The electorate has spoken – sort of

This was the most unkindest cut of all

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t trust politicians – of any ilk- further than I can throw them. And as a journalist I think I’m supposed to be completely neutral. However, I’m a bit fed up with a lot of the hoo-ha in the papers about last week’s elections.

You do know we’ve been here before don’t you? This situation we have where the political party/parties in the position of most power have been given a bloody nose by the electorate fed up with some/all of the prevailing policies.

So UKIP has polled well in local and European elections. Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that the turnout for this latest set of elections was 35% of the voting population – that’s over two-thirds of the electorate who couldn’t be bothered and therefore have no right to complain about, well, anything.

In many cases, the votes cast for UKIP – other fringe parties are available – have been ‘protest votes’, cast by those disillusioned with what they see going on in Westminster. This has happened before. Many times.

Once upon a time, a few Parliamentary lifetimes ago, the electorate was so fed up with John Major’s Conservative Government that they voted in spades for the Liberal Democrats in the 1996 local council elections. The true blue Tory town of Royal Tunbridge Wells even made the front page of the Telegraph when the Tories lost overall control. A few years later, the Tories regained their majority when the electorate wanted to show the Government – by then Tony Blair’s Labour was in the driving seat – that they still weren’t happy with what the mainstream government was up to.

No matter what the papers say, looking at the actual numbers of votes polled last week, the chances of UKIP becoming a major political party with any real clout at the General Election are probably quite slim.

Now, I’m a sucker for an underdog and no-one fits that category at the moment quite as much as Nick Clegg. There’s quite a lot of nonsense being spouted about how UKIP’s success is the death knell for the Liberal Democrats and maybe, after the next election the party will emerge in a different format and, quite probably, with a different leader. Which is a wee bit unfair.

Remember the TV debates with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg before the last election? It was Clegg’s performance as the sensible, middle-of-the-road choice that got the party into bed with the Tories in the first place. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. As a leader of a political party which polled that well in the election had no choice but to form a coalition or forever be condemned as the unelectable party.

The Lib Dem faithful blame him for wimping out on many of their policies (see, for example, tuition fees), the Tory faithful blame him for watering down hard-line Tory policies. As I said, damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t .

But here’s a thought. Had Clegg not done so well in the TV debates, had the Lib Dems not polled quite so well, had Clegg not taken that leap of faith into coalition then it would probably have been his face splashed all over the papers instead of Farage’s gurning mug.

Be careful what you wish for in future, Nick. Be very careful.

Incidentally, one of my favourite journalists, Harry Wallop, has written in today’s Telegraph in a similar vein. Read it here if you get a chance.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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