UK General Election 2015

The UK goes to the polls on 7th May in what will be one of the most anticipated but unpredictable general elections in recent UK history.

By Andrew Naylor, Cicero Group

 

There are a number of dynamics at play, making it very hard to predict the outcome. Yet the outcome will have a profound impact on the future direction of policy in the UK, particularly when it comes to economics. The choice is obvious, and the question is one that is being repeated across Europe: what’s the best way to secure growth, belt tightening or spending?
 
Economic policy aside, there are a number of dynamics that mark this election as one of the most interesting and unpredictable in recent history:
 
1. A fragmentation of the party political spectrum. For the first time, we are in an era of genuine multi-party coalition politics. 2010 was the year in which the traditional two-party model of British politics was shattered by the rise of the Lib Dems as a parliamentary kingmaker. 2015 is the year in which we move into the realm of genuine five party politics. UKIP are taking support from all parties (but particularly the Conservatives), and the Green Party is taking support from the traditional left. It is now ahead of the Lib Dems in some polls, and has more than doubled its membership in recent years.
 
2. The march of the SNP in Scotland. Recent polling in Scotland conducted by Lord Ashcroft (polling regarded across the party political spectrum as being one of the most robust and unbiased) suggests a swing of a whopping 25.4% from Labour to the SNP in Labour-held marginal seats. If this were replicated at the GE, Labour would lose 35 of its 41 MPs in Scotland.

3. The Ed Miliband effect. The public persona / media portrayal of the Labour leader is impacting Labour support, and is a factor as to why traditional labour supporters may lend their vote elsewhere.
 
As my colleague, Dan Reagan said, “We have entered a period of pentagonal politics, with the electorate’s support fractured across five parties in England. Both of the traditional main parties are seeing their chances of gaining a majority slip away”
 
In summary: the Conservative vote is being split by UKIP. Labour are losing out to the SNP in Scotland, and the Lib Dems are being punished by voters for propping up a government that has embarked on an unpopular course of austerity.
 
 
UK Prime Minister, David Cameron; Ed Miliband; Nick Cleg
 
What does all this mean?
 
Aside from making the general election result very hard to predict, one thing is likely: the UK will have to get used to coalition government. At the time of writing in Feb 2015, the latest polls put the Conservatives and Labour neckand- neck at 33% each.
 

The polls suggest we are heading for a hung parliament, with Labour the largest party but short of an absolute majority. If this were to happen, they will have to look for coalition partners. The collapse in the Lib Dems vote and the rise of the SNP make the most likely coalition one between Labour and the Scottish nationalists. Alex Salmond is already eyeing a return to Westminster and Ashcroft’s polls suggest he will be a shoe-in. We should not rule out Alex Salmond as deputy prime minster. This would have huge political and constitutional ramifications, and the SNP will extract as much as possible in return for support. How much more power should be handed to Holyrood? What are the voting arrangements in Westminster on English-only issues? Will such an arrangement prompt an English backlash, as the SNP must surely be hoping for?

 

If all this seems too unpalatable to Labour, they will have to look at the Lib Dems as a coalition partner. The problem is the Lib Dems might not have enough MPs after the election to prop up a Labour government. There are also questions over the reelection of the Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander. Recent constituency polling commissioned by Unite suggests both will lose their seats.
 
My personal view on the basis of the polling averages is that the most likely outcome will be a minority Labour government. If a Labour-SNP coalition deal cannot be struck, Labour will govern alone as caretaker, on the promise of a second poll later in the year, similar to the two elections we had in 1974. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but it looks like we are moving into a new and much less stable era of British party politics.
 
If this scenario were to play out, it is likely that the UK will have three new party leaders in a couple of years. If the Conservatives lose, David Cameron will probably resign—cue Boris. Nick Clegg may well lose his seat; even if he doesn’t, the Lib Dems will likely look for a new leader to signal a break with the past. If Labour form a minority government, they may well start to think they’d fare better with a new leader. Although this election is highly unpredictable, we are in for significant political change.

 

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