By Mark Bennister, Senior Lecturer in British Politics
The UK is waking up from an astonishing night in politics. There were shades of 1992, with the opinion polls almost certain of deadlock between the two main parties and ultimately proving to be wrong. There were also shades of 1997, with some very big names falling.
The Conservatives are on course to return to government – potentially even alone, while Labour has fallen far short of the number of seats expected.
The Conservatives were of course the biggest winners here. The Liberal Democrat vote failed to shift totally to Labour, while the Conservatives seemed to gain from tactical voting from UKIP supporters.
The Conservative vote held up well in the main battlegrounds in the Midlands and seemed not to suffer from the UKIP factor. In a genuine three-way battle in Thurrock, they held off both Labour and UKIP.
The results in Scotland have been truly seismic. The SNP won 56 of 59 seats, securing remarkable swings against Labour. The biggest news was the demise of Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy in Renfrewshire East and Labour’s campaign strategist Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South. These defeats were notable for the huge swings against Labour that will take several elections to reverse if ever. Douglas Alexander’s defeat to a 20-year old student proved one of the images of the night. It’s worth noting that turnout in these two constituencies rose to 81% and 75% respectively, reflecting the SNPs post referendum organisational capacity.
Liberal Democrat meltdown
Beyond Scotland the other obvious story emerging was the Liberal Democrat meltdown. Although Nick Clegg hung on in Sheffield Hallam, due to some tactical voting from Conservative supporters, the party has been decimated in this election. Simon Hughes lost to Labour in a tight scrap in Bermondsey and Danny Alexander lost his seat in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. More surprisingly Vince Cable was defeated in Twickenham and Ed Davey beaten in Kingston. They paid a heavy price for five years of coalition.
Labour goes backwards
Labour seemed stunned by the exit poll that predicted 316 seats for the Conservatives. As the night panned out though it became obvious that the party was unable to make headway in key target seats. When Nuneaton was held by the Conservatives, then Warwickshire North – Labour’s number one target seat – it set a pattern for Labour in the Midlands. It was unable to make inroads in seats it really needed to win.
The gains from Conservatives, as they were, appeared in London in seats such as Enfield North and in Ealing Central. Labour managed to pick up seats from Liberal Democrats in Redcar and Cardiff Central, and unseat Hughes in Bermondsey and Lynn Featherstone in Hornsey. But Conservatives also took Liberal Democrat seats in Kingston and Eastleigh.
A pattern emerged of Labour holding up in London, but not as much as they would have hoped, while being unable to make any serious challenge to the marginal Conservative seats the party needed to win to offset the wipeout in Scotland. UKIP may end up coming third in the vote share but possibly with only a single seat, that of Douglas Carswell who held on in Clacton. This looks like an election lost by Labour and Liberal Democrats, rather than won by Conservatives.
The inquisition in Labour Party circles has already started. David Cameron, however, will be prime minister, the head of the largest party and may even scrape over the line to get a majority in parliament. There will undoubtedly be profound implications for the nature of the union and Britain’s future in Europe.
This post originally appeared in the Conversation Blog: http://theconversation.com/leaders-dodge-talk-of-coalitions-in-question-time-showdown-4106