Sunday 5 April 2015

Election2015: Leaders debate: What I learned

Did you enjoy the leaders debate last week?

I have to admit I was sceptical to begin with. I wasn't sure whether having all 7 party leaders would allow each leader the opportunity to put forward their thoughts and policies on the various issues. I was wrong, in the end I enjoyed it. Perhaps because of the novelty value in the fact we've never seen anything like it in British politics before.

There were no clear winners or losers and things certainly got better after we progressed passed the pre-scripted opening arguments. As entertaining as the debate was, I don't think it will change the opinions or voting intentions of many of those people watching. The leader that perhaps impressed the most (certainly on my twitter feed) was SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

I was impressed and it says a lot about the work both her and her predecessor Alex Salmond have done with the SNP in the last decade that they are now in a position to exert real influence on who governs Britain. It's no surprise that the backlash has emerged with stories alleging that she would prefer David Cameron to remain in Downing Street.

The biggest thing I've taken from last Thursday's debate is that it highlighted quite starkly how British politics has fragmented from the old two party system. We know that no party is going to win an outright majority but it feels like we're entering a new era in British politics where coalitions will now be the norm.

When I think about things objectively I actually think that the Conservatives should win this election. David Cameron is considered a better leader than Ed Miliband, the Tories are seen as being more competent at managing the economy and employment figures are positive with more people in full time employment. Taking this into account why aren't the Tories odds on for victory next month?

It's simple, the Conservative Party is a tainted brand and they're simply not liked. The election victories of Margaret Thatcher may have made the party the dominant force in British politics during the 80s but one of her legacies is to leave a party that many people simply will not vote for. With the Tories unlikely to gain a majority next month, by the time we get to the 2020 election the Tories will have failed to win an election outright for 30 years!

The Labour Party despite not being trusted on the economy and having a leader with an image problem are still popular but they like the Conservatives face an identity crisis. It's unclear what Labour stand for. They're not reaching out beyond their core vote in the way they did under Tony Blair.

The irony is that despite his three election victories, Blair is seen almost as an embarrassment by some figures in the Labour Party. It's as if the New Labour era was some embarrassing episode in the Party's history. They may have elected Miliband to return Labour back to its roots but Labour have been losing support to the SNP in Scotland and both UKIP and the Green Party in England and Wales.

With both major parties dealing with this crisis of identity the smaller parties have been able to take centre stage in a way we've never seen before. The Lib Dems are feeling the squeeze, no longer are they a party of protest when they have been in government for five years - they're going to take a hit in next month's election.

It's tough on them but I actually admire Nick Clegg's decision to go into coalition with the Tories. They had an opportunity to go into power and try and influence change, they're now going to pay for it but they've struggled to tell a story to the public on what they've done and what they currently stand for.

Finally we've seen rise of the protest vote on both the left and right of the political spectrum. UKIP's support has been on the rise for sometime but the level of support for the Green Party has been significant in the last 6 months. So we have the politics of populism and fear verse the politics of idealism. Given the choice I'll always go with the Green's politics of idealism - UKIP's vision of Britain doesn't bare thinking about.

With next month's election being the most difficult to forecast in decades I'm going to foolishly make my own prediction. I predicted a hung parliament back in January 2010 but I can't confidently say my prediction will be correct this time. Here goes.

There will be no proper winners it will be about who can lose the best. The Conservatives will emerge with the biggest number of seats but it will be below 300 and not enough for a majority and probably to few to continue as a minority government. Difficult to see how they could continue in coalition with the depleted Lib Dems so it will be left to Labour to try and form a government with perhaps an informal agreement with the SNP. It will be a mess and something none of us are used to dealing with but I'm sure we'll get used to it.

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