Tomorrow the United Kingdom goes to the polls, in one of the most unpredictable and important elections in decades. True, every election gets called that, but this time it’s actually true. With the smaller parties poised to make a big impact, outright victory for Labour or the Conservatives is unlikely – and the stakes will be high in any post election bargaining. Here’s you need to know about who’s in the running, why the UK itself at stake, and who will win.
The candidates – and what they stand for
With the UK’s electoral system, there are still two parties who will have by far the largest number of seats, the Conversatives under current Prime Minister David Cameron or Labour under Ed Milliband. Under Cameron the UK has begun economic recovery after the 2008 crisis, but this has come at a cost. Under austerity tuition fees have skyrocketed, and benefits have been cut. Milliband therefore hopes to simply reverse many of these policies. It’s the standard left/right economic debate, and the two are neck and neck.
However, they need 326 seats to have a majority in Parliament. That’s unlikely, because the other candidates mix things up a bit. Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats is hoping voters will forget the promises he broke when he joined a coalition with Cameron last election, and sign up to his centrist economic policy. Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party will most likely take nearly all the Scottish seats (hurting Labour) with a leftist platform. Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party is running on the issue of Britain leaving the EU, and control of immigration. Finally, Natalie Bennett has made an impact for the Greens, with a environmentalist and leftist platform. While Clegg might draw voters away from both main parties, Farage will be stealing Conservative votes, and the SNP and the Greens will take Labour’s.
Why so important?
Besides the fact that it’s impossible to tell who will win, this election is vital because it will determine Britain’s place in the EU. In an attempt to win back voters from UKIP, and sooth part of his party, David Cameron has promised that if he wins, there will be a 2017 referendum on the UK leaving the EU. This is an extremely cynical tactic. Cameron must know the facts – Britain leaving the EU would be a disaster. However, he hopes to play to dissatisfaction with EU and the UK’s general sense of standing apart from Europe in order to win votes. If he wins the election, he’ll then most likely campaign for the UK to stay. Like I said, cynical. but that’s politics. Labour is against a referendum, and the SNP has in the past hinted that they’ll press for independence if the UK leaves the EU.
Who can work together?
Like the 2010 election there’ll be a period of coalition bargaining, similar to what happens in the Netherlands. Except this time there’s more than one party that could join a coalition. The SNP and the Lib Dems are likely to come in 3rd and 4th. The Lib Dems would prefer the Conservatives, but could potentially work with Labour. The SNP will never work with the Conservatives, but Labour’s uneasy about giving the Scottish nationalists power in government. The Greens could partner with Labour, and UKIP’s unlikely to join either party. There are also a number of even smaller parties that will win one or two seats, who could join different sides. It’s a bit of a confusing mess for a country that’s used to one party winning a majority
What’s going to happen then?
It all depends on how much of a lead Labour or the Conservatives can get over the other. My prediction is that they’ll be neck and neck, the Lib Dems won’t have enough votes to produce a majority coalition, and no one will be able to work with the SNP. This will create a very tricky situation. Either one party will have to form an unstable coalition with a larger number of parties, or there’ll be a minority government, with some smaller parties supporting the government only on certain issues. Both of these options would lead to uncertainty, unstable government and possible even another election.
In essence though, it’s impossible to predict. It’s all up to the voters now, and on Friday morning we’ll get a look at just how messy post-election politics are going to be.