Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA Election Special which comes to you after a truly extraordinary night in British politics.
Opinion pollsters must from now on be treated with the same suspicion as the politicians which they so closely observe. In the whole of the campaign only one ICM poll pointed towards a Conservative majority and it was roundly dismissed as a “rogue”. Perhaps it was pure accident, but it was the only one which got anywhere close to the actual result. The Tories are on course to get past the magic 326 figure allowing David Cameron to form a government, free of the need to negotiate red lines in darkened rooms.
With the Conservative win the big theme of the night, the converse motif, the demise of the Lib Dems and Labour in Scotland, is the other. Nick Clegg has a mere seven colleagues in the House, levels of Liberal representation reminiscent of the 1970s. For Labour, the wiping out of the entire leadership in Scotland is positively Shakespearean. Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, standing in the sort of seats where they used to weigh the vote, fell victim to breath-taking 20%+ swings to the SNP. The coup de grace to Labour’s morale came with the defeat of Ed Balls. Ed Miliband’s continued leadership is now inevitably the subject of intense speculation.
Notably, the SNP’s near clean sweep in Scotland (winning all but 3 seats) and its 50+ seats in Westminster came on the back of a smaller number of votes won than UKIP, which finishes the night with a mere 2 seats, despite being third in the popular vote in England.
So what are the implications for publishing and the creative industries of these historical results?
The Conservative Government will be relatively stable and capable of being formed early. With the Digital Single Market debate well under way in Europe this is vital. Ministers can go to European Council meetings secure in their briefs, and with their interlocuters knowing that they are in situ for five years. This is critical in ensuring the UK has a strong voice.
The broad direction of policy, supportive of a robust IP framework and insistent on the need for an evidence-based case for change, will remain in place. Our task in persuading Ministers to maintain this line is made easier by this result and it is welcome that there is no prospect of it being negotiated away by any minor coalition members.
What happens in education policy will – as we have previously seen – depend as much upon the personalities of the relevant Ministers as anything else. The strong commitment to text books and a belief in a small core curriculum is likely to remain. However, the zeal with which specific elements of this policy is pursued may vary according to taste. The planned reforms to A levels will remain in place.
Similarly, whether BIS Ministers remain committed to the “Finch settlement” on open access may depend as much on personal interest and competing priorities as anything else.
However, although we can perhaps look with some degree of positivity about the result (as indeed we could have done with a similar result but in Labour’s favour), there are some darker clouds on the horizon.
The Conservative pledge to seek a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU is going to utterly dominate the political agenda for the next year up to and beyond the promised referendum in 2017. This leaves the Digital Single Market policy in the dangerous position of being a political football – ready to be kicked into touch or into a goal according to the pressures of the wider debate. We have already seen signs of this with No 10’s unhelpful December paper; but at least then we had some pro-EU Lib Dem ministers to help temper the message. And although UKIP’s parliamentary presence will be small and marginalised, the Tory high command will not be able to ignore its sizeable share of the vote. There a lot of voters who are cross about Europe and they will be in the minds of Tory strategists (especially as next year local elections loom).
The Conservative’s fiscal policy – as set out in the March Budget – will now come into full effect. This does imply strong cuts to local government spending which in turn implies even further pressure on library budgets. We can expect to see further vociferous debate on this issue.
Likely leadership elections in both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will mean their focus will be elsewhere in the short-term.
We look forward to welcoming back a number of our ‘friends’ (Conservatives Therese Coffey and John Whittingdale, Labour Ben Bradshaw, Jim Dowd and Iain Wright and SNP Pete Wishart), engaging with the new Ministers, and in time to discussing policy with new opposition spokespeople as well as Select Committee Chairs and members.