UPDATE: Conservative Cabinet Reshuffles, Labour's Soul Searching Begins; UK Election: So, In A Way, It Was 1992 Again

Matt Vespa
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Posted: May 08, 2015 12:15 PM
UPDATE: Conservative Cabinet Reshuffles, Labour's Soul Searching Begins; UK Election: So, In A Way, It Was 1992 Again

UPDATED:George Osborne will remain as Chancellor of the Exchequer, but was also granted the title of First Secretary of State. It’s an honorary position that only indicates seniority over the other secretaries. Nevertheless, it’s a move that indicates Cameron, who will not run for a third term, has chosen Osborne as his successor, according to the Guardian:

The promotion of the chancellor to first secretary of state – a ceremonial post held by the former party leader William Hague and by Peter Mandelson – suggests the prime minister regards Osborne as his preferred successor. The Tories’ strong performance increases Osborne’s chances of succeeding Cameron and diminishes the chances of Boris Johnson, who would have been served well by an immediate leadership contest triggered by an election loss. In such circumstances Osborne may well have fallen on the side of the prime minister.

The chancellor will also play a key role in the EU negotiations after the prime minister. But Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, will also play an important role. EU foreign ministers prepare the agenda for EU summits where the negotiations will take place.

Theresa May stays as Home Secretary, Philip Hammond will remain foreign secretary, and Michael Fallon retains his post as defense secretary. Michael Gove will be bumped to Justice Minister.

In the land of Labour, they’re licking their wounds; their leader Ed Miliband resigned; and they look to the future in how to win again. Miliband thought a left-leaning, populist lurch could carry Labour over the top. He was wrong. Nevertheless, there is such a sentiment in Britain, though not enough votes to carry the party into a majority government. Here are the seven things Labour needs to do, according to the BBC:

  1. First or foremost, what the hell happened on May 7 that led to their worst showing since 1987
  2. If the country hasn’t shifted to the left, where does Labour fit in the future of British politics?
  3. Labour’s complicated issues with the trade unions will have to be dealt with carefully. BBC noted that for every step to the center that party makes, the unions are there to shift to the left. They’re the party’s largest donors, and Labour will have to find allies in the business community in order to be able to facilitate a better position in this political alliance. The publication noted the troubles Labour has with them, especially when it comes to party conference and leadership contests concerning voting.
  4. Labour could make such inroads with the proposed referendum on the EU that has some in the UK banking system nervous. The EU splits the Conservatives–and Labour can make the case that staying in the EU is good for jobs and trade.
  5. The leadership contest is imminent. Labour needs to pick a new leader.
  6. Timing and execution: Labour needs to pick a leader that will be credible from the get-go–and formidable in five years time. There can be no leadership change-ups mid-term, so the party must choose their leader–and their platform for the future–with precision. There’s relatively no room for error.
  7. That vision for the future can’t be something from 1997. Tony Blair is gone, and his strategy for winning elections with it.

Lastly, the question over the role of the Scottish National Party; what is their role? They say they’re for ending the austerity measure by Cameron, promoting policies that help all of the UK, and promise not to be a destructive force in Westminster, but how can that be so when they want to break away from the UK proper? Via Nick Robinson, political editor BBC:

Personal triumphs for the Prime Minister David Cameron and for Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will not just reshape British politics but could perhaps reshape the future of the United Kingdom itself.

The future, though, belongs to David Cameron who defied all those - including at times himself - who doubted that he could ever increase his party's support.

And of course too to Nicola Sturgeon who warned that talk of an SNP clean sweep was wildly optimistic. The question is how two leaders, how two countries - who now stand for such different things - can live together or whether they will find that this is impossible. This is the opening night of an extraordinary drama whose conclusion is utterly unknowable.

**Original Post**

The UK elections last night were surely a surprise. As Katie reported this morning, Prime Minister David Cameron will remain in Number 10, but with a Conservative majority government. In a sense, it was 1992 all over again. That year, polls thought Labour Leader Neil Kinnock would become the country’s next prime minister after Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990. That wasn’t the case, John Major, who replaced Thatcher, won 336 seats–and Conservatives garnered the most votes cast in an election in British history.

The butcher’s bill was high, especially for the Liberal Democrats–the Conservative Party’s coalition partner (via CNN):

Another loser was the Liberal Democrat party. It was the junior partner in the previous coalition government with the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats too had an awful night.

Party leader Clegg, who became deputy prime minister in 2010, held his seat but said he was taking responsibility for the party's "catastrophic losses" by resigning as party leader.

He had always expected the election to be "exceptionally difficult" for the Liberal Democrats, he said.

"But clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared."

The party lost several key figures -- chief among them Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury; Vince Cable, the business secretary; and Simon Hughes, former deputy leader of the party and a former London mayoral candidate.

Menzies Campbell, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "For us we must go back and once again build up from the bottom, from the bottom up which is the only way to do it."

The UK Independence Party, seen as a threat to the Conservatives, also had a bad night, despite increasing its overall share of the vote.

Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg, and UKIP Leader Nigel Farage have all resigned. Harriet Harman, the Labour Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, is reportedly the temporary leader of the Labour Party.

Miliband simply could not hang on as Labour leader; his party had their worst election showing since 1987. As Labour was being smashed in Scotland–where in the end they were virtually wiped out–various Labour sources reported to BBC and Sky News over the course of last night that he would not have survived past lunchtime today, and they wish to see a “bloodletting” leadership contest to begin as soon as humanely possible.

Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor, spoke about Chancellor of the Exchequer; George Osborne floated the idea of becoming the next Foreign Minister, but decided against that move–noting that he would be more influential remaining as Cameron’s ally in Number 11.* After all, Robinson mentioned that Cameron could give Osborne more latitude regarding negotiations with the UK’s European neighbors. Yet, what would be the role for Boris Johnson, Mayor of London? He won in Uxbridge and South Ruislip last night, and returns to the House of Commons after leaving in 2008 to run for mayor. Also What of Theresa May, the Home Secretary? Does she remain in her position or will she be reshuffled in the new government? She’s been making indications that she wants to be the next Conservative Party leader­–all things to be answered in due time. Robinson also added that David Cameron would have significantly less wiggle room regarding troublesome MPs on his side. Before, if an MP was making a fuss over an issue, Cameron could simply ignore that person since he had the Liberal Democrats to carry him over the top on bills. That’s no longer the case; he’s not helming a government that will be held more accountable for its actions.

The signs of disaster for the Labour Party arrived when their MPs were being picked off one-by-one in Scotland. The Scottish National Party virtually wiped out Labour, winning 56 (up from 6 in the previous Parliamentary term) of its 59 constituencies. It’s an historic landslide, and they’re now the third largest party in the UK. To make matters worse, the Conservatives made gains in England and Wales–areas Labour needed to make inroads to makeup the loss of MPs in Scotland. It didn’t happen. Sky News reporters and commentators acknowledged that the Conservatives had a firm grip on England last night. Former Labour Cabinet minister, David Blunkett, was rather glum in his Sky News interview, saying the opinion polls were wrong, an the exit poll is right.” At the time, the exits had Conservatives winning 316 seats.

FiveThirtyEight also mentioned in their live blog that first-term Conservative incumbents fared well:

The Conservative vote has held up well in seats that the party is defending in England. One thing that may have helped them is a bonus for first-term incumbent MPs, who have performed 2.7 percent better than other Conservative candidates in Conservative-held seats.

Also, Conservatives held Thurrock, which commentators said would only happen if Cameron’s party were heading for a majority.

The BBC listed nine events to expect during the Cameron’s government over the next five years.

  1. The UK could leave the European Union.
  2. Scotland could become a federal state.
  3. There will be cuts to government spending. BBC noted a 12 billion pound cut to welfare services, with a Conservative spending mindset of saving 1 pound for every 100 spent.
  4. Working on the economic recovery (as mentioned by Chancellor Osborne).
  5. Cameron promises to pass a law prohibiting taxes increases for the next five years.
  6. Dissension within Cameron’s own ranks, which could make governing his slim majority a political headache. Again, it’s somewhat like 1992 with John Major’s government.
  7. Labour will have to go back to the drawing board to learn how to win again.
  8. Cameron will face “coup challenges,” even though he’s already said he won’t run for a third term.
  9. Voting referendum: will Brits back a change to how elections are run in Britain? As BBC noted, the share of the vote does not reflect the number of seats won in parliament. UKIP garnered 3 million votes, but only has one seat, whereas SNP netted 4.2 million votes and has 56. In 2011, such a referendum was put forward, but rejected by UK voters, but it could be resurrected.

Lastly, let’s focus on points one, six, and eight. Like in the United States, there are issues that divide the party. Immigration divides both Democrats and Republicans, and Second Amendment issues–and now trade– are a sure way to foment a split with Democrats. In the UK, nothing chops up the Conservative Party more than the European Union. It’s been that way for nearly a quarter century. In another 1992 parallel, Cameron has a slim majority in the House of Commons and is dealing with an issue regarding the European Union. In 1992, John Major faced similar issues, one that almost brought his government to collapse. At the time, the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union, was being debated. Major was able to negotiate an opt-out for the adoption of a single currency–the Euro–but the Social Chapter is where the government hit the iceberg.

significant portion of anti-EU Conservative MPs voted with Labour to defeat the motion, in the hopes that Major would delay ratification of the treaty or dump the initiative outright, according to the Independent at the time. Labour was actually for the treaty, but facilitated votes that would bring Major in conflict with the anti-EU wing of his party in order to undercut the government. Major put forward a motion of confidence in the government, which he won, but the damage had already been done; Tony Blair and the Labour Party would decimate the Conservatives in 1997.

Below is Lord Tebbit, Chairman of the Conservative Party (1985-87), on the treaty. Prime Minister John Major sits behind him. 

Could the EU question cause headaches for Cameron? It’s possible given that Theresa May, his Home Secretary, Boris Johnson, and George Osborne are more Eurosceptic than the prime minister, according to the BBC. I hope that Cameron’s government isn’t undone on this issue the way Major was in the 1990s.

Last Notes: SNP’s newest MP Mhairi Black, aged 20, will be the youngest member of parliament since 1667

30 percent of the House will be comprised of women, a record high. One hundred ninety women were elected last night, up from 148 in 2010, according to the BBC.

Voter turnout was the highest since 1997 at 66 percent.

Europe is anxious on the UK's actions regarding the EU (via BBC's Katya Adler):

The words 'political earthquake' have been translated into numerous European languages today, making front page news across the continent.

While Britons now examine the domestic minutiae of the election result, here in mainland Europe the vote means one thing: a referendum on Britain's membership to the EU. And that has the potential to create an earthquake of its own.

The guardian of the EU treaties Mr Cameron wants to change - Commission President Jean Claude Juncker - said again today he'd listen to what Britain's new government proposed but real change must be approved by EU countries rather than institutions.

...

Governments had already been discussing a possible framework for renegotiating Britain's relationship with the EU behind closed doors. Now that talk will go public.

"Certainly at next month's summit here in Brussels. The countdown starts now. Mr Cameron has promised a referendum in 2017... and Brussels is hardly known for speedy decision-making. Expect quite some flexibility: few countries want to see the UK's burgeoning economy leave the fold.

"But there will be limits, possibly over people's freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU. European federalists will be worrying that Britain's desire for 'less Brussels' will now be echoed elsewhere, leading to an unravelling of the EU as they know it, or dream it could and should be."

Cameron is the first prime minister since 1900 to increase his party's share of the vote.