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Why it won't be politics as usual at the next election

It appears that in the run up to the general election in Britain this year, the political landscape is shifting and other parties may play a key role in subduing either Labour or Tory’s hopes of a majority. The increased support and profile of parties such as; UKIP, the Green Party and the SNP seem likely to produce an unpredictable result in the forthcoming election. In addition to this, the large possibility of a hung parliament, leading to a coalition is becoming increasingly anticipated.

One reason for this is the expected increased vote-share of the smaller political parties with fewer seats in Parliament. The second reason is the projected inability of either the Tories or Labour to secure a single majority. The results remain fairly unpredictable in terms of which parties may have to consolidate their power, due to a close contest for the largest share of the vote between the other parties, excluding Tory and Labour. Although the outcome remains uncertain, we can ascertain from the recent ratings and other political factors that the likelihood of a coalition and perhaps even a multi-party coalition could be dependent on the swing of the vote.

To see why we may be faced with this situation as a result of the upcoming election, we only have to look at the results of the last general election, as well as the relevance of the constitutional role of a majority vote being needed to attain power.

An unambiguous majority needed for a political party to form a single party government is 326 seats. The security gained by the Tory party after winning 307 seats, compared to Labour’s 258 seats in 2010, enabled them to claim a comfortable majority upon forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats (who gained 57 votes).  The other recognised parties besides the aforementioned three only gained 28 seats between them. This allowed for David Cameron and Nick Clegg to hold a strong majority of 78 after the last election.

Although the Tories enjoyed this success previously, this year it seems as it has for a while now, that in May, both Labour and the Tory party are likely to end up with a similar number of MPs in the House of Commons. Another outcome which seems probable is that the Liberal Democrats are bound to lose a significant number of seats due to a decrease in potential votes, creating a latent problem for the formation of a single party government.

A prominent election forecasting site in the UK, produced by three top British University Professors has recently published a document online stating that “our forecast is that there is currently a 0.89 probability that no single party will reach 326 seats”. If nothing else major changes, then either Labour or the Tories could technically be a part of a coalition with a majority vote. The question is whether the competition between the other parties will produce an obvious candidate to be a part of a coalition with one of the two leading parties, or whether the seat share will be too dispersed to simply form a two-party coalition.

A Cabinet manual which was revised in 2011 (after coalition formation due to 2010 election), has been criticised for its lack of preparation in case of a hung parliament, and exposes the potentiality of an extended period of a ‘care-taker government’. With this in mind, we can only contemplate what a potential coalition may look like in May. Recent developments have revealed that some party leaders have been trying to make clear their intentions, or preferences in preparation for a hung parliament.

Last week, Nick Clegg said he would not form a coalition with UKIP, adding that he expected an outcome in which his party again held the balance of power between Labour and the Conservatives. Based on the amount of seats that could be lost by the Liberal Democrats, this expectation may be trumped by the upcoming election. Labour leader, Ed Miliband has revealed to the press that he would not consider entering a coalition with the SNP. A spokesperson for the Green Party say if they were to hold a stake in the balance of power after the votes are counted, then they would most likely assume a confidence and supply arrangement. This would allow them the opportunity to vote on a case by case basis.

Considering these factors, in addition to the evident rise in support and possible gain in seats after May for UKIP and the SNP, it seems that at least for now, the ability of the First Past the Post electoral system to produce a single party government is being tested. It would seem that the multiplicity of parties in British politics is currently curbing the ability of more dominant parties to remain an incumbent in government. The uncertainty surrounding the general election, combined with academic forecasts of the seat/vote share, suggests that our political system may be about to take an unorthodox turn.

Josh Walton

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