrats down four seats and the Conservatives down three seats, not a good night for the coalition in Yorkshire. On the other hand that's Labour up four, UKIP up one, and the Greens gaining two representatives from Yorkshire
NR- Well it appears out exit poll seems to have slightly underestimated the results for both main parties, especially the Conservatives. Our statisticians tell me we were expecting 13-14 seats for the rather than the 15 they got, it may be a small change but if you replicate that across the country you could see 10-20 extra seats for the Tories. Maybe George Osborne can pull this back?
DD - It's certainly going to be a fascinating night, over in the naughty corner Jeremy Paxman has the Lib Dem Senator from the South West Jeremy Browne to react, Jeremy over to you
JP - Thank you David, so Senator Browne you were one of the coalition's strongest supporters, but it seems to have cost you seats up and down the country. Was the coalition a mistake?...