Despite what was seen as a lacklustre campaign from the Conservatives and a relatively good campaign for the Labour Party, the actual results have been in very stark contrast, with the silent Conservative vote coming out in force. The Conservative campaign focus on the economy and the threat of an SNP/Labour alliance appears to have had a real impact on the electorate.
So what does last night’s result mean in reality both for British politics and for companies wishing to engage with political audiences? Here are the issues to look out for.
1. The Roar of the Scottish Lion. The dominance of the SNP in Scotland, and now the second largest opposition party in Parliament, will ensure that there will be constant clashes between the SNP bloc vote in Westminster (in Alex Salmond’s words the "roar of the Scottish lion" will be regularly heard) and the Conservative Government, particularly over financial issues. David Cameron has already talked of One Nation politics and he will seek to assert this as a key policy over the coming weeks and months.
2. A Parliament of referendums. While the SNP will be pushing for another independence referendum, the initial focus of the new Parliament will be a Bill for a Referendum on the UK’s EU Membership. This will consume huge amounts of time for the Government. Business focus and concern will now shift to this issue.
3. Muscle. The Conservative Government may have a workable majority but it is only a small majority. And that will have significant implications for politics and for policy. There will be a shift in emphasis from Whitehall to Parliament. Parliamentarians and select committees will have a greater voice and more muscle. The Conservative whips will have a major task at hand to ensure that the Government wins the key votes. This, however, also brings greater opportunities for those wishing to influence the new Government through engaging with Conservative backbenchers in particular to influence policy.
Understanding this and developing much better parliamentarian engagement will be a no-brainer for businesses and consultancies.
4. Populism. With a small majority, one feature of the new executive will be populist legislation. Look for measures favoured by media and social media campaigns, or attempts to set the agenda by challenging the other parties to vote down populist measures.
This will mean fewer – albeit more important – parliamentary votes and more measures pushed through that do not require primary legislation. Another way is for the Government to climb into the 'bully pulpit', and use political (and tabloid) pressure to make specific sectors introduce forms of self-regulation. Energy suppliers, the food and drink sector and homebuilders had better watch out.
A night to remember will be replaced by a Parliament to remember: knife-edge votes, constitutional issues, blood-letting in the Labour Party and a vocal SNP will mean that this will be a Parliament packed both with opportunities and threats for those who wish to engage decision makers.
The fun is only just beginning.
Nick Williams is is head of public affairs at FleishmanHillard London