The people of the United Kingdom are to vote for a new government on May 7th in what may be one of the closest elections in recent history. The possibility of a hung parliament, as happened in the last election where votes were split between the various parties, might mean that the UK may have another coalition government. The economy, NHS, immigration and equality have been significant topics, which may go some way to deciding what policies and characteristics the next government is to integrate. Emerging parties such as the Scottish National Party (SNP), United Kingdom’s Independence Party (UKIP) and the Green Party may also play an important role in the election – either as coalition partners or splitting votes traditionally held by Labour and the Conservatives.
Typically, the predominant parties in UK politics have been Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The ongoing campaigns by these parties have, so far, been aiming to hold onto their established supporter bases whilst appealing to the undecided voters. Labour has been emphasising its policies – which are aiming to raise taxes of the wealthy and so called ‘super-rich’ whilst protecting national services such as the NHS. The Conservatives, part of the ruling coalition, have been highlighting their policies of economic recovery and the reduction of the deficit. The Liberal Democrats appear to be pushing to rebuild their image after raising university tuition fees as part of the coalition government. An important part of the Lib Dem campaign appears to be aiming to emphasise the moderating influence the party might play if it is in a coalition with either Labour or the Conservatives.
Parties such as SNP, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party appear to be receiving increased coverage and support in this election due to either key issues or their geographical appeal. The SNP, after leading the Yes campaign in the Scottish independence referendum, appear as if they will potentially gain significantly in Scotland, which may raise their profile as a possible coalition partner. Equally, UKIP who campaign on stronger immigration laws and leaving the European Union may split votes with the Conservatives due to both parties being right of centre on the political spectrum. The Green Party is campaigning towards younger people who are yet to have affiliated links with a political party.
In the 2010 general election the first televised leaders’ debates gave Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, significant exposure and support. The debates this year have seen more parties involved and may, in some ways, afford increased support. The debates appear to highlight the difference in political support across the United Kingdom. The emergence of increasing support for SNP and UKIP may show the prevalence of single topics such as devolution and immigration over the entire platforms of other parties. This being one of the first times opposition leaders took part in a live televised debate may translate in boosts in support for the parties involved. For parties such as the Green Party and Plaid Cymru this may be particularly important due to their smaller expected share of the vote.
The prospect of a coalition government may well influence the outcome of the elections, as voters might look towards likely partnerships between parties. The economy may play an important role, as the recovery the UK has experienced still appears to require a focused approach. The European Union is electorally important due to the Conservatives and UKIP promising to hold a referendum regarding the United Kingdom’s membership. The Scottish Independence referendum highlighted the political differences that geography may bring. The spread of support between multiple parties might signal a movement towards coalition governments becoming more common. Equally, in the result of a parliament without a majority, negotiations between the parties may go on for a few weeks – with the possibility of another general election taking place if necessary. May 7th votes may just be the beginning of the formation of the next government.
How might the emergence of smaller parties evolve the politics of the United Kingdom?