For the first time in decades the outcome of the general election in May cannot be predicted. There are more variables now than at any time since I first voted in a national election back in February 1974.
The Tories haven’t yet achieved in the polls the lead required just to obtain a likely majority, Labour has its own problems being saddled with a leader who is clearly not seen as a credible Prime Minister in waiting.
There is the factor of the much predicted collapse of the Lib Dems also last year the rise of the “Ukip effect” as well as the strong possibility of Labour losing most of its 41 current Scottish MPs to the SNP.
The greatest unknown factor will be the size of the ‘turnout’ on May 7. That, more than anything, is going to decide the next election.
In the meantime it is disconcerting to see the UK racked by so much political uncertainty. Many political commentators, noting the decline in the voting share for the main two parties, conﬁdently predict the result will be another hung parliament, others maintain that the country operates best with a two-party system and this will reassert itself on May 7, since the coalition arrangement formed in 2010 does not have popular support.
The significant difference between this year’s election and that of 2010 is the Ukip factor. Whilst the party remains largely a single issue party instead of being first anti-EU as it once was, it is now primarily an anti-immigrant party and is being described as such by the media and as such leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Mr Cameron - as we saw at the end of last year.
Almost certainly, Ukip will secure millions of votes, attracting the support of perhaps 10% of the electorate. The British first past the post system is, however, merciless towards the smaller parties. The Ukip votes are unlikely to translate into seats. At most they will get a handful.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are certainly in outright collapse and face electoral massacre. They will be lucky to hang on to half of the 57 seats they won in 2010 and could well sink into single ﬁgures. Nick Clegg could lose his seat, and the same applies to other leading Lib Dems.
So we should ready ourselves for a very paradoxical result. The percentage of the vote enjoyed by the two main parties will be lower than any time before. However, between them they will scoop up the great majority of seats.
It is impossible to be certain which of the main parties will win. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is just about ahead in the polls, assuming that is an accurate reflection of reality. That lead, may vanish as the election approaches.
One reason is that Ukip have specifically been targeting Labour supporters it is unlikely that the 18% of voters who currently tell pollsters they back Ukip will do so in the election. Many will move back to the Tories, meaning that as Ukip looks less likely to win more than a few seats the Conservatives will pick up support.
Meanwhile the Conservatives backed by deep huge donations will ﬁght the more effective national election campaign. They will project David Cameron as a proven prime ministerial ﬁgure in comparison with the allegedly weak Ed Miliband.
Nevertheless, the electoral system is skewed against the Tories. Even if the two main parties end up with the same number of votes, Labour gets an outright majority. By contrast, the Conservatives need a lead over Labour of approximately 6% to win outright.
All of this is further evidence that our current electoral system is broken, out of date and in desperate need of reform. A positive benefit of the Scottish Referendum last September is that more people are now asking if our system of politics can be more democratic.
The only prediction I am confident it is safe to make, is whatever the result it will not reflect people’s wishes.
Once the new Parliament has been elected there must be, a popular outcry for a constitutional convention to draw up a new electoral system for the people of all the UK.
- Peter Troy can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org