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This strange election will leave more than ‘who governs’ unresolved

April 23, 2015

The polls increasingly confirm what we have known for months: that neither Labour nor Conservatives are galvanising voters sufficiently to give either any hope of gaining an overall majority. The most likely result at the moment seems to be a minority Labour government, possibly with sufficient Liberal Democrat support to give it a decent chance of governing without being derailed by the SNP.

It will leave more than “who governs” up in the air.

Ballot paperIt has been a passionless, plastic campaign with party leaders kept carefully away from ordinary people. Endless over-managed photo opportunities have just served to exaggerate the growing gulf between most of us and the political class. Election campaigns used to be an opportunity to bridge that gap and to engage in conversation and debate with people from outside your party, outside any party. Not anymore. The campaign managers are excessively timid, fearful of exposing our politicians to dissenting viewpoints and frightened of losing control. The Tories especially have so over-protected David Cameron that they have made him look weak and almost semi-detached from the campaign.

Ed Miliband has at least attempted to inject some passion into Labour’s campaign although his attempts to connect with ordinary voters have been far too modest. He has been constantly distracted by the SNP question as Nicola Sturgeon successfully commanded the media agenda for over a week. If he can push that issue aside he has a chance in the last week to open up a gap between his party and the Tories, although not sufficient to gain an overall majority.

To question all the parties – with the exception of the SNP – must ask themselves after the election is: how do we engage, motivate and enthuse voters. The rush to the centre ground over the last 25 years has made them indistinguishable in most people’s eyes and election campaigns have become more about competence to govern than a belief in changing things for the better. Competence is important but it doesn’t excite most people. Where will that spark of passion come from?

Who leads the SNP?

One question I am very surprised hasn’t featured more in the campaign is the SNP leadership. All the focus has been on Nicola Sturgeon but she won’t be at Westminster when the deals need to be done and decisions made on what to support and what to reject as she isn’t standing for a Westminster seat. The SNP’s current Westminster leader is the relatively ineffectual Angus Robertson who has been almost invisble in the campaign. Is the plan to oust him and put Alex Salmond in his place if he gets elected? This is an important question and one the media has been remiss in not posing.

Our broken electoral system

The first-past-the-post electoral system hasn’t been fit for purpose for over a generation, ever since the two party duopoly started to crumble in the 1960s. The failure of Nick Clegg to bring about any significant constitutional change – including electoral reform – is a dreadful indictment of his time as Deputy Prime Minister. He screwed up the golden opportunity he had with the botched referendum on the alternative vote. Ironically, his party could now be one of the beneficiaries of the total failure of our current system to cope with multi-party politics.

The current opinion polls suggest that the Liberal Democrats’ share of the popular vote could fall to around 7% but that they could still hang on to around 25-30 seats. UKIP is polling at twice that level but probably won’t win a single seat (they may hold Clacton but that looks like it for them). This is a huge anomaly that can’t be easily dismissed.

In Scotland, the SNP is polling at around 40%, a figure that could net the party 50 of the 59 Scottish seats. Another huge anomaly and one that might unwind in next year’s Scottish Parliament elections which will be held under a system of proportional representation.

Clearly, the system is broken beyond repair. It needs to be completely replaced.

Immigration – the elephant in the room

One issue that constantly comes at or near the top of public concern is immigration yet it isn’t being constructively debated in the campaign. Perhaps we should be thankful for this. But running away from it doesn’t make it go away.

UKIP, of course, has tried hard to push it up the agenda but its campaign seems to be struggling and it  – and its leader – lack the credibility to promote a constructive debate around the issue. UKIP’s stance is too simplistic and one-dimensional to be taken seriously thus the issue falls by the wayside. I don’t believe they have been helped by the daily toll of human misery  in the Mediterranean Sea.

You might have thought the flood of refugees into Europe, many of them making clear their desire to come to the UK, would have boosted UKIP but, thankfully, it hasn’t. The reasons lie in the innate humanity of most British people. They see children dying, they see desperate people prepared to risk their lives and they cannot rush to condemn or judge. When hysterical commentators such as The Sun’s Katie Hopkins do decide to pronounce and wish them dead most people are appalled. She and the minority who support her have made the issue so poisonous that UKIP now can’t touch it. For that we should be grateful to her.

It won’t stop people wanting better answers from our political leaders about how immigration should be managed in a way that supports our growing economy and in the context of a housing crisis due not to immigration but 30 years mismanagement of housing policy.

So, who will govern the country and how?

The smart money has to be on a minority Labour government, largely relying on Liberal Democrat support. It will dare the SNP to bring it down and put the Tories back into office and the SNP will back away despite all its bluster. If the Lib Dems hold sufficient seats to combine with Labour to produce an overall majority then we may even see another coalition although negotiations could be complicated if Clegg loses his seat and the Lib Dems face a leadership crisis.

That government – and all the parties – will have to start thinking very hard about the other unresolved issues before confidence in the political system slumps even lower.

From → Politics

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