What was expected to be the most unpredictable election in a generation ultimately proved to be yet another demonstration of the fallibility of political predictions and conventional wisdom; the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom trounced Labour to win an outright majority in the House of Commons, defying a narrative, bolstered for months by polling and expert opinion, that confidently anticipated a hung parliament and a repeat of the torturous negotiations that produced a coalition government in 2010.

Freed from the constraints imposed by its coalition with the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron’s government now has the freedom to engage in a full-throated pursuit of objectives laid out when it first came to power five years ago: a re-negotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union, and a continuation of the neo-liberal austerity that the Conservatives have been advocating as a solution to Britain’s economic woes following the 2007 Financial Crisis. On the European Union, Cameron’s pledge to hold an in-out referendum in 2017 has been fuelled by factions within his own party that fuse opposition to control by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels with borderline racist concerns over immigration. On the economy, the government’s planned expansion of budget cuts and its commitment to further deregulation will have severe implications for the depth and breadth of Britain’s welfare apparatus, while also continuing a process whereby the marginalisation of the poor will be accompanied by an ever-increasing accommodation of the interests of the rich. Both of these pillars of the Conservative manifesto are driven more by ideology than fact, essentially giving space and credence to some of the more reactionary, narrow-minded, and mean-spirited tendencies within British politics.

Even though the scale of the Conservative victory has produced a government with a clear, if narrow, majority, it is also clear that this does not necessarily translate into a popular mandate to govern the United Kingdom in its entirety. The collapse of Labour was due in no small part to the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which was able to successfully position itself as a credible and progressive alternative to an entrenched and disconnected Scottish Labour party that stood discredited due to its opposition to Scottish independence, as well as its inability to challenge the Conservative commitment to economic austerity. The SNP’s rout of Labour in Scotland raises significant questions about the future of relations between Westminster and Holyrood, particularly in a context where the Conservative election campaign deliberately invoked a parochial English nationalism stoked by fears of potential SNP control over any Labour-led coalition government.

While certain sections of the British press have been quick to attribute Labour’s defeat to the allegedly socialist inclinations and aspirations of it’s leader Ed Miliband (with the assumption being that the British electorate is no longer receptive to such appeals), it is obvious that there was very little to differentiate Labour from the Conservatives on key questions of policy. Although some would disagree with this assessment, particularly when discussing relations with Europe and the future of the welfare state, the differences between the two main parties largely revolve around questions of scale and timing rather than principle. One of Labour’s great failings since 2010 has been its inability to successfully challenge the Conservative narrative on austerity and economic recovery, with this particular shortcoming being a legacy of the party’s reorientation towards free markets and neo-liberalism under Tony Blair in the 1990s and 2000s. Similarly, on immigration, Labour has simply reproduced and reinforced the same tropes that have been peddled by the Conservatives, failing to establish an alternative approach to the problem. Minutiae aside, the 2015 election simply showed how electoral politics in the advanced industrial democracies is increasingly characterised by barren political ‘debate’ in which the mainstream parties trade meaningless barbs in an attempt to mask their ideological similarities. Alternative perspectives and approaches, particularly from the Left, remain absent from the electoral arena, and questions of substance that could disturb the ideological consensus remain conspicuous by their absence.

The elections also served to highlight a fact that should be familiar to voters in Pakistan; the First-Past-the-Post electoral system produces skewed, unrepresentative outcomes, and is inherently biased against new and small parties. While many are rejoicing at the fact that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) managed to win only a single seat after years of campaigning based on presenting a respectable face for traditional, far-right anti-immigrant xenophobia and racism, the fact that the SNP won 56 seats with just under 1.5 million votes, compared to UKIP’s 3 million, illustrates the absurdity of the voting system. Keeping UKIP out of parliament is clearly a desirable result, but the same system that ensures this is one that also prevents more progressive parties, like the Greens, from making their presence felt, while also artificially inflating the power of the Conservatives and Labour. Given that its lack of seats has not prevented UKIP from dragging the political discourse further to the Right, as evinced by the stances taken by both of the main parties on immigration, it is clear that an alternative voting system, based perhaps on proportional representation, can produce more democratic governments with a greater diversity of ideas and opinions.

Another lesson Pakistan can draw from this election is the importance of treating hyperbolic media narratives with a healthy degree of skepticism. Polling has always been an imprecise and difficult science, and empty speculation has long filled in for concrete analysis by ‘experts’. The media frenzy that surrounded the PTI in 2013 was simply not reflective of key ground realities that the party ignored (and continues to ignore) as part of its election campaign, and the often inaccurate and unhelpful reporting around by-elections and election tribunals in Pakistan obscures more than it reveals. As Pakistan gears up for local government elections this year, voters and the media would do well to trade spectacle for substance, focusing on important questions about governance and policy rather than the empty rhetoric and pointless predictions of partisan ‘analysts’, and the manufactured crises that increasingly pass for political debate in this country.