So the dust has settled on the election and there’s much commentary on the huge success of David Cameron’s Conservatives. There’s no doubt it came as a surprise – if only because the opinion polls got it so miserably wrong. On the other hand, had there been no opinion polls carried out did anyone really think Miliband stood a chance? He has never been perceived as a strong leader – certainly not PM material. The critics were correct in 2010. Labour, ever-wed to electoral failure and loathing of the thought of success, chose the wrong brother.
Much is being made of Cameron’s majority as if it is a miracle and the Tories are all conquering. The reality may yet be very very different. It is a very very small majority. In fact, had this electoral result been at any other point in the last thirty years it would be deemed an unworkable majority. Tony Blair secured huge majorities of 160/170s in 1997 and 2001 and then suffered a “bloody nose” in 2005 when his increasing unpopularity over the Iraq war saw Labour’s majority reduced to 66. Tony Blair was forced to listen more to his backbenchers and his Cabinet at that point. John Major really struggled to hold his majority together from 1992-1997 as his miserly majority was only 22. Cameron’s majority is 6. The reality is he will struggle.
First, debate around Europe will intensify as negotiations about Britain’s relationship with the EU are underway. The promised referendum might help but this is such a vexed issue among Tories, there is no guarantee. Should some backbenchers become unsettled over European issues it may spell trouble for Cameron.
Secondly, the proposed welfare cuts are double the previous cuts. NHS and Education provision are on their knees. I fail to see how health and education can suffer more cuts. Although the Tories seem fairly united on this now, this may not be the case when it comes to actual implementation and the full weight of the consequences become clear. MPs will come under pressure from constituents as they suffer the reality of the crippling cuts being proposed. We have only suffered 40% of the proposed cuts and with 60% to come I find it difficult to believe that MPs will not fear a massive backlash in the 2020 election. Dissension among Tory backbench MPs doesn’t have to be massive to block Cameron’s agenda. A few paternal, social conservative voters could kill a budget.
Thirdly, ironically the coalition arrangement of 2010-2015 gave Cameron some “political cover” for his actions. There was shared responsibility and shared blame with the Lib Dems so the electorate was possibly prepared to accept more. Two parties can’t be wrong , right? Furthermore, the same political cover allowed Cameron to assuage dissension among his back benches by reassuring them that x, y, z is necessary because “there’s a coalition partner to consider…”. This is no longer the case on either account. The Tories will shoulder the blame alone for cuts now and when decisions are taken that backbenchers might not be comfortable with, Cameron alone will carry the can.
Perhaps his decision to announce that he will not stand for a third term was a very astute political move after all?