Maths, not party posturing, will determine who will be in government after the coming general election. In recent years, the UK political scene has undergone major change, no longer resembling the two and a half party system of old, with the Conservatives and Labour fighting to govern alone and the Liberals largely extraneous. Instead it has become a polyglot of parties, with none possessing the overwhelming punch to deliver a single party government with a substantial majority. It is possible that what was once thought unthinkable, coalitions may become a mainstay in British politics.
Both the Labour and the Conservative parties are facing a winter of discontent. Labour has found it hard to shake off the ghosts of the former Blair/Brown government, while the perceived weakness of Ed Miliband does little to inspire support. Similarly, the Conservative party is uncomfortably challenged in trying to both overcome its image as a party of the few for the few and reaching a broader audience, and simultaneously fending off the threat of UKIP taking its traditional voters. The emergence of minor parties such as UKIP, the Greens, and, the regional Scottish National Party, SNP, has collectively reduced the prospect of a majority single government. It has created the potential for one of the most interesting general elections since 1974, if not 1945.
It will come down to a numbers game. In theory, Labour or the Conservatives need a minimum of 326 seats to form a majority government. Allowing for term losses from attrition, rebellion or wastage, a stable government realistically needs a working majority of somewhere around 350 seats. The Conservatives currently have 303 seats, Labour 257. The former need to gain 40 or more seats, while the latter need somewhere close to 90 seats to have any possibility of a strong and sustainable government. This will be difficult for Labour, who will need to not only retain existing seats but also make substantial gains from a support base that remains largely opaque.
What is becoming apparent is that Scotland may prove to the key battleground. While the Conservatives seemingly have little to lose, with only one seat in Scotland, they will not be immune to how the Scots vote. The 2014 Independence referendum has galvanized Scottish voters, who are looking for more devolved powers from Westminster and are keenly watching how the latter honours it’s pre-poll commitments. The SNP, capitalizing on Labour’s inept referendum campaign, appear to be making considerable gains. At present, the SNP has only 6 seats in Westminster, while 41 of Labour’s seats are from Scotland. Substantial SNP gains would cause considerable damage to Miliband’s hopes of reaching No.10. If the polls are anything to believe, SNP are on track to win approximately 43% of the vote. This would increase their presence in Westminster to 31 seats, making them a minority party with some punch. Were the Tories to at least hold what they have, a Conservative-SNP coalition would be a realistic possibility. Forget the brouhaha of the SNP and Conservatives not working together. The Tories are not the longest living and arguably most successful political party in Europe for nothing – it will adapt to the changing climate. After all politics is about power. The SNP may see and sell a coalition as a vehicle for delivering
Westminster’s referendum pledges. A variation on a theme sees Labour making marginally gains in England and Wales but losing in Scotland. This scenario offers a potential Labour- SNP alternative. Either way there is an arguable case for the SNP as a kingmaker in waiting.
In a bizarre way, a Conservative – SNP coalition doesn’t seem impossible. The latter is Scotland’s national party, the former England’s. This election seems almost guaranteed to deliver a hung parliament – something which goes against the very nature of the British system, which is geared toward ensuring continuous government. While the public and the parties have no appetite for another coalition, when faced with the possibility of calling another, unpopular election, like a separating couple realizing the cost of a divorce, it would not be surprising if incompatible parties somehow find themselves having more in common than they thought after all.
By Hannah Dowling, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.