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Expert Comment: The Changing Political Landscape

Election Day Wednesday 29 April 2015

In the second of his series of expert comments on the forthcoming election, Senior Honorary Research Fellow and former Professor of Politics, Professor Bill Jones, considers the changes in the political landscape that have brought us to this point and the strong possibility of a hung parliament.

Five Year Parliamentary Terms

The Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011, introduced a completely new element into British politics. Traditionally it was prime ministers who chose the election day - often criticised for the advantage it gave to PMs being able to time elections to coincide with favourable economic circumstances. However, when the Coalition was set up in May 2010, this new arrangement was meant to bind them in together and prevent either side abandoning the partnership. As a result, according to Lord Philip Norton there are only three conditions under which a second election could take place in 2015 or indeed at any point within the five-year term stipulated by the Act: "(1) If the House of Commons passes the motion ‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’ and, if within 14 days, no government has been formed and gained a motion of confidence from the House.  The motion of no confidence requires only a simple majority to be carried; (2) The House votes, by a two-thirds majority of all MPs (not simply a two-thirds of those voting), that there shall be an early election; and (3) The Act itself is amended or replaced."

Fragmentation of Political Parties

May 2010 saw the drawing into government of Britain's traditional 'third party' but in the present day we have seen the strengthening of nationalist parties, plus, on the right, UKIP and the left, the Greens.  This means that the ability of either Labour or Tories to win half of the Commons' seats is hugely reduced, thus making coalitions increasingly likely.

Devolution

Devolution was introduced in the 1970s partly to draw the sting of the nationalists' appeal. However it has ultimately nourished this appeal as evidenced by  the Referendum on Scottish Independence, 18th September 2014. That cause was defeated 55-45 but  the enthusiasm of SNP supporters did not fade away after their defeat, rather it grew astonishingly, with party membership easily exceeding 100,000 by March 2015. This means that Labour's hegemony of Scottish seats - 41 out of the 59 in 2010 - will end on 7th May.

Coalition Government

Few gave the 2010 coalition arrangement more than a few months before its collapse. However, it has survived its full term and on balance has proved a reasonably strong administration. Polls show it has not been popular but, given the growth of additional parties likely to win seats, it is very hard to see either of the two big parties winning overall majorities. The fact that Britain has had a coalition government will have changed our political culture to accept they can happen and can work, even if not to high levels of satisfaction.  

 

The next part of Professor Jones’s expert comment will appear next Monday, with the final part of the series published on election day.

Read the first part of the series: ‘The Underlying Changes in Politics’

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