20:43

Election reflection

With the benefit of that great clarifier, hindsight, it was extraordinary that the election result created so much surprise. Opinion polls consistently underrate the Conservative vote - as they have always done - and certainly did for John Major in 1992. 

The reason is simple. If you ask about voting intentions the subtext of the question is 'are you a nice, compassionate person who thinks of others? Or are you a person who votes for your own self interest?' When asked that question by a live flesh and blood person, many people are uncomfortable admitting that they are indeed motivated by self interest. In the privacy of the voting booth any such scruples disappear. It is often not realised that the act of going into a voting booth changes behaviours: research has shown that when voting online people are 25% more likely to vote for extremist parties.

While there will be few tears shed for Ed Balls, you do have to feel sorry for the Lib-Dems who really didn't deserve the immolation they underwent. In government they proved to be individuals of stature and competence - particularly Clegg, Laws and Alexander - who did a great job in keeping the show on the road. If a coalition had been on offer many would have voted for the same again. While the Lib-Dem politicians behaved well, the Lib Dem voters showed themselves to be what they have always been - protest voters who are too moral to soil their hands with anything like the power to achieve anything. Where do they go now?

And even without the benefit of hindsight, how did we ever think Labour had a chance with a leader who few thought was Prime Minister material, who was elected by the trade union vote rather than his parliamentary party and who had as his number two the assistant architect of the mess we are in? And on a left of centre ticket which hasn't worked since.....1945. And with no answers at all to the question of how to shrink the deficit. With boundary changes and a chance, with the EU referendum, for Cameron to spike the guns of both UKIP and his own right wing, the outlook for Labour is bleak - perhaps existential. Perhaps the old economic right/left is no longer the debate. Perhaps it is now generational. With the Conservatives unapologetically the party of the pensioner with assets, perhaps the left can reform themselves around the dispossessed generation below the baby-boomers

And Cameron? For all the sneers that he is a PR man risen without trace, he was what won it. He is obviously up to the job. He has made mistakes - but not many. Who hasn't? But his competence is not really questioned even by his enemies. One of his closest civil servants was interesting on him. He said that the hotter it gets, the cooler he goes - and that if he (the civil servant) had an orange hood over his head somewhere, he would want Cameron negotiating on his side. Even if you don't like his politics - that's a pretty good endorsement for a Prime Minister.

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