THE GENERAL ELECTION IN 2015 IS A LANDMARK FOR MANY REASONS. IT IS THE FIRST WHERE A PEACETIME COALITION GOES TO THE POLLS IN MODERN HISTORY. IT IS THE FIRST UNDER THE NEW FIXED TERM PARLIAMENT ACT. IT IS THE FIRST AFTER THE “CRISIS ELECTION” OF 2010.
However, the election of 2015 is significant, and will long be remembered because of its instability. Gone are the elections of 1997 and 2001 where there was little need to vote given the outcome was already a foregone conclusion. So too have the days of huge majorities and stable one party governments. This time four years ago, no one was talking about anything other than a Conservative majority. Gordon Brown was unpopular and Labour was out for the count. Yet in this parliament commentators and the bookies alike have repeatedly held up another hung parliament as the likeliest scenario. How has this happened? How has the political landscaped changed so drastically and so rapidly and what are its implications for the next government?
Part of the instability of recent years can be attributed to the financial crisis itself. In 2015, just as in 2010, the weight and significance of the election cannot be overstated. The ideological element, which has been vacant for so long, has suddenly reappeared. We are no longer just voting on the best “CEO” of Britannia PLC but making a real choice about her future. For too long the “detoxification” programs of the right and the “Third Way” methods of the left had left politics stale. The classic critique of “they’re all the same” was heard all too often largely because it was all too true. The two main parties are offering a clear choice; a small state neoliberal solution from the right and a more traditionally socially democratic path from the left. The choice has never been starker.
An indecisive result in 2015 is the most likely, exactly because the public are uncertain about their desired direction. No one path is presented as the “only option” as Thatcherism was portrayed in 1979 and New Labour in 1997. A disjointed and uncertain political outlook has led to fragmentation in the political space: making way for the first real multiparty contest in modern British political history. The irony must surely not be lost on the Liberals: the party, which has for generations been the keenest advocate of a pluralist politics, is on the floor just as that politics seems to be materialising. The death of the Liberal Democrats, whilst overstated for political reasons, is palpable in almost the entirety of Scotland and Northern England. Just four short years ago the death of the traditional third party would have commentators predicting the return of a strong two party system.
Yet here again the pace of change is unprecedented. From the ashes of the Liberal bird comes new fringe parties from both left and right, north and south. With the UK Independence Party consistently pushing the high teens in the opinion polls, and with two by-election wins under their belts, they look set to return 5-10 MPs: whilst causing havoc in Labour vs Tory battle grounds the nation over. Polling increasingly shows that in the long term it is Labour, not the Conservatives, who will be most damaged by UKIP as the white working class, traditionally Labour’s core votes, melts into the UKIP pot. However in the short term, with Labour in opposition, the Tories look set to fair worse in the immediate future.
However Labour cannot rest. With UKIP threatening the Old Labour vote in northern England, the SNP are devouring it in the great Scottish cities. Commentators who predicted the SNP would evaporate after the referendum defeat were quickly shamed as their membership passed 80,000. With the SNP polling above Labour for the first time in Scottish political history, Labour’s political strategy of relying on 40 Scottish seats looks increasingly deluded. All the great certainties of modern British politics are crumbling.
The great irony. We enter a “change election” which has real ramifications for the future of our great country just as a decisive result seems to elude us. With Labour lead by an “unelectable”, the liberals a “traitor” and the Tories an “Etonian” there is unlikely to be any clear winner from the election to come. The only winner is perhaps democratic reform. The results produced by our current First Past the Post System are sure to be unacceptable to the great majority: a labour party who comes second in votes but yet wins the most seats, a Liberal party who polls less than UKIP yet receives three times as many MPs and the SNP playing a role in a UK government despite not fielding candidates in all of its home nations. The election result may be indecisive but its ramifications in terms of spending, growth and constitutional reform will shape this country for decades to come.
(Taken from our 1st print magazine issue.)