Election 2015: Expert analysis with Dr. Kate Dommett

Dr. Kate Dommett is a lecturer in the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield. She is an advocate of political engagement and will be providing expert analysis as results are declared at counts across our region.

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  1. Dr. Kate Dommett

You're waking up to a 'seismic political change'

It's been a long night and the political landscape has undergone seismic change. Kicking off with an exit poll that shocked political commentators and politicians alike the night has delivered an array of surprises.

  1. High Profile Causalities Labour and the Lib Dems have lost high profile MPs - Vince Cable, Jim Murphy, Simon Hughes and potentially even Ed Balls have lost their seats. This poses real problems for both parties as they seek to rebuild in the aftermath of the election result.

  2. The Lib Dems have been hit hard... The party have lost far more seats than was predicted before the exit poll. Currently only having returned 6 MPs the party will be lucky to enter into double figures - seeing a huge fall from the 57 MPs they gained in 2010

  3. ...But Nick Clegg hangs on Nick Clegg managed to hold onto Sheffield Hallam by a slim margin, but has hinted that he is likely to step down as party leader.

  4. The rise of the SNP The SNP has had a huge breakthrough. The Party have toppled Danny Alexander, Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and taken Gordon Brown's old seat to secure an unprecedented number of seats in Westminster

  5. The Failure of UKIP Despite polling a significant proportion of the vote UKIP failed to gain MPs. Nigel Farage lost out in South Thanet and Mark Reckless lost Rochester - leaving only Douglas Carswell as a UKIP MP.

  6. The Tory Majority And finally, it seems that the Tories may gain majority. On current projections it seems that the party will gain more than the 323 seats they need for a majority - providing them with a new mandate for government.

So it's been quite a night that has reshaped British politics and reset political debate for the coming days, weeks and years.

  1. Dr. Kate Dommett

'An election that confounded expectations'

As more and more results come in it is clear that the polls have been wildly out. Having spent weeks talking about possible permutations for coalition government it seems that the Conservatives are set to get an outright majority. The party have plundered Liberal Democrat seats, taking many more constituencies from their coalition party than was expected - enough, on current forecasts, to get more than the 323 seats the party need to govern.

This outcome re-sets the political debate. The Conservatives have increased their number of seats and, if the projections are correct, will possess a significant mandate for their austerity agenda. What will this mean in practice? According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies the Conservatives are planning spending cuts of around £33 billion after 2015-16. The party's plans to balance the budget mean we will see significant cuts to public services and limited investment. Looking back to 2010 we are not even half way through the cuts the Tories need to balance the budget by 2020.

This election result – if realised - will therefore have significant implications that will be felt for many years to come. The size and role of the state will change significantly under a Conservative majority government; meaning that next time the General Election rolls around politics may look very different indeed.


  1. Dr. Kate Dommett

Will new MPs be more representative?

Tonight has had many high profile causalities. Vince Cable, Jim Murphy, Ed Davey, Esther McVey, Simon Hughes, Douglas Alexander to name but a few.

This means that many of the familiar faces in British politics will no longer be part of the political scene and new faces will be on the agenda. But it is not yet clear what this will mean for the composition of the House of Commons.

Parliament is not representative of the country's population. It has been dominated by white, middle class, highly educated men. Post 2010 51% of MPs were aged over 50, only 4.2% were from non-white backgrounds and over 1/3 went to fee paying schools.

Just 22.5% of MPs were women but these were distributed differently across the parties. Labour have traditionally had the most female MPs with 31%, the Tories have had 16% whilst the Lib Dems have 12%.

With the collapse of the Lib Dem vote a number of women such as Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone have lost seats. Simultaneously, we have seen new female SNP candidates being elected, but this has been accompanied by the election of many more white, male MPs. As the results roll in it is worth thinking about the representativeness of Parliament and whether, once the MPs return to Westminster, the Commons will look any more like the country it serves.

Lib Dems losing more than just seats

The Lib Dems are loosing MPs left, right and centre. Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Jo Swinson and Simon Hughes have all been voted out and Clegg is rumoured to be looking vulnerable. Even the bastion of Eastleigh is wobbling.

The Lib Dems are loosing MPs left, right and centre. Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Jo Swinson and Simon Hughes have all been voted out

Elsewhere their vote is collapsing. The party kept all their deposits in 2010 (you loose £500 if you fail to get 5%of the vote), but they have lost thousands of pounds worth already this time round.

Ahead of tonight it was predicted that Lib Dem support would fracture in different directions with Labour, the Conservatives and SNP picking up seats from the Party. What is striking, however, is the number of seats falling to the Conservatives.

When Clegg entered into coalition it seemed that the partnership was more than a formal arrangement. Cameron and Clegg looked incredibly comfortable together and in the early days of government a cohesive partnership formed. But as the election approached the relationship became acrimonious to say the least. What friendship was there in 2010 now seems to be long gone, especially as the Conservatives are taking seat after seat from the Liberal Democrats. Being in coalition, it seems, does not win you any special treatment from your coalition partner.

Leadership Elections Ahoy!

Party leadership - it's a tricky job, and not one that most people would take on lightly. But after tonight's results it seems that more than one party will be looking for a new leader.

Party leadership - it's a tricky job

Jim Murphy has just lost his seat, Nigel Farage has said he'll stand down if UKIP don't get any seats, and its hard to see Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband going unchallenged if the results are as bad as predicted.

We could therefore see multiple leadership elections as parties attempt to inject fresh blood and set a new direction.

What does this mean for ordinary voters?

First, its likely that parties will open up their leadership elections; allowing - as Labour have done in the past - supporters to join the party for £1 and vote in leadership elections. So, we may have the chance to influence who gains influence over the future of political debate.

Second, we might see a change in political direction. A new leader is likely to try a new approach. Labour may move to the right in reaction to the failure of Ed Miliband's approach (that is commonly seen to be left wing), and the Liberal Democrats may elect a leader more in keeping with its social liberal (as opposed to current economically liberal) approach. The choices on offer may therefore change.

Third, new faces could be thrust onto the political scene. If Farage steps down there is no obvious replacement, and its not clear who amongst the LibDems is likely to step up. Even within Labour it may be that younger members of Parliament come into the running - meaning new faces and potentially new ideas.

What is interesting is that, if these polls are correct, Cameron is likely to be safe as Conservative Party leader. This means that the much discussed face off between Boris Johnson and Teresa May will be postponed for a good few years if Cameron is able to maintain the Party's position in Government.

The Politics of Fear seems to have won in 2015, but what future for the Politics of Hope?

Election messages usually come in two forms. On the one hand parties can offer a message of hope - a clear vision of where the country is going and what is possible. Think here of Barak Obama's electoral message of 'Hope' and 'Change' in the 2008 US Presidential election. On the other hand parties can play on people's fears - they can try and scare people into voting for them.

This General Election has been conducted almost entirely in the latter register. The three 'main' UK political parties - Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - have all played on people's fears. Labour have argued that the NHS isn't safe in the Conservative Party's hands, the Tories have argued that Labour can't be trusted with the economy, and the Lib Dems have said that they are the only party capable of defending the national interest against the extreme positions of the other parties.

Looking at the results it seems that voters have been most convinced by the Conservative message. People seem to have decided to stick with the devil they know - supporting the Conservatives in large numbers across the country.

In the short term this is likely to result in political stability if the Tories are able to find a willing coalition partner. But, long term the approach taken in this campaign could result in change as it leaves a huge political space for a positive political message.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats in particular will be looking to redefine themselves if the polls are correct and there is a real opportunity for them to set out a positive vision for the country. The politics of idealism, ideology and values that we saw in the 2010 campaign (in ideas such as the 'Big Society' and 'a Future Fair for All') could therefore re-emerge in the coming years, giving political debate a far more positive spin.


So what happens at an election count?

Election counts are shadowy affairs for most of us - we cast our vote, hear the exit poll at 10 and then wake up to hear the result in the morning. So, what exactly goes on in the early hours? How does a count work?

party workers watch what is going on to make sure that no votes are accidentally placed in the wrong party's pile

After the polls close polling stations speed their ballot boxes to a central location where multiple constituencies are counted. In Sheffield, for example, all 6 local constituencies are counted at the Institute for Sport. Local council workers are charged with sorting the votes for each of the parties. Each counter makes a pile of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, UKIP (and so on) votes and one pile of spoilt ballots. Each pile is then counted into bundles of 25 or 50 votes, and the bundles are totted up to give an overall total.

While the counters are doing this party workers watch what is going on to make sure that no votes are accidentally placed in the wrong party's pile, and that each bundle of votes has the correct number in.

Each counter makes a pile of Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, UKIP (and so on)

Then, just before the final result is calculated the candidates and agents for each party are gathered together and shown the spoilt ballots. This is that weird process we see on TV where a big group are shown pieces of paper one after another. The presiding officer is getting each party to agree that the ballot has been spoilt and therefore shouldn't be counted. This can result in some quite funny discussions about where the apex of a cross is ("it's in the Labour box - it must be a vote for us!") or whether a frowning face counts as vote.

Once this process is complete if the outcome is clear the vote is declared. If the margin of victory is narrow then parties can request a re-count and all the bundles are recounted and potentially rechecked until a result is confirmed.

It's amazing how quickly this process can happen - the first results, as we've seen are announced almost immediately after the polls have closed and, by the morning, thousands of votes will have been sorted, counted and checked round the country.

So, when you wake up this morning you may want to spare a thought for the council workers and party activists who stay up through the night to make sure that the result is quickly and accurately turned around.

'Turnout is the great unknown'

Turnout is the great unknown in elections and can dramatically skew results.

Over the last few years we have tended to focus on the big trends in turnout. Turnout used to be regularly above 80% but in recent years only around 6 out of every 10 people registered to vote has turned out. This has led many people to diagnose a crisis in democracy and question the legitimacy of party politics and Westminster democracy.

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On the basis of the admittedly few current results turnout is standing at 60.4% so is in line with recent years.

Yet, often the more interesting story happens beneath the headline figures. There can be spikes in turnout in specific places leading to unpredictable results, or we can see the vote of one party explode or collapse.

So, what might we expect to see as the results come in?

In some seats turnout may plummet as party voters decide not to switch their votes. This may happen in traditionally Liberal Democrat seats as voters decide to disengage from Westminster politics after seeing what a Government including Lib Dems looks like in practice.

Elsewhere turnout may soar where it has traditionally been low due to the success of insurgent parties. Rotherham, for example, where turnout in 2010 was 59% or Doncaster Central where it was 55.5% may see an increase. These are areas where UKIP are expected to do well and it could be the party tempts many voters who have previously stayed at home to make the walk to the polling station.

All these unknowns make it hard to judge what will happen with the national result. What we can say is that it will be interesting in the coming days and weeks to look not just at national turnout trends but also at turnout in individual constituencies across the country.

  1. Dr. Kate Dommett

"Will Clegg keep his seat?" asks Dr Kate Dommett

The debate about Nick Clegg's political future has been raging in the run up to polling day.

'I'm not so sure that Labour will secure victory,' says Dr Kate Dommett Credit: Press Association

Polling by Lord Ashcroft has been predicting that Labour's Oliver Coppard may oust Nick Clegg and take a seat that has historically been held by the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Parties.

This would pose huge problems. The Liberal Democrats would loose their leader and the Deputy Prime Minister - as he would remain until a new government was formed - wouldn't have a seat.

So, will Clegg loose his seat?

Ashcroft's April polling recorded Labour at 37% of the vote and the Lib Dems at 36%, so things are close.

But, for a number of reasons I'm not so sure that Labour will secure victory.

First, we know that we need to be cautious about polling around high profile figures. People are, unsurprisingly, unwilling to voice support for unpopular politicians and Clegg's poll ratings have been abysmal.

57% of people are dissatisfied with the way Nick Clegg is doing his job according to IPSOS MORI polling. And even amongst Lib Dem supporters only 56% are satisfied. So, people are unlikely to be falling over themselves to express their support for Clegg,

Second, Clegg is sitting on a huge majority. He won in 2010 with 53% of the vote - getting 29.9% more of the vote than the Conservatives. What is significant here is that Labour - the party now threatening the Tories - were in third place and so have a huge hill to climb to gain a majority.

Clegg polled 27,324 votes whilst Labour got 8,228. That is a gap of 19,096 - a huge number of votes to turn around.

We know from academic research that local campaigning can make a huge difference in these kinds of situations but the national Labour Party have not been pouring resources into the seat.

The local candidate, Oliver Coppard, has been running a very active campaign but the local Labour Party is relatively small and lacks experienced activists and established campaigning procedures - the key ingredients for delivering success in local campaigns.

It is for these reasons that I've been cautious about the Ashcroft polls and have predicted that Clegg is likely to hang on to his seat.

However, reports are coming in that turnout in Sheffield Hallam is incredibly high - potentially even higher than in 2010. What this means for the outcome of the seat is difficult to tell - could it be a huge anti-Clegg vote, and will that vote go to Labour? It's going to be an interesting few hours until we find out.

'Still a two horse race after all?'

Throughout this election we've been talking about the emergence of multi-party politics. Gone are the days when Labour and the Conservatives used to get 90% plus of the vote; over the last few months we've been talking 7 party politics.

The SNP, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens joined the Liberal Democrats as viable alternatives to the main two parties. Yet, when we look at the predictions for seats - both in the exit poll and previous polls - the smaller parties don't seem to be breaking through to gain seats.

Take UKIP - the party's polling has fluctuated but they have been getting about 14% of the vote, and yet they are predicted to only pick up 2 seats. Why is this?

The First-Past-the-Post electoral system historically rewards the big parties - giving them more seats in proportion to their share of the vote in order to deliver stable government.

This works fine when the fight is between 2 main parties, but when 7 parties are fighting for representation something doesn't quite seem right with this way of dividing up seats.

How can UKIP and the Greens be getting more popular support but no more seats? And why will the SNP get a huge number of seats in comparison to the other parties on a similar vote share?

The key is the way parties' vote in spread. The SNP have their vote concentrated in a small number of areas which allows them to out poll their opponents. In contrast, UKIP and the Greens have their support spread across the country. This means they find it far harder to beat opponents in specific places.

This is why we so often hear calls for voting reform. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, have been long standing advocates for change. We've only just had a referendum on AV but, if the smaller parties fail to gain many seat it may well come back onto the political agenda in the next few months.

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