Britain’s voters have delivered a painful blow not just to the Labour Party but also to the opinion pollsters, who had suggested a very different outcome to Thursday’s election.
With votes counted in all 650 constituencies, the Conservatives had won an overall majority of 331 seats in the House of Commons with Labour doomed to languish on the opposition benches with 232 seats.
The result came as a complete shock following months of polls which showed the two big parties running neck-and-neck with neither close to winning an overall majority.
“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,” Prime Minister David Cameron said after winning his own seat, Witney.
The polls had converged to suggest the Conservatives and Labour were tied or within a point or two of each other on about 32 or 33 percent of the vote share apiece. In fact, the Conservatives won about 37 percent to around 31 for Labour.
Such was the disbelief when the exit poll of people who had actually voted came out on Thursday night that Paddy Ashdown, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, vowed to “publicly eat my hat” on live television if it turned out to be right.
Ashdown will now struggle to live down the comment as the Lib Dems suffered even heavier losses than the exit poll predicted. “Paddy Ashdown’s hat” acquired its own Twitter account and jokes have been flourishing online.
John Curtice, a prominent elections expert and president of the British Polling Council, said it would launch an inquiry into what had gone wrong, led by an independent statistician.
He said there were two broad possible explanations: a strong last-minute swing to the Conservatives, or polling problems.
That not an exhaustive list of reasons, as we’ve learned from our own election. Read more »