A game-changing year for British politics

The words ‘unprecedented’, ‘game-changer’ and ‘earthquake’ are often over-used in British politics, yet in many ways, these all apply the march of UKIP's People's Army which has gone from fringe insurgency to close to shattering the political consensus. Mike Blakeney goes through the looking glass...

Interel is kicking off its build up to the General Election with a series of blogs that will detail the shifting sands of British politics. We will be talking about what the implications of these changes are, what you need to know, and what you can do to shape the future.

One thing we do know, is that whichever party wins the election – and that result is far from certain – will have an unprecedented opportunity to shape some of the biggest changes ever to happen in the UK.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all look set to give away sweeping new powers in tax and spending, and the parties all look set to extend devolution to the regions of the UK.

Bringing powers back, the Conservatives have responded to the UKIP threat by promising an ‘in/out’ EU referendum if they win the election. Such is the prominence of the policy, it seems unthinkable that the Conservatives wouldn’t follow through on this, even if they were in a coalition with the Europhile Liberal Democrats. Polling shows that the public support narrowly supports leaving the EU, however, they do support remaining in a ‘reformed’ EU. It’s not clear what this would mean in practice, or what voters think ‘reformed’ means.

However the UKIP bandwagon is advancing unabated, with stomping results in the Heywood and Middleton by-election, which saw Labour’s majority unexpectedly cut to just a few hundred, and the Clacton by-election where UKIP – who didn’t even contest the seat in 2010 – romped home with nearly 60% of the vote. The upcoming Rochester and Strood by-election looks to be a tougher test for Farage’s party, but polling still puts them 9 points ahead.

While UKIP is snipping at the Tories’ right flank, Labour’s Scottish seats look under threat from a rampant SNP, who paradoxically appear to have emerged from the referendum campaign stronger than ever. This is on top of the threat to Labour from UKIP, which in Heywood and Middleton took the party by surprise.

The effect of all this is that both parties feel on the back foot heading into election season. Though ahead in the polls, Labour is conscious that this gap will close as the election gets closer; and it’s pretty close already. The Tories are equally nervous, fully aware that they failed to win a majority the last time and it looks unlikely that their share of the vote will increase.

So are we in an era of coalition politics? And if so, what form will it take? Will the Lib Dem collapse mean UKIP hold the balance? Or will Labour scrabble together the votes to make a red/yellow alliance work?

One thing is certain – whoever wins gets to decide on the shape of the UK’s future devolved structure and perhaps even whether we stay in the EU. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and at the same time, couldn’t be more uncertain.

Whatever the result, Interel will be tracking it all the way.


Lauren Roden

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