The unexpected Conservative election victory of 2015 transformed British politics. Now an unprecedented Electoral Commission investigation has raised the question of whether it was even a fair fight.
by Ed Howker and Guy Basnett
A few hours after dawn on 8 May 2015, the morning after his unexpected victory in the general election, David Cameron delivered a celebratory speech to the jubilant staff of Conservative campaign headquarters, at 4 Matthew Parker Street, Westminster. “I’m not an old man but I remember casting a vote in 1987 and that was a great victory,” he said. “I remember 2010, achieving that dream of getting Labour out and getting the Tories back in, and that was amazing. But I think this is the sweetest victory of them all.”
The assembled Tory campaign staffers cheered and whistled as Cameron declared: “We are on the brink of something so exciting.” The election result would indeed change British politics, although not in the way that Cameron intended: the obliteration of the Conservatives’ Liberal Democrat coalition partners cleared the way for the referendum that set Britain on a path to leave the EU and ended Cameron’s political career. As a result, Theresa May is now the prime minister, while Cameron is on a speaking tour of US universities and George Osborne is moonlighting as a newspaper editor.
Until recently, Britain thought it knew how the Conservative party had defied expectations to win the election. After the initial shock that predictions of a hung parliament had proved incorrect, a new narrative was soon established. Commentators explained that the Tories had prevailed by successfully emphasising the threat of a Labour coalition with the SNP and deploying the “pumped-up” prime minister for a spurt of decisive last-minute campaigning. Several newspapers reported that the Tories had spent less to win their 12-seat majority in 2015 than they did to win 24 fewer seats in 2010.