General Election 2015: The Polls Are Closed – 7 May 2015
As polling stations across Britain shut their doors, Big Ben chimes ten and the Palace of Westminster below stands eerily quiet. Its chambers have hosted fiery debates over the last five years, its bars have witnessed the occasional brawl, and through it all its tireless clerks have filed wide-ranging new legislature.
But now all is still, and the long wait begins for results from tonight’s count.
For so long, this election campaign looked set to be the most exciting for a generation. Centrist Liberal Democrats would have to work hard to soften the electorate’s punishment after the ‘broken promises’ of 2010’s manifesto. The Conservatives would need a miracle to avoid the likely haemorrhage to Ukip of Tory voters increasingly disgruntled at ‘soft’ Cameron. ‘Gormless’ Miliband’s image would need fixing if he were to stand a chance at convincing even Labour loyalists for their vote. It was a campaign I couldn’t wait to begin.
Yet here we are on the other side of it all, and the only word to describe it is this: ‘boring’. After Gordon Brown’s career suicide last time around, there’s been precious little high-profile interaction with voters. Instead, carefully orchestrated events, held almost exclusively in factories and garden centres, have delivered the same bland photographs of leaders-behind-lecterns each day. Speaking on The Media Show yesterday, the Independent political editor Andrew Grice explained: “The employees have clearly been told by their bosses: ‘Don’t behave badly (if you want to keep your job)’, so the opportunity for real voters to meet the leaders has been very, very restricted.”. The Guardian‘s Patrick Wintour added: “I think it was Isabel [Hardman] or someone on the Spectator who did a marvelous job exposing how there was supposed to be some mass rally for David Cameron, and it was in a quarter part of an industrial estate, and it was largely empty. All these pictures are manipulated and they shouldn’t be published by newspapers, because they pretend to show a large rally and there’s literally thirty [or] forty people there.”.
This is dangerous. For as long as politics is a game for professionals, there will always be spin-doctors and PR teams. They’re part of the package. However, if their grip becomes so firm that journalists are unable to get to the heart of the story – indeed, if there appears to be no story – how can the citizen hope to make an informed choice on the characters behind the names whom they elect?
There are, though, a few moments that did slip through. Before the campaign even began, James Landale’s “weekend-clothes” profiles of the two main party leaders created waves: ‘two kitchens Miliband’ was ridiculed for defending his £2.5m house’s “functional kitchenette” (The Times even suggested he might have a third ‘hot drinks preparation area’), while much speculation followed David Cameron’s remark outruling a third term. Half-way through the campaign, Cameron went on to suffer what he called (in Natalie Bennett’s words) ‘brain fade’, favouring West Ham rather than Aston Villa, the team he has long claimed to support.
The abiding image of this campaign, though, came only in the final days. Ed Miliband’s daft slate of pledges was christened, in the way only Twitter would, his #EdStone. “Ed Miliband builds a policy cenotaph. And you wonder why we stopped doing The Thick Of It.”, tweeted Simon Blackwell, the comedy writer and producer. “Who does he think he is? Moses? Future archaeologists will gaze with bafflement at this waste of good stone.”, wrote Boris Johnson, currently awaiting confirmation that he has succeeded in his bid to return to the Commons, in the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Five years is a long time in politics and the rose-garden opening scene seems so long ago. As we stand on the brink of the future, allow me to just reflect on the biggest change that took place during the fifty-fifth parliamentary session of the United Kingdom.
Undeniably, it was Scotland.
Until eighteen months ago, few south of the border could have named Holyrood’s First Minister. But the rise in nationalism that came in the run-up to (and has continued far beyond) last September’s independence referendum has changed the face of UK politics for good. Its true repercussions are still yet to be felt: I predict the quake shall strike in the early hours of the morning, as Scotland’s constituencies light up in SNP gold and, soon afterwards, a second referendum is promised.
By contrast to the 2014 vote, no one’s needed polls to predict the outcome of this election. That is to say, we’ve all known (although inside the bubble no one’s dared admit it) that this election will conclude inconclusively. By the time the sun comes up tomorrow, we really will be nonethewiser as to who the Prime Minister will be in a few days’ time.
This election has hitherto been boring, but be in no doubt: now, the fun begins.