British PM David Cameron confounds polls to win second term

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May 8, 2015

LONDON: British prime minister David Cameron has confounded pollsters and pundits by winning a sensational second five-years term in office for his Conservative party.

May 8, 2015

LONDON: British prime minister David Cameron has confounded pollsters and pundits by winning a sensational second five-years term in office for his Conservative party.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha wave from the steps of 10 Downing Street in London Friday, May 8, 2015 after meeting Britain's Queen Elizabeth II where he informed her that he has enough support to form a government.

This time Cameron looks set to be free from the constraints of coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats. His partners in office since 2010, the Lib Dems were almost wiped out, and their leader, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, resigned on Friday morning.

Cameron’s victory in Thursday’s general election obliterated opposition leader Ed Miliband’s hopes of eking out a small win for Labour. He also resigned in the wake of the defeat.

But it came at the price for the Tories of stunning success for the separatist Scottish National party (SNP) north of the border.

At the time of writing, with almost all 650 seats declared, the Conservatives had 325, Labour 229, the SNP 56 and the Liberal Democrats eight. In practice 323 Members of Parliament is the number needed to form a majority government.

As Cameron prepared to drive to Buckingham Palace to notify Queen Elizabeth that she has a new government from day one, rather than the chaotic search for a viable cross-party coalition of either the right or the left, Miliband resigned as Labour leader, shocked by the scale of his rejection by the electorate. Among the night’s casualties were a raft of senior Labour figures, including his shadow chancellor, or finance spokesman, Ed Balls, defeated in Leeds.

The result was a vindication of Cameron’s much criticized decision to run a largely negative campaign, stressing the risks to Britain’s still-fragile economic recovery of a Labour government that would overspend and drive away investors through taxes aimed at the wealthy and their tax-avoiding practices.

But the prime minister’s victory was partly the product of a relentless Conservative campaign to highlight the dangers of a Labour minority government propped up by the left-leaning SNP in Scotland and this polarizes Britain in an unprecedented way. Critics have protested that the outcome, a tactical success in England, could accelerate the break-up of the United Kingdom.

It is a development which the US, EU and other allies, including those in Nato, fear because it would weaken Britain’s international standing and place a question over its Trident submarine nuclear defence capability – currently based in the Holy Loch in Scotland.

But financial markets responded strongly to news of a Conservative win – which lifted the Labour threat of higher corporate and personal taxes for the City of London, along with more stringent regulation.

The Scottish result may be the more significant overnight development. The SNP, which lost a referendum to end the 308-year union with England last September, won all but a handful of Scotland’s 59 seats, dozens of them from Labour in a region that was once a stronghold for the party and opening the way to significant influence in Britain’s 650-seat Westminster parliament as Cameron’s Conservatives seek to govern with a slender majority.

With his own key cabinet allies – including veteran business secretary Vince Cable – also punished with defeat by voters, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg resigned as leader of his Liberal Democrat party on Friday morning. He was one of only a handful of his party’s 57 MPs to hang on to his seat in the northern industrial city of Sheffield.

Ukip, the rightwing populist party that favours British withdrawal from the European Union won 4 million votes but only a single seat, due to the vagaries of Britain’s electoral system, built for two large parties and now creaking under the weight of many smaller ones. Its leader, Nigel Farage, long a member of the European parliament in Strasbourg but desperate to gain a platform at Westminster, failed to win his seat and resigned as party leader.

Equally disappointed were the leftwing Greens with one million votes under Britain’s winner-take-all voting system but just one seat to show for it.

The five-week campaign had been marked by negative mud-slinging all round, with Labour accusing Cameron of being an elitist, keen only to protect the rich during the prolonged recession since 2008. Cameron and his chancellor – or finance minister – George Osborne could point to a recovery which saw UK growth at 2.8% last year and two million new jobs created, a better performance than that of the struggling eurozone across the English Channel.

But many British voters outside the prosperous south-east of England did not feel the benefit amid low wages and fast rising house prices. They remained skeptical about all parties’ promises – lower taxes, better services, more housing – but opted, in what appears to have been a late swing to the Tories, for the familiar “safety first” option rather than take a risk with Miliband.

Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, who shocked many supporters by accepting coalition office with the hated Conservatives in 2010, claimed they had helped provide stable government after the banking crisis but paid the price on Thursday. Voters defected back to Labour or to the Tories in large numbers. Rather than split Cameron’s vote, some disaffected Tories reneged on their threat to vote Ukip and stayed at home.

Despite not being a candidate on Thursday – she sits in the regional Scottish parliament – Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who succeeded Alex Salmond after the 55% to 45% defeat for the independence campaign in September, proved to be the election’s star performer. In TV debates with a combination of up to six rival leaders she emerged as fluent, confident and determined to put some leftwing fire into a Miliband-led government if she had a veto.

That scenario impressed Labour-voting Scots who flocked to her banner on Thursday and all but wiped out Labour in its northern heartland. Among those falling was that held until last month by Gordon Brown, Labour’s UK prime minister until 2010. What the SNP triumph means for the long term is the largest question today’s result poses for Britain.

For now Labour is due to undergo another leadership contest and questions are already being asked about the willingness of David Miliband – who younger brother Ed defeated for the leadership in 2005 – to return to Britain and stand again.

David Miliband is now in New York, where he runs the International Rescue refugee charity. At his Upper West Side apartment on Thursday night, a doorman said he had left town for the weekend. “Was he expecting you?”

No.. We’re reporters from the Guardian.

“I think that’s why he left,” the doorman said.


Courtesy: The Guardian