Coming into tonight, if I was honest, I figured it was going the Tories’ way. Miliband’s refusal to admit that Labour had overspent on Question Time added to the five pledges stone monument made you think that Labour had blown it. But I never thought they’d be down below 240. Or that the Tories would get a majority. No one thought that, remember? The only way the Conservatives could possibly get that is if they completely wiped out the Lib Dems. Oh.
I suppose from a Lib Dem perspective, can it now be deemed a mistake to have gone into coalition? No, I don’t think so, for two reasons. One, there’s no point in being in politics unless you’re going to try and get your policies put into legislation. Opposition is nowhere, whatever anybody says about it. But also, this was coming no matter what. In 2010, the Lib Dems failed to cross the Rubicon. The Coalition essentially bought the party five more years of life as a significant parliamentary force. Had there been a second election, I’m surer than ever that the Lib Dems, while probably not on single figures like today, would have suffered huge losses. And we would have had a Tory majority – on that, I’m now more certain than ever.
For Labour, the night was pretty much as disastrous as it was for the Liberal Democrats. Ed Balls losing his seat was the “Portillo moment” if there really was one this time round. The SNP indeed wiped everyone out in Scotland as feared. Either the unions will now bugger off, properly disaffiliate, or will demand the party goes further to the left, thus further into the electoral wilderness.
Reviewing this parliament as a binary game, one between the Tories and Labour, you can now see how the Tories grand strategy worked amazingly well; their opponents fell into every trap. Many of us, myself over and over again, warned Labour that if the Lib Dems were crushed, it would almost certainly mean we woke up to a Tory majority on May 8th. And I take no joy in being right about that. They thought UKIP was no threat to them, although Ed Balls now stands as a martyr to that misconception. The Tories wanted Labour to go to the left and for the Lib Dem vote to plummet, allowing them to take seats that used to be theirs’ pre-1997. Both happened as planned. I thought the Tories were finished as a mighty electoral machine. I wish I hadn’t been so wrong about that.
Where the left of centre in this country goes from here, I don’t know. I’m worried about what the Tories on their own are capable of – Jesus, if you thought the austerity of the last five years was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet, folks – on Europe, on human rights, on criminal justice. I’m worried not just for this parliament but also for the next few to come. Unless something incredible happens, we could be stuck with the Tories for a long time to come.
Any positives from last night? UKIP failed to breakthrough, and as I write, Farage looks to have lost in South Thanet. Those are the only good things I can think of.
So now, my only hope for the country is that Cameron and Osborne can keep us in the European Union and that the liberals within the Tory ranks are able to stop the right wing from dominating the agenda. That’s not much to go on, but I’m afraid it’s all we’ve got.