Now that the Easter holiday has passed, it is time that the good people of the United Kingdom turned their thoughts to the 2015 General Election. The grubby world of politics may not be within your field of expertise. The barrage of news coverage of late may have left you afflicted with a sort of election ennui, or you may simply feel that there is not a politician in the land who speaks for you. Such concerns are understandable, but they are not sufficient grounds for staying away from the polling station on May 7th. What has become clear is that this is no longer a two-horse race. The old tribal loyalties of Blue vs. Red have given way to the rise of smaller parties and a greater choice for the voter. It means that coalition governments will be the norm from now on.
In order to form a majority government, a party has to win 326 seats in the House of Commons (more than half). It is extremely unlikely that either the Conservatives or Labour will reach this golden number all by themselves, so they will have to form a coalition with other parties to make up the shortfall. The latest Electoral Calculus projection shows the Labour Party achieving 282 seats and the Tories on 280. Who will be willing to work with them? Many Liberal Democrat MPs would be more comfortable taking a chance with Labour than endure another term as the fall guys of a Conservative-dominated government. The alliance of 2010 may have given them a taste for power but it also leeched them of support and many expect the Lib Dems to lose seats in May. If such losses are overstated and Labour fare reasonably well against the SNP in Scotland, then a Lib-Lab coalition would be possible – assuming, that is, both parties are amenable to the idea. Currently, Labour leader Ed Miliband clings to the illusion that his party can manage all by themselves, but he may have to revise his standpoint on May 8th.
The Scottish National Party is tipped to achieve a landslide north of the border, chiefly at the expense of Labour. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has something of a Midas touch at the moment. Attempts by the gutter press to discredit her have not dented her appeal (when the Daily Mail calls you the ‘most dangerous woman in Britain’, you must be doing something right) and many English viewers were impressed by her oratory in a recent debate on Channel ITV1. If the SNP wins fifty seats, they will be in a position to form a majority government with Labour in Westminster. Again, Miliband has obstinately refused to consider such a coalition (in public, at least), but Sturgeon has made it clear that she is prepared to negotiate some sort of ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement not only with Labour, but with the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats. In effect, this would be a traffic-light coalition and a centre-left-orientated one at that, perhaps the first since Clement Attlee. It would be very interesting to find out what a government of this kind would mean for 21st-century Britain, a nation so long entrenched in a neo-liberal economic paradigm. On the one hand, I would dearly love to see the disciples of Baroness Thatcher toppled from their gilded perch, the Fleet Street hacks bristle with impotent rage and the tax-dodging plutocrats soil their breeches. On the other, the uncertainties that such a government would bring makes me a little uncomfortable. What would this mean for the economic health of the nation? Would it mean handing control of our legislature to the feminist thought-police (gender quotas, the Nordic Model and other such detestable laws)?
With an election campaign growing increasingly shrill and desperate, the issue of deficit reduction appears to have been effectively kicked into the long grass. David Cameron, the champion of austerity, continues to make noises about sound economic management, yet he has fallen into the same trap of offering enticements to voters in the form of tax reductions and increased spending on the NHS. Moreover, the last five years have seen Britain’s deficit increase, not disappear, as the Tories had promised back in 2010. In any case, I fail to see how massive cutbacks to public spending will be feasible without provoking widespread industrial action. Consider, also, Cameron’s pledge for an EU referendum by 2017 and the far-reaching consequences of a ‘yes’ vote. If we withdraw from the European Union, we will lose out on trade deals and investment. There will be job losses and our security will be put at stake. It will all be thanks to the party that prides itself on its fiscal rectitude. The reality is that the Conservatives are no more competent than Labour. It looks like UK Plc will be in the red for a few more years to come, regardless of who is sworn in next month. Another issue that has fallen by the wayside is that of airport expansion. An extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick would provide a massive boost to the economy but politicians are either ideologically opposed to the idea (Greens) or they are too cowardly to risk incurring the wrath of the NIMBYs.
With wall-to-wall coverage in the news, your ears may ache with the ringing of sound-bytes, hasty promises, dire warnings and ideological rhetoric, but I advise you to listen out for that which is not said. What would it mean for the average Briton to have the SNP at Westminster? With five more years of the Tory austerity, where would the axe fall? Have Labour politicians learned from the mistakes of the Blair/Brown years? Would the Liberal Democrats, as kingmakers, be assertive enough in their bid to temper the extremes of left or right? May 8th will be an exciting day but I truly fear the post-election hangover that will follow.