U.K. Election: Conservatives Outperform Their Results 5 Years Ago
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We got a reminder yesterday that polls can only tell us so much. It was Election Day in the United Kingdom. Every opinion poll before the vote suggested this would be a dead heat between the two major parties, Conservatives and Labour. Well, those opinion polls were all wrong. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us from London to talk about this.
Good morning, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what was the outcome here?
SHAPIRO: A massive victory for David Cameron's Conservative Party. Cameron, of course, is the incumbent who has been prime minister for the last five years, and now it is clear that he will remain prime minister. Let's listen to a bit of his victory speech from last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: Some people say - in fact, I've often said - that there's only one opinion poll that counts, and that's the one on Election Day. And I'm not sure that's ever been truer than it is today and tonight. This is clearly a very strong night for the Conservative Party.
SHAPIRO: Very strong, indeed. Not only did the Conservatives do better than any other party last night, they did better than their own performance five years ago when they took power. They don't even have to join with a smaller party to create a coalition government this time around. Conservatives won enough seats to govern on their own, which is a change from the last term and a real boost for them.
GREENE: OK, so a big victory for Conservatives. Certainly that's going to have an impact in Britain. I mean, will the rest of the world feel an impact here, Americans and others?
SHAPIRO: Actually the global impact could be huge. One big question now is whether the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. Cameron has promised to give British voters a referendum by 2017 on whether to stay in the EU or get out. If he keeps that campaign promise, then the debate leading up to the vote and the referendum itself could have big, international consequences for business, for politics, for regulations.
And to some extent this was also a vote of confidence for Cameron's austerity approach to boosting the British economy - really different from the approach Obama has taken in the U.S. The Conservative Party wants to eliminate the budget deficit without raising taxes. That means possibly deep cuts to social service programs to balance the books. And this vote suggests that British voters enthusiastically support that.
GREENE: Well, so how big a setback is this for the left in British politics, the Labour Party?
SHAPIRO: They're looking at years in the wilderness. The BBC called it a gruesome night for Labour. Up until yesterday, party leader Ed Miliband had hopes of being prime minister, and today, he resigned. Here's part of his remarks.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ED MILIBAND: While we may have lost the election, the argument of our campaign will not go away. The issue of our unequal country will not go away. This is the challenge of our time. The fight goes on.
GREENE: OK, so that's Labour leader Ed Miliband resigning. Talking about the fight going on, though, let me ask you about another fight, Ari Shapiro - people fighting for Scotland because they seem to get a pretty big boost in this election as well, right?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, one of the big headlines from this election is the incredible comeback of the Scottish National Party. You remember they were the party that supported the referendum to break away from the United Kingdom. And last year, they were losers. They suffered a huge defeat. Today, they have virtually swept across Scotland, winning 56 out of 59 seats there.
So, you know, anyone listening who is trying to bounce back from a personal or professional defeat, take heart from the Scottish Nationalists. They were total losers last year, and today, they have never been on such a high. Alex Salmond stepped down as head of the party last year. Here he was speaking after the results came in.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALEX SALMOND: It is an extraordinary statement of intent from the people of Scotland. The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country.
SHAPIRO: And, David, this result raises the question of whether another Scottish independence vote could be in the future. This morning, party leader Nicola Sturgeon said that is not what this vote was about, but it remains on people's minds, and it is very much an open question.
GREENE: OK, but the big headline from the British election - a big victory for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party. We heard about it from NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thanks a lot.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome, David.