On Friday, 16th November, 2012 the General Election results reflected what had been the mood of much of the country since July of that year; increased support and continued mandate for the Coalition Government of David Cameron. The early election had been called in early September by the 2/3 majority in the House of Commons required by the Fixed term Parliaments Act, with both the Coalition and Opposition generally feeling that they had it in the bag.
As Ed Miliband prepared to step down as leader of the Labour Party, and hence kick off a further period of in-fighting and introspection, he must have wondered how it had all gone so badly wrong. As did ex-Chancellor George Osborne, who had been fired from his post in early October – quite a daring step for Prime Minister David Cameron but later regarded as a cost that that party had to pay. New Chancellor Danny Alexander had spoken with the IMF and agreed that the stringent austerity policies of his predecessor would be slackened off. The Coalition had some how survived – the next election set for 2017.
How had this come to pass? The answer lay with a peculiarity of the British Electorate and the astonishing Olympic Opening Ceremony that the world had witnessed on July 27th. It may also have been slightly helped by the antics of US Presidential Mitt Romney who, on the 26th July when visiting the UK, had managed to insult his hosts in quite a public manner. And it certainly wasn’t hindered by a reasonable sporting performance during the games and the publication of a set of financial results in August that suggested that things were possibly coming along, even if many people in country were suffering badly. And a couple of highly public firings of Tory MPs with extremist views, and their replacement with ‘party liners’ was highly regarded in the press.
The Games gave Cameron his Falklands moment; just as his predecessor Margaret Thatcher had been able to return to power on an increased majority on the back of a successful patriotic war, Cameron had been able to marshal the hype around the Olympics to his own advantage, making good use of the Olympic ‘feel good’ factor and taking a massive chance that the slight improvement of published financials and the October reshuffle would bring him votes. Labour had failed to get traction as an opposition party; their own leaders realized that they would be forced to make some unpalatable decisions themselves and appeared to be almost paralysed by their honesty, as spokesmen repeated that ‘things were not going to be easy’.
But that Friday morning, as Cameron started to plan for this new Cabinet, he knew that his victory started the instant that the spectacular Opening Ceremony hit the screens and fired up in the watching public that very peculiar form of national pride that has carried more than one Prime Minister to election victory by the ‘feel good’ factor. Even the pointedly critical ‘NHS’ segment was put to good use when, in late August, Cameron gave a speech in which he stated that he and his Government would take on board the Olympic Spirit and start by listening to the people; the outpouring of public support for the NHS triggered by the ceremony had made him rethink policy and in a massive U-Turn the NHS reforms would be reversed.
In the weeks up to and during the election campaign, Cameron deftly reflected on the Olympic ideal in virtually every speech he made; the fact that Britain had once again managed to produce a wonderful event in a time of austerity; that once again we had shown our abilities to the world. Some early orders to business based on the Olympic Business Summit in the week before the games were heavily publicised, and various pundits of the left and ‘progessive’ movements in the UK were indirectly bought in to the campaign, as positive comments they had made about the Olympics were re-used widely in the media.
As the time approached for him to visit the Palace, he took time out to write a memo to his Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. It was short: “Would it be too wicked to offer Danny Boyle a knighthood for ‘Services to the Conservative Party’?” Cameron smirked and started thinking that some of those NHS reforms were pretty damn good and would have to be reintroduced….