Corrupting the “beautiful game”

I never thought I’d say this, but US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has done something exceptional. Where other countries feared to go, she went, and has stunned the world of football (soccer) by bringing corruption charges against many top officials in FIFA, world football’s governing body.

Everyone with more than a passing interest in football has known for years that Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, is a corrupt man in charge of a horribly corrupt organisation, but no law enforcement agency has gone after him and his cronies until now. It speaks to the sheer arrogance on the part of FIFA officials that they were so terribly corrupt that they took their bribery and suitcases full of illegal cash all over the world, including to the United States. It is the latter thing that’s caught them out, because the US has a zero-tolerance policy to any kind of illegal activity taking place on its soil, regardless of whether African officials were bribing European officials for something not in the slightest related to the USA. If it took place on US soil – and it did – they can be charged for it. And they were.

The problem with FIFA is that it’s not just one man – Blatter – who has become corrupt. The entire organisation is, from its deep roots in third world dictatorships right the way to the top. In such countries, bribery and corruption are commonplace, and Blatter has seemingly adopted that mentality, even going so far as to taint Africa’s first World Cup with it. African football federations give him their support because he bought it – and they’ve bought him in turn.

Almost everyone in the football world questioned the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – an oil-rich state in the Arabian gulf – when it was announced in 2010. There are all manner of reasons why it would not be a good idea to hold the tournament there, but Blatter brushed them all aside, supposedly in the name of “taking football to new places”. Now we know better. Qatar bought the World Cup. It’s as simple as that. And the corruption doesn’t end there, not by a country mile, and now the whole future of international football is in jeopardy. Qatar’s appalling treatment of migrant workers contracted to build their football stadia is a whole separate issue.

There are two ways for football fans to proceed, now that Blatter has bought his re-election. First is to encourage our national teams and confederations to boycott all FIFA matches and tournaments, including… the next two World Cups. If the biggest teams – France, Italy, England, Spain, defending champions Germany, and even the USA were to boycott the tournament, it would be an indescribably massive blow to FIFA. They would have to press ahead with African and Asian teams only, viewership would plummet, and sponsors would slink away. This is, oddly, the best-case scenario for forcing FIFA to change and for ensuring a good, less-corrupt future for football. But it would mean some short-term pain and missed opportunities.

The second option is one we can all take part in. By informing FIFA’s biggest sponsors that we will not buy their products as long as FIFA remains corrupt and their sponsorship continues, we can, if enough of us do so, force FIFA’s sponsors into a truly uncomfortable position. While no evidence has emerged – yet – that any sponsor was engaged in this illegal activity, it should be pointed out to these companies, categorically, that their continued association with an un-reformed FIFA will not be tolerated, to the point of not buying what they’re selling. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Adidas, even Visa all sponsor FIFA and we must, if we truly care about the future of the game, take a stand. I have written to many of these companies this morning to tell them that my family and I will not be spending our money on their products unless and until they change their attitude to FIFA. I hope I can encourage some of you to do the same. Below, you will find the e-mail that I sent, as well as contact details for some of FIFA’s biggest sponsors. If you don’t want to write your own message, or haven’t the time, I suggest you copy-and-paste the one I’ve written. Maybe, if we can get enough people involved, we can force some kind of change. I would like to take this opportunity to cite this article in yesterday’s Independent newspaper for providing some of the contact details of FIFA’s sponsors.

The e-mail I sent goes as follows:

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to you today to inform you that, due to your continued association with FIFA, my family and I will no longer be purchasing your products.

As you are undoubtedly aware, FIFA is a wholly corrupt institution, and not one any respectable company would be interested in sponsoring. As FIFA has shown a consistent unwillingness to change itself – as any corrupt institution would do – it falls to sponsors such as your company to force change within the organisation. As things stand, FIFA is doing more to damage international football than anything, and your continued sponsorship of FIFA and its attractions, most notably the World Cup, is damaging your brand in the eyes of consumers worldwide. An endemic culture of corruption may be acceptable in the third world, but consumers in the west expect better from organisations and companies.

I will, where possible, explain to my friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and extended family why I am no longer purchasing your products, and encourage them to do the same. Should you choose to reassess your sponsorship of this corrupt institution, I am certain that I, and many other ex-customers, would happily return to your brand. Unfortunately, the only leverage we ordinary football fans now have is to make clear to FIFA’s sponsors that their conduct is unacceptable. Until FIFA reforms, the only thing we can do is withdraw our support for it and its sponsors, and hope that doing so forces change.

I encourage you and your company to be a leader in the fight to root out the corruption at the heart of the “beautiful game”, and not be another participant in the corrupt regime which has already done so much harm to international football.

Yours sincerely,

<Your name here>

Ex-customer

 

Here are the e-mail addresses of some of FIFA’s sponsors:

McDonalds: bod@us.mcd.com

Coca-Cola: consumerresponse@cokecce.com

Electronic Arts (maker of the FIFA video game series): StockholderCommunications@EA.com

Budweiser: Contact form

Adidas: Contact form

Letter-writing campaigns (or e-mail writing campaigns, in this case) have the potential to make a difference in the way companies behave. If even a small percentage of their customer bases are seen to be unhappy with their continued sponsorship of FIFA, it will prompt the companies to respond. Profit margins are their absolute bottom line, and anything which threatens that is a problem. A few people boycotting their products may not have a huge impact on their profit, but the negative reaction to their brands’ associations with a corrupt organisation like FIFA will have an effect. By telling these companies what we are doing and, more importantly, the reason why, there’s a chance that people-power could lead to real change, the kind of change a corrupt man and a corrupt institution cannot be trusted to make on their own. I hope that some of you will be interested in joining this boycott of FIFA sponsors. It’s time to send FIFA a message – if you think you can get away with cheating, you can’t. We’re going to hit you where it hurts.

Labour’s leadership

For the third instalment in this informal series about how the UK’s political parties are faring in the aftermath of last week’s election results, we’re looking at the Labour Party, the second-biggest loser on the 7th of May, and particularly at their search for a new leader.

When that exit poll appeared at 10:00pm on election night, many in Labour simply couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Some politicians and commentators made very foolhardy promises about what they’d do if it proved accurate – such as literally eating their hats (or kilts). If anything, the exit poll actually managed to underestimate the extent of Labour’s defeat, predicting as it did a larger share of seats for them, and no clear majority for the Tories. Since that truly extraordinary evening, many Labour figures have come out hard against hapless (former) leader Ed Miliband, and internal pollsters working with the party have said they had a better grasp of the gravity of the situation than general opinion polls seemed to suggest.

There’s a natural period of introspection after an election defeat, especially one of this magnitude, but the viciousness of some former ministers and senior figures in the party is actually quite stunning. It also makes a complete mockery of the concept of “party loyalty”; the idea that Labour should win no matter who’s in charge, how badly they’d mess up, or how out of whack their policies might be. The idea of being steadfastly loyal to a political party – not a political ideology – is just plain stupid. And that senior Labour figures would defend until polling day things which they subsequently admit were indefensible exposes them as rotten politicians who do not have the national interest at heart. But that’s an issue for another day. We already knew that the likes of Peter Mandelson and David Miliband are shady characters, their post-election bile merely underlined it.

What Labour has to decide now is where to go next. And it’s by no means as simple as it sounds. Labour didn’t lose because they were too left-wing, not left-wing enough, or even because their leader was an incompetent buffoon. There’s no single, tangible thing that Labour MPs and party members can point to as the source of their defeat, and this makes the scale of the challenge for Labour’s next leader all the more difficult. For example, in Scotland the SNP beat Labour in all but one seat with a hard-left, anti-austerity message. But in England, the Tories and UKIP came at Labour from the right-wing, and many English voters feared the influence of the SNP over Ed Miliband, should they have formed a coalition, not because of Scottish independence, but because they believed that Sturgeon and the SNP’s hard-left economic plan would raise the deficit and financially damage the nation. Those two sides are diametrically opposed. Labour managed to be simultaneously too left-wing for England, and not left-wing enough for Scotland. That’s something that may be irreconcilable, and a massive headache for the incoming Labour leadership team later this year.

Senior figures in the party are quoted all over the media saying that they need to “listen to what the voters said” and “learn from the mistakes” of the election. But not one of them has actually opened up about what they believe those mistakes were – and it’s hard to learn from a mistake if you can’t even identify it! A change in leadership will be good, or at least a good start, for a party that hopes to win back power, because it was obvious that Miliband could in no way get the job done. He was too personally tainted from the 2010 leadership election, untrustworthy on economic issues (first forgetting to mention the deficit at all, then refusing to admit the previous Labour administration over-spent, and finally because he’d have had to rely on the SNP to govern), and finally, he was simply too weak to be a national leader. The writing was on the wall for Ed Miliband years ago, but few could see it – or wanted to see it.

So who’s in contention to take over? We’ve already had the bizarre situation of a candidate formally declare, then quickly rule himself out. Chuka Ummuna, the shadow business secretary, only became a candidate a few days ago, but yesterday he said that the increased pressure involved for himself and his family meant he would be withdrawing. You’d think someone who was serious enough to launch a formal bid for the leadership – and who therefore intends one day to be Prime Minister – would have expected extra attention and scrutiny. But this is Labour, and nothing is really what you’d think.

So Ummuna’s out – not that he was ever really in – and I would argue has probably damaged his long-term leadership intentions in the process. But he’s irrelevant for now, because we need to look at who’s left. Yvette Cooper – whose husband, Ed Balls, lost his seat at the election – is running, as is the shadow minister for older people Liz Kendall. Mary Creagh became the third woman to announce her candidacy in what was regarded as a surprise move, leaving Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, in the odd position of being the only man in the field.

The general consensus is that Burnham is the front-runner, and I’ve seen nothing to convince me that that is not the case. Cooper and Creagh both have the appearance and charisma of low-level bureaucrats, and neither could really be taken seriously as a potential Prime Minister. Kendall is probably too new to being an MP, and too inexperienced in the bigger leagues – though she’s by no means a stranger to politics – to become leader, so that leaves Burnham almost by default. What Labour really need to keep in mind is that they need an electable, Prime Ministerial candidate. They failed in that regard when Ed Miliband was selected with overwhelming union backing, and if they want to turn their already-slim chance to win the 2020 election into anything at all positive, they need a leader who can appeal beyond the voters who slavishly back them every time.

Andy Burnham it is, then? Looking at the field, and now at the front-runner, if I were a Labour man I’d be asking myself one question – “is this really the best we can do?” Let’s keep in mind that the current front-runner is the man who placed fourth behind the incompetent Ed Miliband, his big brother David, and the recently-seatless Ed Balls in the 2010 leadership battle. Fourth. Behind Ed Balls. Just so we’re clear – the current front-runner for the Labour leadership is a man less well thought of than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Got that? Okay, good. Now you can understand why the Tories are so happy.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Andy Burhnam, and he is streets ahead of the other wannabes in almost every department, but that’s not a huge accomplishment in such an undistinguished field. If I were a Labour man – and again I stress that I’m not – I’d be looking for someone else to throw their proverbial hat in the ring, because the current field is poor. Burnham, to his credit, is trying to stay away from being seen too much as a union man or a New Labour-ite, but if there’s one thing we’ve seen over the past week-and-a-half it’s that all of the old Gordon Brown/Tony Blair divisions within Labour are still there, and those two ex-leaders’ factions are still bitterly divided. Outgoing (Blairite) leader of Scottish Labour Jim Murphy laid into the leader of one of the UK’s biggest unions, Len McCluskey, who has recently endorsed Burnham for the leadership. A period of in-fighting is to be expected, but wouldn’t it be more logical to think that the in-fighting might happen between current leadership candidates and their supporters, rather than adherents to former leaders who’ve long since departed the scene? But again, this is Labour, so nothing really makes sense.

I’m instinctively wondering if there isn’t going to be someone else who might be planning to declare their leadership intentions. If there isn’t, it looks like Andy Burnham should walk it in a very weak field, but that’s not something that bodes well for the party in 2020.

Messing up the voting system

In the aftermath of the UK’s general election, some have suggested that the first-past-the-post voting system is no longer fit for purpose. UKIP raise the point that they received over four million votes nationwide, yet were able to return only a single member of parliament. The Scottish Nationalists, by contrast, polled less than one-and-a-half million votes, for which they were able to return fifty-six MPs. That discrepancy, UKIP and others who favour changing the voting system argue, is incredibly unfair and indeed undemocratic.

First-past-the-post may not be perfect, but in a parliamentary democracy it’s the least bad system available. It maintains a strong link between members of parliament and individual constituencies – and lest we forget, it is voters in these constituencies that MPs are elected to serve. What good would it do to change to a wholly proportional system if that meant sacrificing the one remaining link between the political class and the people they nominally serve? Far from making things better, it would worsen politicians’ corruption, and make the entire political system far more London-centric than it already is.

Some parties, like the Greens and Liberal Democrats, are probably genuine in their belief that changing the voting system would be fairer and better for the country. UKIP are not – their recent change of heart regarding the fairness of the voting system is purely political, and reflects their growth as a party. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing or to dismiss it outright, I’m simply pointing out what Nigel Farage has gone on record as saying in the past – that first-past-the-post is the least bad voting system available for one main reason: it provides the country with majority governments that mean politicians spend less time involved in shady backroom deals, and that the voting public generally know what to expect from each of the parties based on their records and campaign literature, rather than wondering how much of a party’s manifesto will be sacrificed during post-election negotiations. FPTP failed in this regard in 2010, but surprised everyone by returning a Conservative majority in 2015. Arguments against it suffered a serious blow when that happened.

However, FPTP works best in a two-party system, not the four- or five-party system that may (or may not) be developing in the UK right now, and it does seem unfair when UKIP can poll four million votes, and the Greens over a million votes, yet between them they manage only two MPs. The issue then becomes how to reform the voting system in such a way that strong constituency links can be maintained, hung parliaments avoided, and all the smaller parties can still be well-represented at Westminster.

The current Conservative government wants to cut the number of seats in the House of Commons, and thus the number of MPs, from 650 down to 600. This is a good idea – but there’s a way in which they could go further, and take big steps toward achieving the aims stated above. Of the 600 seats in a reformed House of Commons, have 500 of them remaining as normal – MPs elected by first-past-the-post in a constituency – but have the remaining 100 not tied to any constituency and assigned proportionally based on nationwide vote share.

This would mean a reform of the system, but not a total change. Constituencies would be larger, because there would essentially be 150 fewer of them. Boundary changes would have to be done by a completely unbiased and non-partisan authority outside of the control of the government to ensure that these substantial changes don’t end up unfairly harming or helping any political party, but it could be done. Constituencies would be drawn up based on several factors – population size, geographic area, and culture. You couldn’t, for example, suggest that island constituencies in the far north of Scotland be merged with areas of the mainland – the cultural differences are too great. But you could, for example, merge two Labour inner-city constituencies or two Conservative commuter-belt constituencies. It would take a great deal of effort to do it fairly, but it could be done.

The second part of this system – the 100 proportionally-elected MPs – would be elected in the same kind of way we elect MEPs today: each party would produce a ranked list of up to 100 candidates, and for every 1% of the vote they receive nationwide, the next candidate on their list is appointed as a proportional MP for that party. UKIP, for example, would have 14 MPs elected under this system, based on their 2015 results, plus one constituency MP for a total of 15. That’s much better than the one MP they elected under a purely FPTP system. Any party which polls over 1% of the national vote would be eligible, and percentages would be rounded up and down using simple mathematics – 14.15% becomes 14%, 22.93% becomes 23%, etc. The proportional MPs would not just be important to the smaller parties – the bigger parties would need them as well, as they’d represent almost 17% of the Commons. It would mean they would need to make sure they were performing well nationwide, not just in target seats. Labour’s “35% strategy” would probably not work under such a system.

I very much doubt if this kind of first-past-the-post/proportional representation hybrid will ever be adopted, or even considered by political parties, but if anyone is going to start messing up the voting system, it seems like the least bad way to do it. What’s important is to maintain that link between politicians and the people that they are elected to serve. Changing to PR would not only sever that final remaining link between the political class and the people, but it would also leave the door open to hung parliament after hung parliament, and backroom political deals and negotiations that are not merely undemocratic, but may be harmful to the country. However, if recent trends, like the rise of UKIP and, to a much lesser extent, the Green Party, continue, it is clear that millions of voters are being left unrepresented. While those of us who study politics in depth can brush it off, saying “well that’s how the system works!”, there’s a real danger that if those voters become disenchanted with the entire political process, they will stop participating altogether, and that’s something we need to avoid. In short, what I’ve laid out is a suggestion for limited reform, maintaining that vital constituency link, but also bringing in elements of proportional representation to boost smaller parties’ share of seats. It seems workable to me, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

How the Scottish Nationalists fit in at Westminster

The Scottish National Party is now the third-largest party in Westminster by number of MPs (although not by share of the vote). They took 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, and obviously they weren’t competing south of the border, so that’s a pretty impressive win by anybody’s standards. There’s been a lot of post-election talk about how the SNP will fit in at Westminster, and what – if anything – their new MPs will be able to achieve.

First of all, let’s start with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s pledge during the campaign to “lock the Tories out of power”. She hoped that, by allying herself and her party with Ed Miliband, there would be enough MPs between Labour and the SNP to form a majority. That didn’t happen, and now, irony of ironies, Sturgeon is whining about how “Scotland’s voice should be heard”. Perhaps she didn’t get the memo – the Conservatives won the election. They won it outright. Just like Sturgeon hoped to “lock out” David Cameron, even if his party were the largest after the election, so too is Cameron entitled to lock Mrs Sturgeon and her party out of power. That’s how the Westminster system works – one party wins, the others form the opposition. The SNP are a large part of that opposition, but they will find, like the Liberal Democrats before them, that their position as third-largest party in the House of Commons offers no real power.

And that’s just how it should be. If there had been enough seats for an SNP/Labour coalition, that would have been acceptable. Why? Because it would be the will of the people. It would be hypocritical and unfair of the Tories or any other party to attack the SNP for winning enough seats to enter into coalition, because that’s exactly how the process works in the event of a hung parliament. To say that SNP MPs are somehow less valid or less legitimate than other MPs simply because of party affiliation is also totally ridiculous. They were elected by voters in their constituencies just like all other MPs. But they don’t hold the balance of power, and expecting any concessions from the government as the third-largest party is, frankly, fantasy.

Just as the Scottish National Party’s MPs are no less legitimate than any others, they are also no more legitimate either. The SNP, for all intents and purposes, won in Scotland. But Labour won in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and many other industrial towns in the north of England. Does that mean that Labour policies should be pursued by the Conservative government in those areas? No – because in a representative parliamentary democracy, we have majority rule. The party which commands a majority forms the government, and they don’t have to care one bit what the opposition parties have to say about anything, regardless of how strong those opposition parties may be in a particular geographic region.

Sturgeon and her MPs have seemed to suggest that their victory in Scotland necessarily means that their ideas need to be listened to by the government, and that further powers should be devolved. I feel that is premature – we still haven’t had the transfer of powers, known as “devo max”, that was promised to Scotland before the referendum by David Cameron and the other unionist parties. After that has happened, there will be an election to the devolved Scottish parliament next year, and if the SNP wins another majority on a platform that calls for further powers, then we can discuss that issue at that time.

To go beyond the promised transfer of powers now would not be fair, because that was not something in the SNP’s Westminster campaign this year. They ran a hard left, anti-austerity, anti-incumbent campaign that could even be described as anti-politician. They tapped into left-wing sentiment in Scotland, picked up support from disillusioned Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, and campaigned against unpopular spending cuts made by the previous coalition government to win their seats. But there’s no mandate for further powers, and there’s certainly no mandate for a second referendum, as some have suggested.

Cameron needs to walk a fine line between governing the country as he is entitled to do so, and avoiding being seen as too distant from Scotland – at least, if he hopes to keep opinion on side to retain the union. And I don’t mean Scottish opinion. English voters, as well as those in Wales and Northern Ireland, have finite patience. This latest transfer of powers to Scotland will be accepted, but it will be difficult for Cameron to convince his core supporters in England that going beyond that is necessary. Some have suggested Scotland be given “full fiscal autonomy” – raising their own taxes, controlling their own spending, and, crucially, ending the subsidy from the rest of the UK to Scotland. That could be an interesting political play for Cameron.

Sturgeon claims that kind of thing is what she wants. But she wants to have her cake and eat it too – she wants to retain the Barnett formula (the mechanism which provides Scotland with their subsidy) while having fiscal autonomy. It smacks of their failed economic policy during the referendum campaign – they wanted a currency union, where the rest of the UK would essentially underwrite Scottish banks and Scottish debt. It’s also just one of the SNP’s double-standards: while pressing hard for further powers to be devolved to Scotland, the SNP have already said that their MPs will vote on issues which only affect England: NHS spending being just one example. In the past, people have been somewhat tolerant of Scottish MPs voting on English issues because a clear majority of Scottish MPs represented UK-wide parties. But now 56 out of 59 Scottish MPs represent not only an exclusively Scottish party, but one whose aim in Westminster is to devolve as much power as possible, and whose ultimate goal is, of course, still independence. How can Scottish MPs from the SNP be expected to be impartial when voting on English-only matters? How can they be trusted not to try to sabotage public services in England in order to not merely benefit Scotland, but actively further the cause of independence? The short answer is that they can’t be trusted on those points. Sturgeon could make a bold political statement by asking her MPs, who – as we’ve already said, won’t have much influence in any case – to avoid voting on English-only matters as a matter of principle. That would send a clear message of friendship to the rest of the UK. Which is probably why she won’t do it.

On the issue of English patience, as I hinted at before, part of me wonders if this isn’t some subtle new SNP strategy – make the cost of maintaining Scotland in the union so high, and make Scottish people so anti-English that voters south of the border pick up on those issues and begin to lose support for the union. It’s already happening, intended or otherwise. Many voters simply can’t stomach the idea of a continuing process of power transfers, referenda, and growing nationalism. Many are upset not just by the increasing unfairness between Scotland and the UK’s other constituent countries, but by the changing attitudes of Scottish people, that it seems as though maintaining the union is less popular now in England than it’s ever been. If there’s a second referendum soon, there could be a growing chorus south of the border that says, quite unequivocally, “bugger off”.

It’s natural to see the rise of English nationalism when confronted with Scottish nationalism. And it’s natural for those who have been treated unfairly to expect a better deal in the future. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have their own devolved parliaments. Where’s England’s? Scotland gets around £1,500 per head of population extra in subsidies from England, and England also subsidises Wales and Northern Ireland, though with much smaller amounts of money. How long was this inequality to last before the English voters said “enough is enough”? I remind the SNP that David Cameron, whose party won England as much as theirs won Scotland, has promised to allow English votes for English laws as part of any further devolution settlement.

On a personal note, I’d say that I like Scotland. Growing up close to the informal border meant frequent trips to south Scotland, particularly the big shopping centre in Gretna. And it wasn’t that many years ago that I had a very pleasant holiday in northern Scotland, seeing Inverness and the Isle of Skye. It is a beautiful country with friendly people, and nobody, except the real hard-liners, are seeking animosity between England and Scotland. But when you play the game of divisive politics, as the SNP do, you don’t win many friends. It may aid their ultimate goal of pulling England and Scotland apart, but if they expect to be listened to and pandered to in this parliament because they’re the third-largest party, they will be disappointed. The truth is that there really isn’t very much that the SNP can do in Westminster.

Nigel Farage’s un-resignation

During the general election campaign, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was uncompromising about a wide range of issues. His plain-speaking manner won him a great many supporters – myself included, so when he promised to resign as leader if he failed to win a seat in parliament, we took him at his word – a rare thing to be able to do with a politician. With the election lost, Farage duly tendered his resignation. But then, in an almost farcical about-face, UKIP’s party leaders refused to accept his resignation, and convinced him to remain as leader. My first reaction was “…what?”

It doesn’t make sense. The man wanted to resign, he’d pledged to resign, and he’d – very publicly – made a resignation statement. The party bigwigs had ample time to stop him from doing that, or even to stop him from making such a promise in the first place if they knew – as they surely must’ve – that his resignation would be unacceptable to them. It speaks of an amateurism within UKIP that this situation was allowed to happen, and happen so publicly. Make no mistake, this is damaging both for the party and for Farage personally.

Nigel Farage is a blessing for UKIP, but he’s also a curse. Whether it’s because of his leadership style or not, the man and the party are inseparable in the popular imagination. Nigel Farage is UKIP – and UKIP is Nigel Farage. There’s nobody else in the party who even comes close to him as a leader or a campaigner. He’s popular, and his no-nonsense approach to politics has definitely struck a chord with voters, but the party’s over-reliance on one man is deeply concerning for those of us who believe in its principles. It’s also quite probably the reason Farage didn’t win his own target seat – because he’s the party’s only known figure, he had to spend so much time campaigning elsewhere that he neglected his own constituency, and that led to him placing a not terribly close second to the Conservatives.

For all of the good Nigel Farage has done for UKIP – and make no mistake, he’s done the party plenty of good – perhaps it would be beneficial for the party in the medium-to-long term to look to someone else for leadership, in particular someone who could bring in a team of people rather than allowing the party to continue to be a one-person outfit. The short-term consequence may be a dip in support while a new leader steadies himself, but the long-term benefit would be a more robust party, better placed to campaign on the issues and win.

Obviously the European referendum – supposed to occur before the end of 2017 – played a role, with UKIP believing that Farage stepping down beforehand would hurt the chances of a vote to leave the EU. But there’s no reason why Farage couldn’t have led the anti-EU campaign even if he wasn’t UKIP leader. In fact, I would argue that it would be better for the leader of the campaign to be someone who doesn’t have another job to do at the same time. For all his flaws, Alistair Darling (leader of the “no” campaign in Scotland last September) could at least spend his entire time working on the campaign. And for Farage, a couple of years away from frontline politics would arguably have made him a better campaigner, fresher, bolder, and less tainted by the day-to-day politics between now and then.

As much as I like the man, and admire and respect him for the unapologetic way he speaks and the honesty he has thus far demonstrated to voters, I believe that his change of heart regarding his resignation will be seen as a mistake. Already he’s opened himself up to charges of the dreaded “U-turn”, damaged somewhat his own credibility which, after all, is built around honesty and sticking to his word. But above all, it speaks to serious structural weaknesses at the heart of UKIP, weaknesses which, if not appropriately addressed, could spell disaster for the party. They might’ve convinced him to come back this time, but eventually Nigel Farage will step down, and when he does, UKIP needs to have at least two solid, viable candidates waiting in the wings to take his place. The Tea Party in the United States – another grass-roots, right-wing, anti-incumbent movement – has a plethora of candidates, even in the presidential race. That’s vital to the continued success of the movement. If the Tea Party had been the sole plaything of, for argument’s sake let’s pick Sarah Palin, then it wouldn’t have lasted, it wouldn’t have beaten off establishment candidates, and it wouldn’t be in a strong position today. That diversity in leadership is what the Tea Party has that UKIP lacks. Nigel Farage may be a good man, but if he’s UKIP’s only man then the party’s in a lot of trouble.

This entire scenario has been handled remarkably poorly for a party which once hoped to hold the balance of power in parliament. The party leadership should have known well enough in advance to at least prevent Farage from publicly resigning, if not to have stopped him making a pledge to do so in the first place. Their opinions about the man and the future leadership of the party must’ve been known to one another, and I simply cannot believe that they would allow this farce to play out to their own detriment. Because what has happened now is that UKIP and Farage emerge damaged at a time when they are the closest they’ve ever been to fighting in a referendum campaign to leave the EU – their very raison d’etre. It will futhermore make UKIP supporters from the election last week think twice before backing a party that clearly has internal issues.

UKIP should’ve taken this opportunity to put a new leadership team in place to take the party forward from a party that polls four million votes and a lot of second places to a party that polls six or eight million votes and ends up with fifty MPs or more come 2020. Instead, they have opted to continue the one-man show. With the referendum campaign already looming, I hope that will be good enough.

The election result

Firstly, a huge thanks to everyone who joined me here on WordPress and on Twitter on election night. I didn’t start out intending to keep a running commentary going, but as the extraordinary night unfolded, I couldn’t help but keep going with real-time updates. My proudest moment of the night was probably correctly calling Ed Balls’ defeat hours before anyone else even acknowledged the possibility. That said, it was one of comparatively few things that I got right in my election analysis.

Let’s start with UKIP. I nailed my colours to the mast quite early on in the campaign, and announced here that I’d be voting for Nigel Farage’s party. I don’t regret supporting them, nor do I regret making it public. There were two main considerations for me in going public with my voting preference – something many people opt to keep private – and the first was that I genuinely believed that UKIP had the opportunity to make a positive difference in Westminster. Cameron’s Conservative Party seems to have lost its way on many issues, drifting closer to the centre-ground, and cuddling up to global corporations. I couldn’t even tell you where they stood on many important issues – Cameron and his team seemed keen to say what they thought voters wanted to hear as opposed to actually explaining their beliefs – if indeed they have any. UKIP, by contrast, had a clear, well-defined, and, crucially, independently-analysed manifesto. On key issues, Nigel Farage was clear, and unapologetic. He has character, backbone, and a genuine commitment to his political positions, something Cameron arguably lacks. The second thing I was trying to do by declaring so openly my intentions was to right a wrong I have committed in my writing on several occasions – criticising UKIP, and other right-wing grass-roots movements unfairly. In the past I’ve labelled UKIP (and the Tea Party in America) a spoiler movement, which ends up harming its own cause by allowing left-wing candidates to be elected instead of moderate conservatives. In true political style, I’ve changed my opinion about that, and I felt that supporting UKIP was a principled stand against a political system which all too often has failed to listen to the people it is supposed to represent. I still feel that way, despite UKIP’s lack of seats – though not lack of success – in the election.

I will return to UKIP in a few moments, but first I’d like to break down my pre-election analysis to find out what exactly I did wrong in the run-up to the election that left my prediction so far off the mark. If you recall, I predicted the Tories would be on 295 seats, Labour on 260, the SNP on 45, the Lib Dems on 25, the DUP on 10, UKIP on 10, leaving 5 seats to be scrapped over. Obviously, almost all of that was quite a way out. I had said in my pre-election analysis that I believed the “shy Tory” factor was not being accounted for in polling, and I tried to factor that in, giving the Tories more seats in my prediction than most pollsters did. I also over-estimated residual support for the Liberal Democrats at the local level, believing strong ties in individual constituencies would see them out-perform expectations based on national polling. That failed to materialise, and even in the seats they retained, once-massive majorities were cut significantly. On the Lib Dems, I failed to fully appreciate just how angry many voters were with them for their decisions in coalition. By supposing, based on polling for Labour and my own assumptions about local factors for the Lib Dems, that both of those parties would perform better than they ultimately did, that accounts for my under-estimation of the SNP successes in Scotland – because those eleven SNP seats that I didn’t see them winning were divided between the Lib Dems and Labour.

Back to UKIP now, because I had them on ten MPs, which I rounded down on election night to “six to ten”, and then “closer to six than ten”. They ended up with a single seat. So how did I get that so badly wrong? First, I’ll hold up my hands and admit it – I was biased somewhat in their favour, and my own bias led me to believe – genuinely believe – that they would do that well. I saw their ground game in key target seats and was willing to believe, in spite of polling, that they had a good chance to take some seats while retaining their existing two. Mark Reckless’ defeat was perhaps the second-biggest surprise after Farage’s. Nigel Farage’s problem in his constituency is tied greatly to UKIP’s weakness nationally – he and the party are inseparable in voters’ minds. Farage is UKIP. He’s been leader for eight of the last ten years, which coincides with UKIP’s spectacular rise, and the party quite frankly lacks anyone else of that calibre, both in terms of leadership and campaigning ability. As a result, Farage was all over the country campaigning for UKIP, because they don’t really have any other known names to campaign for them. Cameron can dispatch Osborne, May, Hague, and many others, Miliband could call on Burnham, Harman, Balls, Cooper, etc., and even poor old Nick Clegg could send out known figures like Cable, Hughes, or Farron to campaign for the party when he was indisposed. Who could UKIP send? Their only two MPs were too busy fighting their own seats, and the party leadership just doesn’t have anyone else even close to Farage’s level. It’s a one-man show. And for Farage, campaigning for the party meant neglecting his own constituency, which isn’t even his constituency to begin with, it’s just the one he thought he had the best chance to win. So if I’m a voter in Thanet South I’m thinking to myself, “this man wants to be my MP, but he’s hardly ever here!” This counted against him in a big way.

So now we start the analysis. Did UKIP do well, or badly? On the one hand, four million votes is a significant result. One MP, on the other hand, is not. With Farage now gone as leader, the party will struggle to find someone who can campaign even half as well. But if they survive Farage’s departure, they may find it a blessing in disguise. A new leader could do what Farage never could – put together a team at the head of the party who can share responsibility, work together, and spend an equal amount of time putting themselves out for interviews and commentary. In short, a new leader could transform UKIP from a one-man show into a more serious political party. The flip side is that, without their only recognisable face, UKIP could just fade away. I have an uncomfortable example to share for UKIP-ers, but please bear with me because the point is serious. The British National Party ran 338 candidates in the 2010 general election, and polled over half a million votes. This came on the back of having two MEPs elected in 2009, and with a strong and recognisable leader in Nick Griffin. Fast-forward to 2015, Griffin has gone and the party’s 8 candidates (330 fewer than last time) polled a measly 8,000 votes between them. The BNP had its moment in 2009-2010 and then quite simply faded into obscurity. UKIP have admittedly risen a lot higher, but that only means that the collapse could be that much greater. Those four million UKIP voters, of whom I am one, may feel disillusioned not with the political process, but with the party. What’s the point, some will ask, of voting with my heart if it doesn’t accomplish anything? Did I waste my vote?

Right now, I couldn’t tell you which way I’d go in 2020. I could well migrate back to the Tories, or I might stick it out with UKIP. I’m not committed to any political party per se – I’m interested in the party which best suits my political beliefs. In 2015, that was UKIP, but they can’t take my vote, or anyone else’s, for granted. On the one hand, they’ve claimed a great many second-place finishes, and in terms of share of the popular vote, they’re the third-largest party by quite a way. But we’ve heard some of this before – in 2010 they took many second-place finishes, and the party line then was that they were well placed for 2015. But it didn’t happen, so now the party line is they’re well placed for 2020. It remains to be seen if they will keep enough of their 2015 supporters on board as they head to 2020 as they hope. One final point on UKIP before we move on – they’re trying now to make a case for changing the electoral system. This had never been their policy, Farage had always supported first-past-the-post on principle, and the change is clearly more about politics than ideology. Changing the voting system would be a mistake. The only argument in its favour might’ve been that we had two hung parliaments in a row, so FPTP was no longer providing solid and stable governments, but the surprise Tory majority has blown that argument away, and so there’s no reason to change it right now. Some UKIP members and voters may feel hard-done-by, but FPTP is still the best system there is. It’s not perfect, not by a long way, but it’s the least bad voting system available.

So that’s UKIP. Next let’s consider the SNP, who had a truly outstanding night. Sturgeon’s party, running on an anti-Conservative, anti-cuts platform that made no mention of independence, came after Labour from the hard left and won in seat after seat after seat, outing Labour’s Scottish leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary in the process. Some have said a new independence referendum is now coming, but I don’t believe that’s the right inference to read into this landslide in Scotland. It’s only been eight months, after all, since the overwhelming “no” vote in the referendum. There hasn’t even been the transfer of powers, known as “devo max” that the unionist parties promised during that campaign, and former SNP leader Alex Salmond billed the referendum as a “once in a generation” opportunity. Talk of another one so soon is premature to say the least, and smacks of the Bloc Quebecois’ “neverendum” in Quebec as they desperately chased a “yes” vote in many referenda over years. If the SNP go down that road, they would lose a great deal of the political goodwill they’ve built up since September’s defeat, and there’s absolutely no reason for them to think a second referendum would have any sort of a different outcome in any case.

I suspect that SNP supporters, rather like UKIP supporters, will ultimately be disappointed with the results. Sturgeon promised to “lock David Cameron out of Downing Street” by allying herself with Ed Miliband and Labour. But with no “anti-Tory majority” presenting itself, her new MPs will find themselves about as effective as the Liberal Democrats were in the years before 2010. A loud voice in parliament, perhaps, but unable to do anything of consequence, unable to influence policy. What I find completely ridiculous since the election, and this is not the fault of the SNP in any way, is sore losers on the left trying to accuse the Tories and the right of stirring up English nationalism – as if that were some horrible thing. The Guardian’s eight-year-old columnist Owen Jones on yesterday’s BBC News programme Dateline went out of his way to force this point, brushing aside the divisiveness of the SNP’s plan to break up the UK and trying to shift the blame onto Cameron, UKIP, and English nationalism. An incoherent and plainly stupid argument if ever there was one. While Cameron’s timing may have been poor, speaking just after the referendum, English votes for English laws simply will have to happen in conjunction with greater Scottish devolution. It’s not fair to the English voters and taxpayers to do anything else. What I believe is needed, ultimately, is a federal United Kingdom. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each operating their own legislatures with equal powers, and a federal government in Westminster handling national affairs. The federal system would have to be stronger than Germany’s to satisfy the Scots, but less severe than Bosnia-Herzegovina which is essentially two wholly separate countries which occasionally realise they share a government. The constituent countries of the UK could become akin to US states, with a great deal of control over their own affairs. Fairness would return, and various nationalisms would die down. But that, I suspect, is an argument for another day.

Cameron needs to do what he promised Scottish voters – transfer powers north from Westminster. Once he’s done that, what he does for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is a matter for him and for those countries. And if the SNP win next year’s Scottish election with a promise to hold another referendum, then we can cross that bridge when we come to it. But there are two things to bear in mind – firstly that the current crop of SNP MPs will have far less power and influence than advertised, and secondly, a second referendum would not go down well with the rest of the UK. I expect patience to be worn thin. I have already changed my opinion from last September when I wrote an almost pleading piece to Scottish voters to reject independence. It’s now my opinion that independence, or not, is a matter for Scots to decide. If they choose to be independent, I wish them good luck and hope we can continue to have good relations. If, as I suspect, independence is not for them, then I welcome them back into the fold as full members of the UK. And I do not for a moment suggest that SNP MPs are in any way lesser than MPs of any other party. They were elected by their constituents on a clear anti-cuts platform. That they can’t do anything to enact those promises is beside the point – their legitimacy was never in question, at least so far as I’m concerned. Final point on the SNP: I find it silly that some senior figures in the Conservative and Labour parties are now questioning the electoral system based on this result, suggesting that the SNP shouldn’t have this many MPs (which comes back to suggestions of illegitimacy). Let’s be quite clear – they won in almost every constituency they contested. To get upset about the system when it lets their opponents win but defend it when it lets them win is pure hypocrisy. Voting reform has been tried and rejected. Just like Scottish independence. This parliament shouldn’t be about re-trying the defeated ideas from the last one.

So that’s the SNP. Let’s turn to Labour next, who suffered a devastating series of defeats on election night. Labour barely broke 230 seats, 100 short of the Tories and 95 short of a majority, and now with a mountain to climb to get back into power. I was a full 30 seats out with my prediction – why? Well firstly, my SNP tally was off by 10, so we can assume that, had the SNP won 10 fewer seats, Labour would have been the main beneficiary. But my biggest problem in predicting Labour’s seat tally was that they failed to make any net gains in England. It wasn’t Scotland that sunk Ed Miliband – even had the SNP not won a single Labour seat they’d have still been a long way behind the Tories. It was England, and Labour’s inability to make any net gains against the Conservatives that sunk them. Key target seats remained in Tory hands – often with a swing away from Labour. For me, the most notable was Carlisle. Once I saw Carlisle remain blue, that was it. If Miliband had any hope of walking into Downing Street – even with the SNP support he said he’d never rely upon (we’ll never know if he’d have kept that promise, but I doubt it) – I knew that it was over for Labour, and that one way or another, that meant Cameron had won.

But the scale was something I was unable to predict. Not only did Labour fail to make any gains at the Tories’ expense, they actually lost some marginal seats to Cameron’s party! That is unprecedented in a generation – the sitting government increasing its number of seats at the opposition’s expense. Gower, in Wales, is just one of a dozen or so examples of the Conservatives picking up Labour seats. But the biggest – and funniest – example of this trend was Ed Balls’ seat in Morley & Outwood. Balls was Ed Miliband’s Shadow Chancellor, and if Labour and the SNP had their way, would have been moving in next door to Miliband in Downing Street. But voters in this northern English constituency chose a Conservative candidate by a margin of only a couple of hundred votes, and that was that. Balls out. It capped what was a miserable night for Ed Miliband, and has started what promises to be a long period of soul-searching for Labour. As one pundit pointed out, only one Labour party leader has won an election with a working majority since 1964 – Tony Blair. There will be big calls within the party to go back to a Blairite vision of New Labour, courting big business, banks, and the press.

How much of the blame really lies with Ed Miliband, though? After all, turning Labour around from its dire 2010 performance under Gordon Brown was always going to be difficult, and nobody could’ve predicted the rise of the SNP. In fact, if you remove the SNP factor and pretend that Labour didn’t lose 42 Scottish seats to them, Miliband’s party made a net gain, albeit a small one. But his fundamental character flaws were too much for many voters to see past. The way he went after his own older brother – who was better-qualified and better-placed to lead – led to unanswerable questions about just how far he was willing to go for power. An alliance with the SNP, even though he ruled it out, seemed quite likely. But more than that, he came across as very weak. As someone put it on the Internet – “the BBC has suggested that, if David Cameron refuses a one-on-one debate with Ed Miliband, they will replace the Prime Minister with an empty chair. Bookmakers have now made the chair odds-on favourite to win that debate.” The point behind the joke is serious – Miliband seemed to shine during the campaign, but he only did so because expectations of him were so ridiculously low that people were genuinely amazed that he hadn’t wet himself and run away crying. Voters looked at Miliband and didn’t see a leader, not a national leader who could stand on the world stage. Miliband was a manager, not a leader, and a middle-manager at that. He was the political equivalent of a supply teacher, and frankly, the thought of Ed Miliband sitting at the negotiating table with the likes of Vladimir Putin made British voters nervous (and probably Putin very happy). He was seen as weak, and power-hungry. Then there was the little problem of just how badly the previous Labour government – in which Miliband was a minister – had messed up the nation’s finances. Nobody is suggesting that Miliband should take all the blame for that (well, nobody outside of the Conservative Party), but he should have been able to accept that Labour overspent during the good years and Labour’s policies left the country less well-placed than it should’ve been to weather the 2007-8 financial crisis. If Miliband couldn’t understand that Labour overspent last time, how could voters trust him not to overspend this time – especially if circumstances forced him into coalition with the SNP, whose spending plans were even more extreme than Labour’s own? These issues of character never came to the forefront of the campaign, but they were there nevertheless, and they’d been there for five years as people got to know Ed Miliband. The truth may simply be that many people had already made up their minds about him well in advance of election day.

What of the Liberal Democrats? I predicted they’d be forming the next government – as a junior coalition member – and be wounded, but not defeated, on about 25 seats. What happened there, and why was I so far off the mark? My analysis was based on a simple principle – that local issues and strong incumbent candidates would help Nick Clegg’s party pull off a surprise compared to their low poll ratings. Strong candidates who fight good local campaigns have been one of the Lib Dems’ strengths in the past, and I believed this factor was being underestimated. That was a mistake. I failed to appreciate the strength of feeling that many former Lib Dem voters had against the decision to work with the Conservatives, and some of the compromises made while in coalition. Clegg, despite retaining his own seat, was the target of much of this ire, and the Clegg factor, which was so big in helping the party in 2010, cost them votes in 2015. But there was no alternative for them, not in 2015, and not in 2010. There was no option to work with Labour or any other party in 2010 – the numbers didn’t add up – and there was no way to ditch Clegg, unpopular though he was, before polling day in 2015. The Liberal Democrats will be praised in the history books for taking the hard decision to work with the Tories in the best interests of the country, despite how voters punished them.

However, that’s little comfort for the 49 MPs who lost their seats, including major party figures like Vince Cable – once tipped for the leadership – and David Laws – without whom David Cameron would never have had his favourite prop (that letter left by Labour at the Treasury saying “we spent all the money”). While Labour looks inwards to find a new leader to hopefully win in 2020, the Lib Dems are seriously asking themselves if they will still be around as a party by then. With only eight MPs, one of whom is Clegg, their leadership options are slim. Tim Farron, former party president, is probably the only viable candidate, but he has a mountain to climb just to hold on to what he’s got. Forget 2020, the Lib Dems need a longer-term strategy. The old Liberal Party, predecessor to the current Liberal Democrats, had periods in the 1960s and 1970s where they had as few MPs as now, but it took a generation to recover. The Lib Dems are looking at a similar task now. Politically, the coalition was suicide in the short term, but I maintain that it will be viewed more kindly in the long term.

Despite the major gains enjoyed by the SNP, their eventual ineffectiveness at working with Labour means there was really only one winner – David Cameron’s Conservative Party. After being out of office for thirteen years, Cameron steered his party to victory over Gordon Brown in 2010, but huge losses inflicted on the Tories in 1997 proved difficult to recover from (they were down to 165 seats at their low point) and despite Cameron’s gains they failed to win a majority. Governing with the Liberal Democrats, which took many by surprise, was a master-stroke for Cameron in political terms. His junior coalition partner imploded amid criticism from the left that they had “sold out”, especially after the rise in university tuition fees. The result was that, five years after entering into coalition, the Conservatives were in a position to take dozens of Liberal Democrat seats. Indeed, this is why Cameron won – they made some gains against Labour, but those gains were offset by a similar number of losses. But against the Lib Dems, the Tories were relentless. In seat after seat they ousted incumbent Lib Dem MPs, some of whom had served for decades. It wasn’t a defeat as much as a rout for the Liberal Democrats, but it wasn’t a victory for Cameron as much as it was a repudiation of Nick Clegg.

Cameron’s personality and character, despite how Labour tried to portray him, actually was one of his strong points. Compared to the hapless Ed Miliband, it wasn’t hard for Cameron to appear statesmanlike, and not just in the campaign – there was almost five years of debates at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons to show how ineffective Miliband was against him. The incumbency factor didn’t really play much of a role, though it is probably easier to appear a statesmanlike leader while already occupying a position of power, and having all the trappings that come with it. But again I come back to the same point as I was making about the Liberal Democrats – there’s nothing solid to indicate that Cameron won as much as Miliband lost, at least in the leadership stakes.

The main reason for the Conservative victory would seem to be the economy, and concerns about changing from an economic plan that is generally agreed to be working – albeit with some problems along the way. Cameron’s economic policies, enacted by George Osborne as Chancellor, have revived a British economy that was in a very bad way after Labour left office, at least partially. Miliband’s pledges, by contrast, were vague, uncosted, and many voters clearly saw that a change was risky. But the Conservatives’ economic plans were not particularly well-explained either, particularly where £12bn of cuts in welfare are supposed to come from. Voters clearly understood the need to make those kind of savings, however, and Cameron and Osborne were able to run on their record, helped in no small part by reminding people of the previous Labour government’s record, too.

As to where my analysis of the Conservatives went wrong, I’d say two things. Firstly, I expected the Liberal Democrats to do much better than they eventually did, and with many Tory gains being Lib Dem losses, that accounts for part of it. Secondly, I was not expecting the Tories to make a net gain in terms of seats. That is unprecedented, and between that historical pattern and months of immobile opinion polls, I predicted a small net loss for the Tories, even accounting for the “shy Tory” factor that I felt wasn’t being reflected. My analysis in that regard was clearly correct, though even I managed to significantly underestimate its effect. The pre-election polls all had Labour and the Tories on 33-34% each. The actual result was closer to 37% for the Tories, and 30% for Labour. The Tories saw a swing in their favour of almost 1%. That’s not something I was expecting, because there was no reason to expect it. Cameron surprised everyone by winning a majority. The caveat is that there’s no way the Tories could pull off something like this in five years’ time, largely because there’s hardly any Lib Dems left to target! On a serious note, though, it’s difficult to see them building on this majority going forward.

So I hope that’s a reasonable accounting-for of my election predictions, as well as an interesting take on how the parties fared and their fortunes going forward. I hope to look into the upcoming leadership elections soon, as well as consider some of the policies which will emerge, not least the European referendum. To those of you who joined me for some or all of election night, thank you once again, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Labour has lost.

It’s as simple as that. The SNP has wiped Labour out north of Hadrian’s Wall, perhaps taking over 50 of Scotland’s 59 seats, and some Labour heavyweights, notably Ed Miliband’s Shadow Defence Secretary, may well have lost their seats. Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, is on very thin ice too, and even if the exit poll is wrong by ten or more seats, Labour are still going backwards from their disastrous result in 2010. Ed Miliband’s leadership is in serious trouble one way or another, and there’s simply no path to Downing Street for him.

Even with the support of the SNP – as I predicted – Labour cannot govern. For all of their bloviating about the coalition losing seats – because the Liberal Democrats are definitely on course for a very bad night – Labour is in a worse position. The Tories could form a minority government even without Liberal support thanks to the DUP and perhaps even UKIP, but there’s no similar situation for Labour. There’s not enough left-wing parties and MPs for them to put together even a big tent rainbow coalition.

And the thought that Ed Miliband – who could be as many as seventy seats behind David Cameron – could try to put together a government is laughable. It’s true that David Cameron might not be able to form a majority coalition, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have to resign and give Ed Miliband a chance. If Cameron’s sitting on over 300 seats, he’ll stay on as PM, perhaps with Liberal and DUP support, perhaps in a less formal arrangement. The only way Miliband has a hope in heck is if the exit poll is very, very wrong. If Labour and the Tories end up with similar numbers of seats, within, say ten or fifteen, and Miliband could form a majority with SNP backing, then of course he’d constitutionally be able to govern even if he’s the leader of the second-largest party, because that’s how the system works.

But he won’t come that close. The SNP and Labour together won’t have the numbers. Cameron and the Tories will, one way or another. It will be close, but not as close as expected. Even my optimistic prediction of 295 for the Tories might well have underestimated them. Overall, it’s a far better night than Cameron could’ve hoped for, and poor Ed Miliband must be feeling very dejected right now.

Remember to check my twittering page for updates through the night. I’m @Pitipaci.

Update 1: If Labour lose 40 seats in Scotland, as predicted, they’re finished. Even on the best possible predictions for gains in England and Wales, they still make a net loss. Based on SNP gains, a net loss of 20 seats on their 2010 results doesn’t seem even halfway far-fetched.

Update 2: Labour are now seeing swings in key target seats – especially in the capital – going the wrong way. Battersea, Putney both have swings above 2% to the Tories, which is incredibly bad news for Ed Miliband. A net loss compared to 2010 is now on the cards, right in line with the exit poll, and even former leader Neil Kinnock sounded very disappointed indeed when interviewed on the BBC. There’s starting to be a realisation among party members that the election is lost, and Miliband may well have to go.

Update 3: We’ve seen the first big Labour scalp. Douglas Alexander has lost his seat in Paisley & Renfrewshire South, to a 20-year-old student, no less. Alexander was Labour’s campaign chief, and Ed Miliband’s Shadow Foreign Secretary. The loss of a front-bench MP, and contender for one of the “big four” jobs in the cabinet cannot be understated. As Alexander himself conceded, it was a “bad night” for Labour.

Update 4: Key Labour figures beginning to concede that exit polls are not as far off as they’d hoped. Ed Miliband’s leadership now being seriously questioned, though nobody is willing to admit it – yet. Tessa Jowel says you can’t blame “all” of the defeat on Ed Miliband, tacitly implying that he will take at least some of the blame. And if key Labour figures are saying that already, it’s indicative of a souring mood in Labour, and very bad news for Ed Miliband.

I’d also like to comment on Alex Salmond’s claim that the SNP will have “huge influence” at Westminster. If current forecasts hold, the Tories will be in government, and the SNP won’t hold the balance of power, and thus have no influence at all. The best the SNP can hope for, despite their incredible success, is having two questions rather than one at Prime Minister’s Questions. Any hope Sturgeon may have had of a left-wing coalition has evaporated, Labour is beginning to concede that but the SNP haven’t yet. They will, though, once the scale of Labour’s defeat in England becomes apparent.

Update 5: Lucy Powell, deputy campaign chief for Labour under the defeated Douglas Alexander, had this to say: “we’ll see how the night goes”, when asked whether Ed Miliband could continue as leader. She went on to say that David Cameron may well be back in Downing Street – and blamed the SNP. But that concession is telling. Labour realises that they aren’t going to win.

Update 6: Jim Murphy, Labour’s leader in Scotland, has lost his seat as the night gets worse and worse for Ed Miliband. Whether Murphy can remain as Scottish Labour leader is seriously questionable.

Update 7: We’re hearing from Labour supporters also watching the election night coverage that the disappointment among ordinary members is spilling over into leadership speculation. Even senior figures aren’t ruling it out – “premature”, and “too soon to tell” are being bandied about. As the scale of the defeat sinks in, it seems that ordinary members, whatever the leadership says, won’t stand for Miliband’s continued leadership. Forget a concession speech, he should be working on his resignation.

Update 8: Carlisle. The Tories gained it in 2010, and it was a major Labour target this time. If there was to be any path to Downing Street for Ed Miliband, it would’ve had to run through Carlisle. The Border City is indicative of the scale of Labour and Miliband’s failure, and confirms the exit poll. This is a very bad night for Labour.

Update 9: More and more marginals remain in Tory hands. There’s no possible path for Ed Miliband now, we suspected it for days, but the scale has stunned me. The Tories will easily be above 300, probably above 310, and any possible mathematical chance Ed Miliband had was gone when Carlisle remained Conservative. More and more marginals have followed the Carlisle pattern, and Labour have gained only one seat so far from the Tories, compared to the 30+ they’ve lost in Scotland and elsewhere.

Update 10: Telford has fallen to the Tories. A Labour marginal and key Tory target, its loss mean things go from bad to worse for Labour. They’ve gone from failing to pick up seats to failing to hold them. News increasingly bad, and Ed Miliband’s leadership has been the subject of speculation for hours – crucially not just among pundits and journalists, but now among Labour members and MPs too.

Update 11: Ed Miliband gave what amounts to a concession speech after winning Doncaster North. He spoke of “the next government” in terms that heavily implied he knows he won’t be leading it. This is the end of the road for him personally, and Labour members have, for hours, been discussing openly his position.

Update 12: Ed Balls has had to request a recount in his constituency – which he wouldn’t have done if he’d been in the lead. I’ve been predicting since around midnight that he’d be losing his seat, and it seems like we’ll have that confirmed within the hour. That’s two of Ed Miliband’s top four gone, after Douglas Alexander lost his seat. News gets worse and worse.

Update 13: It’s official – Ed Balls has lost his seat. There’s been no way back for Ed Miliband for some time now, but this is the cherry on the cake for the Tories. A massive, massive win for them. 24 hours ago Balls thought he had a chance to be chancellor. All gone now.