What Next? UK Election Outcomes

Lord Howell

Will there be an EU Referendum? Yes. Will Britain leave the EU? No. Will Scotland breakup the United Kingdom? No. Why did the opinions polls and experts get the result of the General Election so wrong? See below.

To the surprise of many, although not all, the UK Conservative Party has gained an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons, following the General Election of May 7th.

This gives the Prime Minister David Cameron 331 seats out of 650 – an arithmetical majority over all others of 12, although in practice his position is far stronger. Some commentators call the new Government’s majority ‘narrow’ or ‘tiny’, implying it is fragile and could be overturned by a few rebels joining with the Opposition at any time.

But this view fails to appreciate the dynamics of Westminster. It would be rare in the extreme for all the other parties, holding as they do vastly differing views, to combine to defeat the Government.

This sounds like dry arithmetic but in fact it is the key to the two hottest issues facing the UK Government, Britain’s place in the European Union and Scotland’s continuation in the United Kingdom.

The Cameron plan is to negotiate a better relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU and then put the ’deal’ he has secured to the British people in a referendum in the Autumn of 2017, with his own strong recommendation that Britain should stay in the EU. He now has a majority to get his referendum legislation passed, although the Opposition parties dislike it intensely.

But now here’s the key point missed by many observers. However many Conservative rebels oppose his ‘deal’ with Brussels it will still go through Parliament and still have the backing in the subsequent referendum campaign of all three main political parties, Conservative, Labour and Scottish Nationalist (SNP). This means that the British people will without doubt follow this lead from right across the political spectrum and vote to stay in by a clear majority. There will be protests but they will be in a minority. That will settle the matter.

Of course it leaves all sorts of questions about the EU itself unanswered. The whole EU model is out of date and needs buy accutane 2013 reforming, and the Euro problem will not go away. But these are Europe-wide issues, not just British ones.

As for Scotland, the same kind of wide misapprehension still circulates – Scotland, it is claimed will break away and the United Kingdom will end after 350 years.

Not so in practice so. The 56 new SNP Members of Parliament have come south to Westminster swearing they are to change things. But in fact they have no leverage at all in the new situation. Even joining Labour – which as their deadly enemy is unlikely – their numbers still fall far short of the Conservatives. And with more powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, and their likely exclusion from voting on England-only legislation, they will have very little to do.

The overwhelming majority at Westminster will oppose the SNP demand for a second referendum on independence – having just had the previous one which rejected it. And their prospects of running a successful independent Scottish economy have anyway evaporated with the persisting weak oil price.

So more autonomy for Scotland – yes, but total breakaway is not going to happen.

This means that the three big negative speculative stories about the UK which have been filling the global press are all turning out, or are going to turn out, to be without any foundation. The fear of an unstable government has gone. The fear of Britain leaving the EU is going, and the fear of a Scottish breakaway has receded. As a former British Prime Minister (John Major) remarked about his dealings with Brussels and the EU ‘Game, set and match’.

Finally, why did almost all the opinion polls, and most expert comment, get the Election outcome so wrong? Excuses abound, but it comes down to the fact that increasing numbers of people do not like telling pollsters their views. This is among other things because increasing numbers have their own e-groupings, their own website worlds, their own interactive dialogues. They feel empowered to ‘do their own thing’, and that means making their own decisions without interference or pollster intrusion. Something like that has clearly happened amongst the UK electorate.

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