Too close to call, the majority of opinion polls had declared in the weeks leading up to the UK elections on May 7th. The Electoral race between the incumbent Conservative Party and its defiant Labour challengers would go down to the wire according to the pollsters – or so it seemed. The exit poll on the eve of the election delivered a rather different picture. The Tories had taken a clear majority of the votes, with Labour and Liberal Democrats suffering heavy losses. In the end the conservatives would secure 331 seats in the House of Commons, a 24 seat improvement on the previous elections, and enough to give them a slender majority in the parliament. Meanwhile, Labour lost 26 seats overall, finishing with 232 seats and prompting party leader Ed Milliband to resign from his post in the election aftermath.
The surprise result achieved by Prime Minister David Cameron and his party has come in no small parts with help from an unlikely source. The Scottish National Party (SNP) delivered an all but clean sweep of the 59 Scottish constituencies, securing 56 of them, mostly from Labour incumbents, and rendering the rest of the British party landscape meaningless in Scotland in the process. Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tories each took one of the three remaining Scottish seats. Charismatic SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon, who surprised many political pundits with her well-run election campaign, is now widely expected to renew her party’s pledge to bring independence to Scotland, even though last year’s referendum on the matter led to a close but visible rebuttal by the Scottish electorate.
Independence is going to feature high on David Cameron’s to-do list as well, as the Tory prime minister promised voters a referendum over Great Britain’s EU membership. The vote could take place as early as 2016, with the “Brexit” – the British exit from the European Union – a distinct possibility.
Strong impact on energy policies expected
This year’s election outcome will also have a strong impact on British energy and climate policies. Having promised to form the “greenest government ever” during the 2010 election campaign the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto had offered no signs of repeating that particular undertaking. Instead it indicates a strong shift towards fossil fuels, making fracking for shale gas a priority as well as pouring government money into Britain’s struggling North Sea oil and gas fields. Renewables on the other hand might soon be having a hard time, with the Tories’ manifesto pledging “to halt the spread of onshore wind farms” by scrapping onshore wind subsidies altogether.
Britain’s renewables industry fears that solar, hydro and other low-emission technologies could suffer a similar fate during Cameron’s second term in office. This might result in intense lobbying with the cabinets’ new Secretary of Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd. Rudd, who has claimed her views on climate change can be traced back to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s stance, is taking over from Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, who lost his seat in the elections. Her influence on David Cameron’s energy policies however remains yet to be seen, as Cameron is infamously remembered for telling a government aide to “get rid of all the green crab”. There is still hope for renewables, though: 26 years ago Rudd’s political idol Margaret Thatcher was the first leader of any major nation to call for a global treaty on climate change.