The General Election did prove one piece of conventional wisdom right. There is a bubble in London, out-of-touch with the rest of the country. As it turns out, the ones living in it work for the Labour party.
An almost audible sigh of relief from the City on Friday ended the last delusions of the campaign. Not only had the polls told us it was too tight to call, but the markets had looked implausibly agnostic between a radical, anti-business agenda and the successful economic record of David Cameron. The positive market reaction to a Tory majority laid that to rest.
Yet even as Friday’s rally rewarded economic common sense, thwarted commentators leapt circus-like from one wobbly narrative to another. A nation divided. A party held at bay by a slim majority. A result that little reflected the country’s real voting intentions.
If you believe that, Ed Miliband has a slab of limestone he’d like to sell you.
David Cameron has just received a clear mandate from the British public. For an incumbent party to increase its share of the vote has been unheard of in decades. To gain 24 seats as well is staggering. The Conservative party did so despite electoral boundaries stacked unfairly against it, meaning that its voters remain under-represented. Cameron would have won even if Labour had not collapsed in Scotland.
Yes, our first-past-the-post system does mean this parliament will also under-represent the country’s support for some smaller parties. The main beneficiary would have been Ukip, hardly a bedfellow of the left.
Yes, Cameron’s majority is now small. He cannot take his backbenchers for granted. But his success has earned him respect from the new intake, and his parliamentary opponents are in disarray. If he succeeds in passing English votes for English laws, his room for manoeuvre will be even greater.
Yes, the success of the SNP cannot be ignored. But Cameron backs strong devolution for Scotland – and the realities of more fiscal responsibility will be a clarifying force north of the border.
Yes, Conservative success was limited in the north of England. But Ukip came second in a surprising number of northern seats. And as well as Conservative gains in the southwest, the party had its best showing in Wales for thirty years. If Cameron shows his vision working for the benefit of the country as a whole, these are successes on which his party can now build.
Miliband’s failure has tested to destruction the idea that Labour can govern the UK from the left. Cameron was already by instinct a one-nation Conservative. Now Britain has reaffirmed it remains a nation more united than not by the quiet values of small “c” conservatives. Too often demonised or forgotten, they are the hardworking people who in moments of peril continue to prove our country great.
I find myself thinking of the end of George Eliot’s Middlemarch today: “That things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life.” It wasn’t the selfie election after all. We owe a great deal to the good sense of Britain’s unknown voters this morning. But as they have just proved, if there’s one thing they don’t want, it’s a monument in stone.