The election that didn’t follow the script

Thursday’s was the election that refused to follow the script. The pundits and pollsters had their say, and they got it wrong.

“I believe we are on the brink of something truly special in our country,” David Cameron said on the steps of Downing Street – words which ought to cheer everyone who cares about the future of Britain. The Prime Minister paid tribute to his defeated opponents and promised to “make Great Britain greater still.”

It was supposed to be close. Labour and the Conservatives went into the polls neck and neck yesterday. There was a very real possibility that neither would get enough seats to form a government. There were supposed to be weeks of torturous coalition negotiations. Instead the voters offered up a clear verdict and returned David Cameron to Number 10 Downing Street with 330 seats – a majority of seven.

Exit polls that seemed unbelievable at first actually underestimated the strength of Conservative support. Seats like Nuneaton that were expected to swing to Labour were instead held by the Tories. David Cameron’s team must be delighted.

Where I live, the result was equally decisive. Voters in the once-safe Lib Dem stronghold of Colchester elected the Conservative candidate Will Quince over the incumbent veteran MP, Bob Russell.

The Lib Dems were expected to do badly, but not this badly. It was a massacre. Clegg held Sheffield thanks to local Tories tactically voting, as well as his party pouring massive resources into campaigning there. But as dawn began to break, it became clear he led only the pulverised rump of a once-proud party. Bowing to the inevitable, he resigned.

All across the nation, the junior coalition partners took a hammering: Danny Alexander, Simon ‘straight choice’ Hughes, Ed ‘the science is settled’ Davey, David Laws, Vince Cable. All were summarily dispatched by the voters. At present the Lib Dems now hold only eight seats.

Labour had a truly dreadful night. I spoke to several Labour activists as the results came in, and ‘shellshocked’ is the only word I can think of to describe them.

Ed Miliband is gone. He won his seat comfortably but lost his scalp after a disappointing end to a long campaign. The man who only a few short days ago thought he might be Prime Minister has instead been relegated to the backbenches.

So many Labour big names have fallen. In a turn of events that ought to delight readers of this blog, Ed Balls lost to the Conservatives in Morley & Outwood. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and Ed’s chief election strategist Douglas Alexander were cut down by Nicola Sturgeon’s tartan hordes.

What a night the SNP had. They obliterated Labour in Scotland, winning 56 seats. Whilst I’m happy to see Labour take a mortal wound, Scotland has become a danger zone. The deeply left wing nationalists will undoubtedly seek to break apart the United Kingdom at the earliest opportunity. Alex Salmond spoke last night of a Scottish lion roaring. Those of us who breathed a sigh of relief after the referendum ought to be very worried right now.

Controversially, UKIP massively increased their share of the vote – they came third in terms of votes cast – but failed to break through. As I wrote this piece, Nigel Farage was defeated in his bid to take Thanet South, having promised to resign if he lost. True to his word, Farage quit as well. Douglas Carswell, late of this parish, held onto his seat in Clacton having defected to UKIP last year.

The Greens finished fifth in terms of votes, with Caroline Lucas re-elected in Brighton but the party failed to win two of it’s target seats in Bristol West and Norwich South. So much for the alternative to austerity.

The mismatch between votes and seats is only going to lead to renewed calls for electoral reform. Expect this and Scotland to be hot-button issues over the next few years.

Three party leaders have been decapitated and David Cameron is the last man standing (all the other survivors are women). Make no mistake, today is a famous victory. We needed a Tory majority and, against the odds, we got it. I’m looking forward to seeing Lord Ashdown eat his non-existent hat.

Right, I’m going back to bed now.