Two election upsets loaded with lessons

What columnist Pat Murphy learned from the PC defeat in Alberta and the Conservative victory in Britain

To download Two election upsets loaded with lessons for your publication or website click here

Contact Pat

TORONTO, May 14, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Political aficionados certainly had a double helping of drama last week. In Alberta, the NDP’s upending of the long-running Progressive Conservative dynasty wasn’t on anyone’s radar. And in the U.K., everybody anticipated a hung parliament rather than the Tory majority that emerged.

Here are my takeaways:

Alienating large chunks of your base is a risky business. The Alberta PCs survived the 2012 Wildrose revolt by effectively borrowing votes from parties to their left, particularly the Liberals. However, those votes were just loaned by voters who had no allegiance to the PCs, but supported them to keep the feared Wildrose out. It was an ephemeral coalition.

Wildrose, on the other hand, is largely populated by disillusioned people whose natural home is the Conservatives. They feel abandoned, driven out by a combination of PC fiscal excess and corruption. The combined Conservative/Wildrose vote topped 52 per cent, which put together would’ve easily stopped the NDP surge.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Alberta Premier Jim Prentice
You win some, you lose some

Courtesy of the family feud underlying UK Independence Party’s rise, the U.K. Tories can be deemed guilty of the same base-splitting sin. They just got luckier. Despite pulling almost 3.9 million votes – more than the Liberal Democrats and the SNP combined – UKIP’s support was too geographically spread to inflict serious damage on Tory prospects. But it could’ve easily been a different story.

Be wary of drawing national conclusions from a provincial event. There’s been a fair amount of giddiness concerning the Alberta result’s implications for the October federal election. Will Stephen Harper’s Alberta bastion similarly crumble? Does the Alberta NDP surge presage a national “progressive” trend that’ll sweep away the federal Conservatives?

I suspect this is more wishful thinking than sober analysis.

The provincial Alberta PC brand had acquired a unique toxicity. The federal Conservatives won’t have to deal with a split right-of-centre vote, there being no national equivalent of Wildrose to pull support away. And any federal NDP surge is likely to come out of the hide of the Liberals, thereby effectively boosting the Conservatives in tight races.

Coalitions can be hard on the junior partner. The UK’s Liberal Democrats aren’t the first bright and shiny party to experience the rude reality of government, particularly in a junior role. Being the beacon of new ideas when there’s no accompanying accountability is one thing, but handling the necessarily grubby compromises inherent in sharing power is quite another. The sad tale is in the numbers: a two-thirds drop in vote share and an even larger drop in seats.

Some people will look at this and feel sympathy for the “betrayed” voters. I’m inclined to be less kind. After all, naiveté masquerading as idealism is hardly a laudable characteristic.

Pollsters should take their own advice. After recent patchy performances, Canadian pollsters were pretty much on the money in Alberta. Not so for their U.K. brethren. Without exception, predictions there called for a virtual tie and a hung parliament, replete with the potential for constitutional crisis.

Apparently, one pollster could have got it right. On the afternoon and evening before the vote, the polling firm Survation did a last-minute survey using their most rigorous telephone polling method – the one they say they always recommend to suitable clients. And it got the actual result almost dead-on.

However, fearful of being out of step with the herd, CEO Damien Lyons Lowe “chickened out” of publishing the figures. It is, he says, “something I’m sure I’ll always regret.” And quite rightly.

The federal Conservatives dodged a bullet. For some time now, Jim Prentice has been one of the short-listed names on the list of eventual replacements for Stephen Harper. Handsome, competent, smooth and relatively moderate, he seemed to touch all of the relevant bases. Indeed, there were those who believed that a Prentice-led party would be a more formidable proposition than the one helmed by Harper.

But having observed the political fiasco of Prentice’s brief premiership, capped by his graceless election night exit, the term “dodged a bullet” comes to mind.

Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy worked in the Canadian financial services industry for over 30 years. Originally from Ireland, he has a degree in history and economics.

Read more Pat Murphy

Follow Pat via RSS

Troy Media Marketplace © 2015 – All Rights Reserved
Trusted editorial content provider to media outlets across Canada

Submit a letter to the editor

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]
centre
Use all of our content for one low monthly fee
Unlimited Access Subscriber? Not yet a Subscriber?
Choose your circulation
Flat fee for websites/others

You must be logged in to post a comment Login