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Saturday 21 February 2015

Who will govern after 7 May 2015? Readers' opinions

This year’s General Election promises to be the most unpredictable in living memory. For months, as assiduously documented by UK Polling Report, opinion polls have shown a narrow gap between the two leading parties – Labour and Conservative – with the former generally maintaining a narrow lead over the latter. However, this promises to be no typical General Election, for politics in the UK is no longer the traditional two-horse race that dominated the twentieth century after the demise of Lloyd George’s Liberal Party. Old party loyalties have frayed, with many voters displaying an increasing willingness to lend their votes to newer smaller parties, despite the limitations placed on their likely success imposed by the first-past-the-post system (with the exception of the SNP in this respect).

Labour, having sowed the seed of devolution, are shortly, it would seem, about to reap the whirlwind. Following the SNP’s defeat in the independence referendum but subsequent victory in Scottish opinion polls, we could be about to witness the death of the Labour Party as a national force as its MPs in Scotland are swept away by a rising nationalist tide. The Conservative Party has already undergone this process, having effectively become a party restricted to England and Wales. Given the projections relating to the SNP’s likely share of the vote in Scotland, with its rise in popularity being largely at the expense of Labour, Miliband’s party could be heading for near electoral wipeout north of the border in May. Nonetheless, it is clear that the SNP would make for natural bedfellows with Labour rather than the Conservatives. A minority Labour administration propped up by the SNP is a highly plausible scenario, as well as the least desirable, for Labour has indicated that it is in ‘principle’ against the concept of English votes for English laws, which whilst anti-democratic, plays into the narrow self-interest of the Labour Party. We could well therefore witness a situation in which Scotland effectively holds the rest of the Union to ransom, with the SNP exacting as many financial concessions as possible from Westminster, whilst facilitating the implementation of policies not supported by the majority of the electorate in England or Wales. The SNP leadership probably realises that such a tactic would also cause such an adverse reaction in England that it would prompt mass English support for Scottish independence, so as to be rid of an interfering deadweight. However, quite what the recent OPEC-engineered slump in oil prices will do to the long-term fortunes of the SNP and their budgetary credibility, remains to be seen.

A couple of weeks’ ago, a poll was opened to blog readers to gauge their opinions as to the likely shape of our next Government. Unsurprisingly, few believed that a majority Government will emerge on 8 May: some 7% stated that they believed we would have a Labour majority, whereas 14% thought that a majority Conservative administration would be returned. Readers were presented with a wide range of coalition options to choose from, as well as ‘some other configuration’. A total of 14% of respondents opted for this latter category, so perhaps they are placing their faith in the rather distant prospects of majority Liberal Democrat, UKIP or Green administrations.

Readers clearly did not share the view of the pollsters which currently indicate a Labour-SNP coalition as the most likely outcome, as only 7% selected this as the likely result. Even more surprisingly, perhaps, is that nobody thought that there would be the likelihood of a continuation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. The second most likely outcome of the General Election was adjudged by 21% of respondents to be a Labour Coalition with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. Topping the list of likely outcomes, securing 28% of this poll’s vote, was a Conservative Coalition with UKIP.

The only clear conclusion that can be drawn either from this readers’ poll, or from national opinion polls, is that there is massive uncertainty around the outcome of the next General Election. A new poll opens today, gauging readers’ opinions as to how many MPs they believe UKIP will have on 8 May.

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