Building’s correspondent describes observing last night’s election result from BBC Broadcasting House and looks to the future under a Tory majority
There was a palpable sense of anticipation. At BBC Broadcasting House, where Building’s correspondent had been invited to spend the night watching the corporation’s election coverage, the audience was looking forward to a knife-edge result.
Of course, as we know now, things turned out very differently. The excitement palpably deflated the moment the BBC announced its exit poll, which predicted that the Tories would comfortably emerge as largest party.
The most nervous looking man on the Broadcasting House plaza was Ben Page, chief executive of the polling firm Ipsos MORI, which had overseen the poll for the corporation. Exit polls have been wrong before, most notably in 1992 when the BBC tipped a Labour victory.
However, as the results started to trickle in after midnight, Page began to look a bit more relieved. Indeed, it soon became apparent that the prediction that the Tories would be the largest party had been overly-cautious.
During the pre-results lull, a vaguely W1AA air settled over the plaza, the bulk of which was taken up with the Beeb’s tile constituency map of the UK. The gym shoe-clad BBC bigwig Alan Yentob contributed to the slightly surreal air by taking selfies, with the corporation’s chair Rona Fairhead in tow.
The shock scale of the Conservative victory has scotched predictions that Britain is entering a new era of multi-party politics
But once the results came streaming in, attention was fixed firmly on the unfolding electoral catastrophe for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
The shock scale of the Conservative victory has scotched predictions that Britain is entering a new era of multi-party politics. Despite Labour’s dismal showing, the share of the vote commanded by the two main parties was up compared to 2010. The smaller parties, particularly UKIP, appeared to be the main beneficiaries of the Lib Dem implosion. Predictions that weak government would bring decision making to a halt are yesterday’s fish and chip paper.
David Cameron’s success will mean that the Tories are able to govern on their own. In normal circumstances, the slim size of the Conservative majority would spell a recipe for unrest on the eurosceptic backbenches.
However, the fact that the prime minister’s campaign has exceeded expectations will give him plenty of political capital. A host of MPs will be grateful to Cameron for the size of their increased majorities or being in the House of Commons at all, increasing the PM’s power within the Parliamentary party.
Cameron’s strengthened position will also enhance his authority to negotiate with the UK’s EU partners over the terms of British membership. Then, if and when a deal is secured, Cameron will have a stronger platform from which to sell it to the British public.
The construction industry can also take heart from Cameron’s stated commitment to ‘One Nation’ Conservatism, which could open the door to fresh capital spending on health facilities, homes and schools.
Cameron probably feels comfortable about making this pitch to the centre ground because his party has successfully beaten off the challenge from UKIP on the right. While the arch-eurosceptics secured the support of one in ten voters, they won only one constituency, suggesting that the public is happy to vote UKIP as long as it is just a protest.
Tory candidates will probably feel a bit more comfortable therefore about taking on the blanket, anti-greenfield development line peddled by the Kippers. For the industry, dull continuity is more welcome than the excitement craved by the political junkies who turn up at election night broadcasts.
David Blackman is a freelance journalist and Building’s feature writer