Three leaders resign in electoral earthquake
The leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP have all stepped down after their disappointments in Thursday’s election. But will changes at the top bring back the voters?
At 9:59pm on Thursday, Ed Miliband was the bookmakers’ favourite to become prime minister within days. Nick Clegg was the deputy prime minister. But at the stroke of Big Ben, both of their mainstream political careers were swept away in an instant. As voting stopped in the election, an exit poll revealed that their parties had been roundly rejected. They, along with UKIP leader Nigel Farage, would be gone by the following lunchtime.
Miliband’s Labour party won 99 fewer seats than the Conservatives and were decisively defeated. Clegg could only watch in horror as his Liberal Democrats won just eight seats, down from 57 in 2010. And Farage made good on his promise to leave if he did not win his own race for a parliamentary seat in South Thanet, though he left some doubt over whether the decision was permanent. Where pundits had predicted days or even weeks of indecision and haggling, instead they were given a demonstration of how abruptly brutal British politics can be.
Labour will now go through a period of introspection, with leadership candidates from across the party — and probably from varied backgrounds — arguing over what to do next. The primary battle is likely to centre around whether the party has alienated ‘aspirational’ voters who were more likely to vote for them under Tony Blair’s leadership. Meanwhile the Lib Dems face a huge challenge to convince voters of their relevance after suffering the worst general election result for a mainstream liberal party since 1970.
While Miliband, Clegg and Farage quit, David Cameron celebrated the first parliamentary majority for the Conservative party since 1996. He has become the first incumbent prime minister to increase his share of the vote since 1955. But the new arithmetic in the House of Commons may put him in a tougher position than before. With no coalition partners, he is now more vulnerable to rebellions within his own party.
At the crossroads
For Labour and the Lib Dems in particular, the resignations were inevitable. Some commentators say that the withering verdicts on their parties are a reflection of their personal failings — Miliband was a ‘North London geek’ and Clegg was the man who got too close to the Tories and broke his promises. The change will allow these parties to start afresh.
But others argue that it won’t be enough. Voters don’t just vote for a face, they vote for values, principles and policies. Electoral defeat should prompt reconsideration of all these things. A change of leader alone is not going to change parties’ fortunes; they need to consider the story that they are telling, their vision for the future, and whether they chime with what the electorate really wants.
- Did voters reject the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties or their leaders?
- Rank these leadership attributes in order of importance — experience; personality; values; policies; knowledge; background.
- Think of a leader (political or otherwise) whom you admire. Discuss in groups what impresses you about them and create a poster advertising their qualities.
- Research the people tipped as likely contenders to lead the Labour party in the BBC article provided in our Become an Expert section. Write a paragraph on each, explaining how likely you would be to vote for them and why.
Some People Say...
“There’s no point changing the captain if the ship is heading in the wrong direction”John Reid
What do you think?
Q & A
- What were the criticisms of Miliband and Clegg?
- Many frustrated former ministers in the Labour party have made clear in the last few days that they felt Miliband didn’t say enough that mattered to middle-class voters. There was also criticism of his presentational skills, an issue he tried to turn to his advantage in the last year or so. Clegg was seen as personally tainted after leading the Lib Dems into coalition with the Tories and particularly after allowing a trebling of tuition fees, having promised to vote against any rise in 2010.
- What is at stake in the leadership races?
- Within Labour, the party’s approaches to business and public services are likely to be crucial points of contention. The Lib Dems will be seeking to find a way of differentiating themselves from the other parties.
- Doubt over whether the decision was permanent
- Farage’s resignation will trigger a UKIP leadership election in September, but he has said that he will give consideration to standing in it.
- Period of introspection
- There is likely to be debate over what Labour stands for. Already, former leader Tony Blair – who won three elections – has called for the party to begin to champion ‘ambition as well as compassion’.
- Varied backgrounds
- Several women may run, including Liz Kendall (recently the shadow care minister) and Yvette Cooper, who has been shadow home secretary. A frontrunner, Chuka Umunna, could become Labour’s first black leader.
- The right wing of the party have suggested that Labour should show more clearly how it supports those who wish to do the best for themselves.
- Mainstream liberal party
- The Lib Dems were formed by the merger between the Liberal and the Social Democratic parties in 1988.
- MPs are under pressure to vote for the policies advocated by their party leaders. But ‘rebellions’ (when they refuse to do so) have become increasingly common.