Am I bothered?
Friday, May 6th, 2005
The voters have spoken, and the word they have spoken is “whatever”.
The electorate has watched the campaign, listened to the arguments, and shrugged its shoulders. The people have given almost every party just enough of what they wanted to shut them up, but not nearly enough for them to start feeling cocky.
Labour has been given its majority and its place in history. But it's a smaller majority and, if the awkward squad on the backbenches dig their heels in, party managers can kiss goodbye to a lot of their planned legislation. Tony Blair is now a lame duck PM, doomed to a turbulent time and endless questions over when he's handing over to Gordon Brown.
The Tories have started the long process of recovery and scored well in London. But they didn't increase their vote share, failed to break the 200-seat barrier let alone outperform Labour's dismal 1983 result, and Michael Howard's resignation announcement makes it much harder for them to put positive spin on the result – only losers resign.
The Liberal Democrats now hold more seats than at any time in living memory and scored their highest share of the vote for a very long time, but the big breakthrough didn't happen. They now face a strategic dilemma – if they chase vulnerable Labour seats, they'll lose even more ground to the Tories. This looks like both a high-water mark and a missed opportunity.
Among the other parties, the SNP gained seats but dropped to third in the Scottish vote. The Greens and BNP polled well in places, but didn't come close to taking any of their target seats. Respect won in Bethnal Green, but George Galloway managed to make such a fool of himself that any chance of real respect is dead and buried.
There were no real winners (apart from the independent candidates Peter Law and Richard Taylor), but there were big losers. Plaid Cymru lost a seat unexpectedly to the Lib Dems and somehow failed to take its main target seat, Ynys Mon, from Labour on a night when the People's Party was giving seats away to all-comers. UKIP and – particularly – Veritas both looked ridiculous.
That's all on the mainland, of course, and they do things different in Northern Ireland, where the results are now coming in. It looks like a meltdown for the UUP and a good result for the DUP, which isn't exactly a surprise. Things are polarising over there – Sinn Fein may also overtake the SDLP as the main Republican party.
So what does the future hold? Frankly, I don't know – leadership navel-gazing crippling both main parties, probably, and unfocused optimism doing likewise for the Lib Dems. One thing's clear, though – the results prove the voters aren't particularly bothered.
They just want the politicians to go away and play their games without hassling them.