May 2015: through the looking glass

Anna Jobling, Interel consultant, considers what the political landscape might look like after May 2015 and analyses the incredible shrinking political certainties in the British political system.

At a time when politics is in such a state of flux, there is currently only one certainty – the date of the next election. Previously, a Government could call an election at any point during a five year election cycle and take advantage of a good turn in the polls or, if the party was floundering, they could delay an election hoping for a miracle.

In 2011, the Government introduced the Fixed Term Parliament Act and for the first time ever we know the exact date of the next election. Beyond this, it’s all to play for.

Currently, whether it is speaking to friends, family, clients or colleagues, I am frequently asked what’s going to happen at the next election. As mentioned above, there is no certainty and almost any result could be possible in May but that doesn’t stop us speculating.

So how are the parties currently doing and what will the political landscape look like after the election?

The polls have almost consistently put Labour ahead. However, the Tories are closing the gap and YouGov’s most recent poll has revealed that this gap has now closed to just 1%. This is probably due to Ed’s disastrous conference speech and last week’s rumblings of a leadership crisis.

As for the Lib Dems, they are trundling along at 9% according to a recent poll by ComRes. Individual MPs know they are on a sinking ship and the majority of Lib Dem MPs will now have to fight for survival in each of their constituencies. Importantly though, they are doughty campaigners locally and we may well see a few surprises.

Support for UKIP has now risen to a record high following the surprise attempt by Brussels to levy a £1.7bn “surcharge” on Britain. The election of Douglas Carswell has legitimised the party and this surge in support will be compounded by the likely re-election of Mark Reckless under UKIP.

The SNP is another factor. Recent polls suggest that the SNP is on course for a landslide in Scotland. A Panelbase poll has recently given them a 17-point lead on Labour, which would mean Labour are set to lose around 30 seats to the SNP. This is an important factor in what could deny Labour a majority.

The Conservatives will be eyeing up Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists (DUP), who could offer vital additional seats that might make all the difference to Conservative prospects for continuing to govern.

 However, despite Ed’s leadership, if we are to believe the polls – Labour may win the most seats but certainly not enough to have a majority. This will leave Labour with two options.

a)    Form a coalition

b)    Go it alone and try and govern with a minority

 Perhaps the most obvious option for Labour would be to form a coalition with the Lib Dems. However, this will also come down to how many seats the Lib Dems manage to hold. Current predictions are that Lib Dems will win 32 seats, which may not even be enough to grant any Lab-Lib coalition a secure majority.

Another reality could be a coalition with the SNP. With Labour in meltdown in Scotland, discussions with the SNP are an option. Alex Salmond has said this would be unlikely but an arrangement could be made whereby the SNP would prop up a minority Labour Government. If this were to happen and Salmond were an MP (as has been hinted at) he could be given a senior position in government, like Nick Clegg – a sketch writers dream.

There is also the other parties to think about – the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Northern Ireland parties. In which case, any coalition come downs to arithmetic. These parties could hold up to 60 seats in parliament and, for the first time ever, we could be looking at negotiations around a multi-party coalition.

This is all starting to sound like we have gone through the looking-glass so I hope you are still following.

So option B, go it alone. Harold Wilson formed a minority government result of the 1974 election, which lasted for seven months. Callaghan and Major also governed as minority administrations.

Minority government is usually unworkable and any legislation Labour tried to pass would be a matter of extensive negotiation at a risk of defeat. It would be quite likely that within 6 months to a year, the whole system would grind to a halt.

However, a depressing reality is that under the Fixed Term Parliament Act there are now only two provisions that trigger an election other than at five year intervals:

  • if a motion for an early general election is agreed by at least two-thirds of the whole House (currently 434 out of 650, which could mean Labour MPs having to admit they can’t govern – unlikely)
  • if a motion of no confidence is passed and no alternative government is confirmed by the Commons within 14 days (however, it’s difficult to see how any alternative coalition would be any more stable than the one being overturned)

Nevertheless, if there were to be a second election, it would likely be that Labour would lose more seats and, once again, it would be the Conservatives turn to form a coalition. Perhaps, Labour winning the next election would be a blessing in disguise for the Tories.

I should stress this is just my speculative musings and certainly not a prediction – you never can know what will happen in politics. 


Anna Jobling

Associate Director

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