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With the last budget of the Con-Dem Parliamentary term announced today, the political agenda will shift focus to the pending General Election. With pre-election polling showing no clear leader going into the election on 7 May, this election looks set to be tighter than the one back in 2010.
I will be kicking off Vada‘s election coverage with a brief introduction. Firstly, in the interests of full disclosure, I shall state that I am a member of the Labour Party. In 2010 I voted for Labour, in the European elections last year I made a protest vote and voted Green. I don’t work in the Labour Party press office. Ask anyone that knows me and you will be told that I don’t blindly support the Labour party. I have been called a Tory by Labour members and a socialist by Conservatives. I ultimately am a centre-left pragmatist who doesn’t take politics at face value. I will aim to make the coverage fair, informative and balanced in the spirit of debate.
What is the fuss about?
Though every election is important. This election has been a long time coming thanks to the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition’s introduction of fixed-term parliaments. This essentially meant that from nearly day one of the current government’s term, the clock has been counting down, where previously the Prime Minister could pick and choose when they would call an election within the five-year term.
This election is of particular interest because of how close the polls have it. Neither Prime Minister David Cameron (Leader of the Conservatives) nor Ed Miliband (leader of the opposition and Labour Party) has a commanding lead in the polls. Both currently sit around the 33% mark.
The 16 March Poll of Polls, which takes the average of four major polls, has voting intention at:
Liberal Democrats 7.8%
Note this doesn’t include the regional parties of the Scottish Nationalists (SNP), Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionists (DUP) and Sinn Fein.
Opinion polls versus the ballot box
One thing to note. Just because a party is polling at a certain percentage of the vote doesn’t mean they are likely to win that percentage of seats. Under the electoral system of first past the post (FPTP), an election is decided on the number of MPs elected with a majority of the vote in their constituency.
With the polling data spread across the national intention and not seat-by-seat, then pundits can be fairly confident in stating that UKIP, for example, would not win 13% of seats.
With Parliament having 650 seats, that 13% would equal 84 UKIP seats. UKIP themselves have said they aim for 5.
What does such a close result mean?
You can bet that at some point in the election campaign a party leader will utter the words. ‘The only poll that matters is that of the actual vote.’ They are correct in this. After all, if we took polls at face value then what would be the point in elections?
However this doesn’t stop pundits speculating. As in 2010, Britain looks set for a hung Parliament, where no party wins an absolute majority. This means that a coalition will have to be formed.
2010 saw two ideological opposites – the Tories and Lib Dems – coming together to form a government. You might think that if we were to have a coalition then the current one would continue. But the Lib Dems have suffered defeat after defeat since joining the coalition.
In the European elections last year, the Lib Dems went from 12 MEPs to 1. In the local elections they lost 310 councillors.
The Lib Dems have an uphill struggle to retain the seats they have, let alone make any gains. The Greens look set to overtake the Lib Dems and knock them into fifth place (based on polling percentages not seats).
So this begs the question: who will partner up?
Well there is no simple answer to this, and it will be the topic of much debate in the run up to election night.
Recently, the media has covered the rising strength of the SNP. With pundits predicting they will take 53 of the 59 seats in Scotland, this at the expense of Labour and the Lib Dems – including senior members of both parties who have their seats in Scotland.
This is a whopping increase from the 6 seats they won in 2010.
Cameron has already forced Miliband to rule out a governing coalition with the SNP. However there is the possibility for Labour to operate as a minority government but propped up by the SNP.
The Conservatives’ natural partner would be UKIP. The Eurosceptics in the Tory party have already called on Cameron to make a deal with UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Farage has hinted that he would support a Conservative minority government in exchange for action on an EU referendum. An informal alliance with UKIP could leave room for the Lib Dems to stay as the minority party in a governing coalition, as the Lib Dems have been vocal in their support of the EU – but it might cause a fracture between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems.
An alternative scenario would be that the minor parties made up of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP, Sinn Fein and the Greens could come together to form a block that hold the balance of power.
This could make the Lib Dems a key player in forming a minority government lead by the Tories or Labour. The minority government would then need to seek consensus on major legislation and the budget from the third block in order to pass these measures.
The Greens have already hinted at a pre-election deal with the SNP. This scenario would make Britain very difficult to govern and thus the government would be fragile.
Under the current fixed term government a two thirds majority would be required to force an election within the 5-year term.
The government of Sweden faced a near collapse of the government at the first budget. A deal was made between the governing coalition and the official opposition to pass budgets unopposed after the opposition budget was passed. Perhaps we need to bear this in mind.
How you can make a difference
It’s easy to see why people get turned off by politics. Yet I urge you strongly to take an interest, ask questions, look beyond the headline policies and make a judgement.
Vada and I will do our best to discuss the topics and to clarify any points. Remember – though you may not like it – politics affects your day-to-day life from the taxes you pay on your weekly shop, to the collection of bins, to the provision of healthcare.
Politics is not just the headline-grabbing stories of scandal and sleaze, budget cuts and belligerence, but the things that affect YOU. Please don’t think what happens in May doesn’t affect you. If you do, I hope our coverage will change that perception.