The coming days will see one of the world’s great nations change political course for years. I’m referring, of course, to the United Kingdom, whose extremely tight election and the shifting political forces will be intriguing to watch.
The nation stands at a crossroads, and, regretfully, seems poised to take a turn toward big-spending populism with the likely election results. So, what do you need to know about the 2015 UK general election? I’ll break down some details below.
1. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives will hold a majority of seats.
Both of the nation’s major parties will stand in an awkward position after election day. As it stands, each is projected to win roughly 270 seats, while it takes 326 to have a majority. This means both parties will need to seek third-party support to govern as a coalition.
2. The Liberal Democrats will weaken dramatically.
Currently, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat (Lib Dems) parties govern in coalition, but the junior partner in this union looks to be falling apart. Recent years have seen massive internal strife within the Lib Dems, which formed from a merger of the Liberal Party, which had many libertarian tendencies, and the center-left Social Democratic Party. This internal strife and struggle over the party’s identity have soured many voters on the Lib Dems, who are expected to lose the majority of their seats. Such a dramatic decline means that a Conservative-Lib Dem government is projected to fall about 20 votes short of enough seats for a majority.
3. The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) will hold the balance of power.
This election will see the ascension of the SNP in parliament. The party, which seeks to bring independence for Scotland, is projected by FiveThirtyEight.com to move from holding a mere six seats out of 53 in Scotland, to 49 seats.
Many of these seats come at the expense of Labour and the Lib Dems, replacing the latter as the nation’s third best represented political party by a wide margin. By and large, the SNP acts as a populist, regionalist party, advocating for increased spending on Scottish priorities.
4. Both major parties have pledged not to join the SNP in coalition.
Both Labour and the Conservatives have publicly pledged not to join a coalition with the SNP. The question is whether they will have a choice. If current polling is correct, it will be difficult for either party to cobble together enough minor-party votes to form a government. Based on FiveThirtyEight’s numbers, Labour wouldn’t have enough votes even if it rallied every single minor party in the country. The Conservatives, if they do better than expected and win around 290 votes, might have the numbers to pull together a coalition by joining the Lib Dems and the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, an outcome predicted by British betting markets.
5. The most likely option is a Labour-SNP alliance.
While it has been pledged otherwise, the SNP seems intent on forcing Labour into coalition under the threat of forcing any minority government to a standstill. No side has enough votes to stop them. A Labour-SNP alliance would be the worst of both worlds, bringing a tax-and-spend coalition to power, while increasing subsidies from England to Scotland. A weaker option would be for the parties to come to an informal agreement to work together most of the time, and ruling in a relatively uncontroversial way.
The coming results of the UK election are worrying to advocates of general good governance. The current Conservative-Lib Dem alliance has successfully righted the economy and made government more efficient, pushing through important reforms to make the British welfare state far more sustainable. They have been by no means perfect, but have certainly been one of the better governments worldwide in recent years on economic policy.
An SNP-Labour coalition would end that. Full stop.
Edited by Fergus Hodgson.