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Democracy eh?

I can’t believe the news today.
I can’t close my eyes and make it go away

Blimey. I didn’t expect that. There I was last Thursday night, idly contemplating whether to go to bed at 10 and get up at 4am when the count usually starts to get interesting when David Dimbleby announced the results of THAT exit poll and had me spluttering into my cocoa.

I, like pretty much everyone else it seems, was expecting another hung Parliament with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power once again. To be honest, I couldn’t really think of anything the LibDems had done – apart from renege on a tuition fees promise that they never, ever thought they’d have to keep – that would have caused this much of a fall from grace.

The picture above – thanks to the BBC’s rather marvelous election websites – shows the difference in the seats won five years ago and now.

There are many questions being asked about the election – what went wrong for Labour, what went so very, very wrong for the Lib Dems and how did the pre-election polls get it so awry?

Did people lie to the pollsters as they were a bit embarrassed to be seen to be supporting the Tories? Were they just unable to make up their minds until the last moment? Or did the thought of a Labour minority under Miliband being propped up by the Scottish Nationalists scare them all into plumping for the status quo? Did they all just assume that the growth in the economy most of us have been experiencing was down to the Tory part of the coalition or did they forget that the LibDems were even part of it?

Was it the very act of entering the Coalition five years ago that did for the Lib Dems this time round? Had they become part of the problem and therefore no good as a protest vote? Did UKIP – who got 3,881,129 votes against the Lib Dems’ 2,415,888 – appeal more as the party of protest?

Did Nick Clegg – a man who, had he not entered a coalition last time, would have been forever known as the guy who bottled it – simply get a stay of execution in 2010 and put off the death of his party for five years? Maybe. But then 8,000 people have joined the party since Thursday, so maybe talk of its death are exaggerated.

And as for Labour, it seems that the painful lessons of the past seven years still hurt. Under Ed Miliband Labour performed worse overall than it had under Gordon Brown in the immediate aftermath of the worst financial crisis of modern times. Were people running scared of Labour spending, not trusting Ed Balls not to get us back in the mire? Or could they simply not imagine that particular Miliband taking his place on the World Stage?

I think the SNP victories are rather easier to explain. In his rush to protect the Union in the run up to the Referendum in September, Cameron promised the Scots the earth, more or less. This way, they get to vote for a kind of independence without actually having to be independent.

It’s good to have stability. It’s good to be able to continue down a road that you’ve started on – assuming that road is a good one (Green Deal anyone?) but I don’t think for one minute that there isn’t still some more pain to come.

The £12bn of welfare cuts that the Lib Dems said pre-election were in the Tory plans may have been scaremongering, but we are by no means out of the financial woods yet. The trouble is, even if that £12bn is exaggerated, many of the easy wins in terms of cuts have already been made over the past five years.

And let’s not forget, in our excitement at the number of ‘Portillo moments’ on Thursday night, that a lot of people lost their jobs. Not just the MPs – many of whom were capable, loyal constituency MPs – but also the people who worked for them, who ran their offices and ensured they could serve the people they were elected to serve. Every win is someone else’s loss.

Still, it’s early days yet and the shiny, smiley faces of the new Cabinet, grinning out of the front pages today might just do what we need them to do to clear the deficit, bring in a new focus on energy policy and help sort out the housing shortage.

Or not.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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