I've been meaning to do this post for ages but being me procrastinated far too much and when I actually started writing it was lined up to be a 10,000 word+ thesis going into every aspect of the election… but when my old computer blew up I lost that so this is what we're left with.
National Election in the UK (& NI) coming up shortly.
Quick background for those wanting to brush up:
- Constituency based first-past-the-post party based system
- You vote for an individual MP (Member of Parliament) for your constituency (roughly the area you live in) not for a specific party or prime minister
- Whichever candidate gets the most votes wins, the others get nothing. If the most anyone gets is 20% of the vote the person with 20% of the vote gets it. If one person got 49% of the vote but someone else gets 51% then the person with 49% gets nothing.
- Whichever party has the most MPs is invited to form a government with its leader generally becoming Prime Minister.
Three main parties:
- Conservatives: Centre-right, biggest single party right now, currently the senior partner of the current coalition government, led by David Cameron (the Prime Minister).
- Liberal Democrats: Smallest of the three main parties, junior partner in the coalition, led by Nick Clegg (the deputy PM). Basically in the centre but with a fair amount of tension between some libertarian elements on the right of it and social justice based groups on the left.
- Labour: Centre-left, second biggest party, led by Ed Milliband.
Two smaller parties one should keep an eye on:
- SNP: Losing the referendum on Scottish independence has actually helped them gain popularity (I suspect because people who liked their policies but didn't want to leave the UK now feel safe voting for them). Policy-wise they're a mixed bag; PR releases paint them as doing the opposite of whatever the Conservatives do, in reality there's quite a bit of similarity. Strong in Scotland, doesn't have candidates anywhere else.
- UKIP: Originally a single-issue protest party (based around getting the UK out of the EU) over the past five or six years they've turned into a somewhat legitimate political party. Arguably the UK's version of the Tea Party they ditch the Evangelical element for nostalgic/traditionalist take on the UK. They benefit from a charismatic love him or hate him leader but every week brings a new scandal with one of their candidates. Likely to do fairly well in England.
Three key things to look out for:
- Lib Dem Collapse: At the last election a lot of people turned to the Lib Dems as somewhat of a protest vote; they hated the then Labour government but didn't like the Conservatives either. Those votes are likely to disappear with the Lib Dems role in the coalition government meaning they're taking just as much blame as the Conservatives from those on the left. Expect them to lose a lot of seats (primarily to Labour) with the worst predictions suggesting they may be almost completely wiped out.
- SNP take Scotland: Since the referendum the SNP have been doing better and better in the polls and it may well be that they win virtually every seat in Scotland. If they do it will be a big blow to Labour; as things stand it holds 40 of the 59 seats there and any serious loss of seats there likely means it won't be able to win a majority in the UK as a whole.
- Will UKIP rise… and at who's expense: It's basically now of never for UKIP. If they can't make a breakthrough in this election it's hard to see them ever making one. But, if they do, who will they take votes off? Originally people thought it would be the Conservatives who suffered as UKIP either won seats outright or split the right wing vote enough to let another party win. However they've done pretty well in Labour and Lib Dem held seats, selling themselves as the party listening to the working (wo)man and reflecting their concerns. Their support has faded as the election draws nearer but they still may have a big impact on the overall result.
So, what's the expected outcome?
If any party is able to win a majority it will likely be the Conservatives… although chances are it will be a slim majority. However far more likely is a situation similar to the last election where the Conservatives are the single biggest party but don't have an overall majority and thus a coalition will have to be formed.
What coalitions that may be is a bit of a mess. The existing Conservative/Lib Dem one looks unlikely to hold up too well; not only may the Lib Dems lose so many seats that they can no longer act as kingmakers but I suspect most Lib Dems, burned by their four years in office with the Conservatives, would much prefer to have nothing to do with them. If UKIP do exceedingly well then they might step into the frame. If only a few seats are needed then the DUP (a party from Northern Ireland) may be enough to get the Conservatives into power.
A much talked about possibility is a Labour/SNP coalition. I'm not sure that's going to be enough. The SNP will likely make most of its gains (assuming it makes them) from Labour with a handful of Lib Dems thrown in. Labour seems unlikely to make up for those losses in England and Wales even if it does take some Lib Dem seats. That leaves the two parties in a position where even combined they may not have a majority and so would have to look to other small parties: the Welsh nationalists, other parties in Northern Ireland, the Greens (who currently have one MP). The UK doesn't have a history of coalitions, let alone grand coalitions featuring three or more parties… it may well be a bit of mess if we tried to make one now.
In truth the election itself is unlikely to be the most exciting/interesting (used loosely…) part of forming the next government. The political horse-trading afterwards as parties try to position themselves? That's where the real work is likely to be done… and with a chance of minority governments, votes of no confidence and the Queen's Speech being rejected it could be a chaotic few weeks before we really know what happened.