This next general election may well end in disaster for parliament.
For British politicians there is only one contender for the year’s most important date. On May 7th the country is destined to go to the polls for a general election, in what will be the first time Westminster has made it through its entire five-year term since World War Two.
Before the passing of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act in 2011, prime ministers had the opportunity to dissolve parliament when it was advantageous to them, and call an election. While critics have said the bill has created a “zombie parliament” in what may be David Cameron’s last year in office, exponents of the bill note it favours outsider parties by giving them a stable timetable.
That is rather appropriate, because the only thing a pundit can predict about this year’s election is that it is unlikely to favour any of the incumbent parties. The growth of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), the Greens and the Scottish National Party (SNP) have all chipped away at Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour support, making it likely that neither the reds nor the blues will attain a governing majority.
At present the folks at Election Forecast UK believe that both Labour and the Tories will obtain 281 seats apiece, some 45 seats shy of a majority in the 650 seat House of Commons. Lib Dems will meanwhile drop to 25 seats, down from 57 at the last election.
The winners in this election are insurgents on both the left and right, though it is hard to tell how well they are likely to do. As Election Forecast UK admits, Ukip gains are difficult to calculate, since their previous election records do not reflect the current surge in their popularity – though this is less true for SNP and the Greens.
In December various polls on voting intentions showed Ukip at the low-to-mid teens, sometimes double or even triple what the Lib Dems were achieving. Even with this support, they may well walk away with only the two seats they currently hold following Tory defections, far less than the unpopular Lib Dems.
The other great electoral success story of this parliament is that of the SNP, which not only is undiminished since its defeat by the No vote at the referendum on Scottish independence, but now boasts a membership in excess of 93,000 people. Electoral Forecast UK predicts enthusiasm for the party might see it claim 40 seats, forcing the Lib Dems and much of Labour out of Scotland.
Should these figures remain stable up until May, that would leave both the Tories and Labour reliant upon the SNP or the Lib Dems to attain a working parliamentary majority. Alex Salmond, the former leader of the SNP who will spearhead their efforts at Westminster this May, has already ruled out doing a deal with the Tories, but left open a possible deal with Labour.
Whether the SNP could countenance a deal including the Lib Dems, whom many blame for enabling the Tories during the last five years, is unclear. If both Labour and the SNP both do well they have a chance at a majority, but at present that is a big “if”.
In a final twist, that same act that has forced the current coalition to stagger on through its fifth year has also deprived the incoming prime minister of the easy ability to return to the polls. While a no confidence motion with a simple majority could bring the next parliament to a premature close, that will depend on it being to each parties’ advantage – another uncertainty.
The final result could be gridlock, and perhaps the greatest British constitutional crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII.