David Cameron has done a Bibi! Polls had his Conservatives and Ed Miliband’s Labor neck and neck in the final weeks of the United Kingdom campaign, with neither likely to command a majority in the House of Commons. But the exit polls last night shocked everyone. Just as was the case with Netanyahu’s surprise surge in the Israeli elections, it appeared that Cameron’s Tories had conclusively defeated Labor, albeit still just short of a majority. And like Netanyahu, by morning it emerged that Cameron had won what is, under the circumstances, an astonishing victory: a slight majority. After five years of coalition government in the UK, such a feat can no longer be taken for granted. A few points of reflection about this election are therefore in order, with eyes to the past, the present, and the future.
First, the past. No election should go by without voters appreciating the significance of casting ballots, a point underscored by the VE Day commemorations taking place in the UK today. In probably the most unpredictable election since the War, in which so few seats could legitimately be considered “safe”, Britons could really feel their voices were going to be heard and should be grateful for that opportunity. This should also, however, remind us all about the threats our political freedoms face from the current worldwide Islamist insurgency. The spate of successful and thwarted attacks in Europe and Texas in recent months reminds us all of the vulnerability of free societies and the ongoing need for vigilance.
For Jews, the right to vote means even more. As a historically beleaguered minority and one made by some to feel unwelcome still, the freedom to participate in the governance of their country is one their ancestors could not imagine, and it is a responsibility which Jews today must not shirk. For British Jews, who opinion polls suggested were leaning heavily toward David Cameron thanks in part to his steadfast support for Israel in its battle with Hamas last summer (in stark contrast to Miliband, who is Jewish), this election will come as a relief. Almost all of the MPs representing more Jewish constituencies have been returned, and the notoriously anti-Israel Bradford MPs, George Galloway and David Ward, have both been ejected from office.
And so, to the present. The tally for the 650-member Commons is as follows: Conservatives 331 (+24), Labor 232 (-26), Scottish National Party 56 (+50), Liberal Democrats 8 (-49), Other 23. The big winners are the Tories and the Scottish Nationalists. No incumbent party has grown its faction in the Commons since 1983, and back then Margaret Thatcher was bolstered by victory in the Falklands War. The Conservative gains are therefore electorally very impressive indeed. The SNP too had a brilliant night – although their remarkable successes were more anticipated. The Nationalists rose from a meagre 6 seats at Westminster to become its third largest party, crushing opponents across Scotland. They took out the shadow Foreign Secretary (who, to give a sense of how unpopular Labor has become in Scotland, he was defeated by a 20-year old college student, who will become the youngest MP in centuries). They took out the leader of Labor in Scotland. And they also won all seven seats in the Labor-stronghold of Glasgow – an earthquake that would be equivalent to the Democrats losing San Francisco. What the rise of the SNP, which just lost a Scottish independence referendum last year, means for the Union is yet to be seen.
The big losers, of course, are Labor and the Liberal Democrats, but also the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Labor not only lost its Shadow Foreign Secretary but even it’s Shadow Chancellor, the architect of its economic policies. The numbers too are shocking: there are fewer Labor MPs now those when former prime minister Gordon Brown managed to salvage in the previous election in 2010 when he and his party were being blamed for the economic recession. The Liberal Democrats, the junior members of the coalition, were trounced, losing cabinet ministers and former party leaders across the country. And UKIP, which was hoping to take a handful of seats, emerged with only one – although it did place second in many constituencies and won a significant proportion of the national vote. And so, in the space of one hour, three party leaders (Labor’s Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, and the UKIP leader Nigel Farage) resigned – unheard of in British politics.
(For American observers, the result is another win for former Obama strategist Jim Messina, who worked on the Tory campaign, and a loss to David Axelrod, who consulted for Labor.)
Finally, the future. A Conservative win is good news for UK-US relations. Cameron has shown he can work with President Obama, and if any British leader is able to collaborate with a possible Republican president, it is more likely to be him than Ed Miliband. Defense spending is likely to be a sticking point, given present Conservative plans to make cuts. However, the slim Tory majority means Cameron will be very reliant on his backbenchers, who tend to be more conservative and may resist excessive military reductions. The tension between Cameron and some members of his party points to the biggest issue of all: Europe. Cameron has promised a renegotiation of the UK’s place in the EU and a referendum on membership by the end of 2017. Expect to hear much more about that.
And so, like Netanyahu, Cameron had a good election. But unlike Netanyahu, he won’t have to negotiate for a month to form a wafer thin majority. He already has that now.