Well, it’s that time of year when I have exams and I am trying desperately to study but also finding new and fun ways to procrastinate – luckily we have an election coming up. And I’m not talking about the kind of cheesy Euro thing we had last year, no, I’m talking a proper British General Election!
Now, I know you’re saying to yourselves, ‘Jim, how could a boring old election be more exciting than unravelling the mysteries of the universe?’ To which I must say two things; clearly you’ve never been subjected to undergraduate level astrophysics and secondly, this is no ordinary election.
You may have heard it already, but this election really is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable elections in British history as no party seems set to achieve an overall majority in the House of Commons, we’re heading for what those in the know would refer to as, a hung parliament.
You may also remember that this happened in 2010, when no party managed to achieve an overall majority in Parliament and the Tories formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Again, this was a big deal at the time, as the since 1929, the UK had been governed by either a majority Labour or majority Conservative government with the sole exception of 1974. In February of 1974 a Labour minority administration came to power following a hung parliament, the government only lasted until October of that year when another election had to be called.
However, in 2010, the Tories won 306 seats in Parliament, 20 short of the majority mark. After roughly a week, a deal was struck with the Liberal Democrats, who had 57 seats, to form a coalition government – this first of its kind in the United Kingdom’s recent history – barring the National Government and the Wartime Coalition. This was the result of a continuing decline in support for the Labour party following the international financial crisis. The result was a Tory victory, but by just not enough for a majority.
It was rather an interesting affair as nobody thought that the Lib-Dems and the Tories would agree enough to form a coherent government, it was expected that the coalition wouldn’t last a year. However, it has lasted a full five year term, albeit with both parties coming out rather less popular than before they went in.
But if it worked last time, why won’t it work like that this time? Well, there are a few more factors at play here. Firstly the Conservatives are a lot less popular across England and Wales than they were last time, this is due largely to the fact that most people are generally unhappy with the austerity program for cutting the UK’s deficit which has drawn out the recovery quite painfully and put many people out of work. Not only that, but following their governing with the Tories, the Liberal Democrats have seen their popularity plummet, electionsetc.co.uk predicts that they will secure just 24 seats in the Commons whilst the Telegraph’s latest poll puts them on just 6 seats.
So you’d imagine then, that if the Tories have lost their support it should be a Labour victory then? Well you’d be wrong there too, whilst Labour are scheduled to take up a lot of English Tory seats and narrow the gap between the two parties, they are facing an almost complete wipe-out in Scotland – traditionally Labour’s heartland.
Labour are currently predicted to get somewhere in the realm of 270 and 287 seats – between 56 and 39 seats shy of that overall majority mark, that majority is under threat from another party in Scotland. The SNP, who are predicted to sweep between 47 and 53 of Scotland’s 59 seats.
The Scottish National Party have soared in popularity following the Independence Referendum last year. The referendum campaign, whilst resulting in a ‘No’ victory, saw a massive surge in support for the SNP with their membership now standing at more than 105’000, making them the third largest political party in the UK by membership.
The reason for this is a growing distrust of the Scottish people in the Labour party to actually deliver for Scotland. Many people now see the Labour party as another part of the establishment, having stood on the same fear-based platform as the Tories during the referendum and having failed to deliver on any kind of promises for further powers outlined in the run-up to last year’s vote.
With the SNP’s centre-left stance quite similar to Labour’s, the Scottish people are beginning to see the SNP as a Labour voice for Scotland, that will work to deliver for working Scots and their families whilst also pushing Scotland’s interests in Westminster to a greater degree than Scotland’s Labour MPs have done in the past.
What’s more, people are seeing the SNP as a vote for something other than the establishment. Their leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has advocated what she called a “more responsible” means of cutting the deficit, by introducing “modest spending increases” to help create more jobs and wealth and bring the economy back on track. This, contrasting with the austerity measures supported by Labour and the Tories, along with their policies on the NHS, Higher Education, Trident, etc., has given them a tremendous boost as a party for change.
So, where does this leave us in terms of the election? Well, it’s likely that the SNP will hold the balance of power following the election, it then depends who they want to put that power behind. Nicola Sturgeon, and many SNP officials, have said that their party will never do a deal with the Tories.
So that should leave Labour then?
Well, Nicola Sturgeon has said that a large contingent of SNP MPs would be willing to put their weight behind Ed Miliband to put him into Number 10 – better him than Cameron. But Ed Miliband has said that he’s not willing to do any deals with a party that wants to “break up Britain”.
It leaves us in an odd spot, with the likely outcome being a minority Labour administration backed up by the SNP but not in a formal coalition. But if Labour rules out an SNP deal of any kind and then the Conservatives get a couple more seats than Labour, it does then mean that the Tories may have first dibs at forming a minority government. As it stands, such a Conservative government wouldn’t hold up as they’d have the majority of the House (Labour and the SNP) opposing them with perhaps only a couple of seats from UKIP and the DUP to back them up, such an administration almost certainly wouldn’t last more than a year.
The problem is that Labour and the Conservatives both still have their heads buried in the sand and insist that they will come up with a majority which, Ed, Dave, let’s face it, is not going to happen. I can see the political reasoning behind it at this point to a degree, but we really do need to plan ahead now.
At any rate, if you thought things were crazy when we had no government for over a week after the election last time, this May is set to be even more tense. On the 8th of May we will move from one political drama to another as campaigning stops and the long process of trying to strike a deal begins.