By Alex Christensen for Global Risk Insights
For decades before 2010, the British political system was nearly as straight-forward as the US system: a center-left and center-right party compete for power, with a group of minor parties struggling for relevancy. Since the Conservatives were forced to join with the Liberal Democrats in order for David Cameron to take the Prime Minister’s office, however, coalition politics has become the norm.
These rankings capture the momentum and impact parties are expected to have on elections, regardless of their chances of electoral success.
5. Liberal Democrats: No party has fallen harder or faster than the Liberal Democrats, even though leader Nick Clegg has served as Deputy Prime Minister since 2010. Before that election, the party appeared to be a once-in-a-generation political movement.
But after reneging on central planks of its party platform and becoming an accessory to an unpopular government, polling suggests the party will lose over half of its seats and fall to the fourth largest parliamentary delegation behind the Scottish National Party (SNP).
4. Conservative Party: Despite being the ruling party in an election against what most consider an uninspiring opposition leader in Ed Miliband, the Tories are in an unusually defensive position. The party is in such a weak position because it has been forced into a campaign not against the Labour Party, but a guerrilla war against the insurgent, right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP).
UKIP is unlikely to win many seats—projected only to take a single seat nationwide—but has stolen momentum and formerly safe Conservative voters. In the East Midlands constituency of Corby, which Labour took in a by-election in 2012, the Conservatives would have had an easy path to victory this May if it were not for an expected 14% vote for UKIP.
The only real decision the Conservatives will be in a position to make is whether to form a minority government, as they are expected to win a plurality of seats but have a dearth of potential coalition partners.
The Tories’ weakness has amplified since 2010. The US and UK were on the verge of beginning operations in Syria, until the Conservatives lost the first parliamentary vote on matters of war since the 19th Century. Now, David Cameron has underlined how out of touch he is with the average voter by forgetting which football team he supports.
3. Scottish National Party: After its resounding defeat in the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish National Party (SNP) looked to be in retreat during this election cycle. As it turns out, a deadlock between Labour and the Conservatives has placed the SNP in the center of the race for Westminster.
If Labour wins more seats than the Conservatives or Conservatives are unable to form a government, a Labour-SNP coalition looks like the most likely outcome. Of course, both Labour and the SNP have ruled out a coalition. But that could easily be chalked up to pre-election incentives: these two parties are ideologically the most similar to each other, and thus competing for votes.
After observing the Liberal Democrat coalition debacle, smaller parties have a model for what to avoid. Any Labour coalition that the SNP would enter into would likely come with a few major concessions from Labour. Topping the list would be further devolution of power to the Scottish Parliament, especially on taxation and spending issues, and the removal of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines from Scotland. These are two main issues SNP campaigned on during last year’s independence vote, but it still has a good chance of achieving them despite last year’s loss.
2. Labour Party: Ed Miliband’s party may not be on track to win the most seats in Westminster, but Labour certainly has more momentum going into the election than the Conservatives.
The rise of right-wing politicians like UKIP’s Nigel Farage is the most significant reason why. Not only has it created a fracas on the other side of the political spectrum, but it has provided a dramatic foil for a party re-establishing its left-leaning identity after twenty years of centrism under the New Labour movement. In fact, Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that the gap between Labour and Conservative spending plans is the largest it has been in a quarter century.
Embracing its left-leaning heritage is, in part, an attempt to woo SNP voters. Even though a Labour-SNP coalition—or at least cooperation between the parties, if Labour is in a minority government—would still land Ed Miliband in the Prime Minister’s office, the last push to overtake the Conservatives for a plurality of seats is still important. Labour would be given the first shot to form a government, taking out any risk of Cameron retaining his role as Prime Minister.
1. UK Independence Party: There is no chance UKIP could win a British election, let alone winning more than 10 seats in Westminster. Nearly as unlikely is aiding or forming a coalition with the Conservatives—due to the insurgent nature of Nigel Farage’s party.
UKIP’s role in British politics has always been to agitate anti-establishment and anti-immigration Britons, such as when Farage called the audience at an April debate stupid and leftist or when he said he would feel uncomfortable if he had Romanian neighbors.
Regardless, the power of UKIP in this election cycle is unmistakable. After all, this is the party that won the European parliamentary elections last year, a fact that no doubt strikes fear in the hearts of Conservative campaign officials.
As mentioned above, constituencies like Corby and dozens of others across England would be firmly within reach for the Conservatives if it were not for UKIP. UKIP, both in rhetoric and impact, will play a similar role as the Tea Party in the 2012 US midterm elections, where Democrats picked up safe Republican seats because the Tea Party and Republicans split the conservative vote.
It is fair to say that although SNP may ultimately play kingmaker in this election, if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minster, he will—ironically—have UKIP to thank.