7 May 2015

The CapX guide for anyone just tuning in to the 2015 General Election now


The basics

Today, May 7th, British voters will be heading to the ballot box to determine who will govern the United Kingdom for the next five years, thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011. So who will come out on top? Polls are running tight, and the night, frankly, could go many ways.

The Conservatives and Labour are still neck-and-neck, vying to take the most seats, with the latest BBC Poll Tracker predicting that they will take approximately 67% of the votes combined, which the  First-Past-the-Post system will translate into 80-85% of the seats. What The Economist once described as a “two-and-a-half” party system (the Lib Dems constituting the half) has broken down in the lead up to this election, with formerly minor parties, such as UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP poised to gain an unprecedented amount of power through coalition negotiations.

There will be an exit poll announced at 10, which may give us a pretty good idea of the results, but we won’t know the full result until Friday morning.

Seats to look out for

Sheffield Hallam: Nick Clegg’s own constituency is under threat after a backlash over his U-turn on tuition fees. His Labour opponent, Oliver Coppard, has mobilised students to vote against him. Lord Ashcroft’s poll currently places Clegg two points behind Labour. The results will be announced at 4:30 on Friday morning.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey: the seat of Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is expected to be won by the SNP, who have a current poll of 50% in the constituency. This seat will be announced at 5am on Friday morning.

South Thanet: UKIP leader Nigel Farage is facing a three-way tie in a seat previously held by a Conservative. If he fails to win, he may face a leadership challenge. Last year two Conservative MPs defected to UKIP, one of whom (Douglas Carswell) is likely to be re-elected, which could make him UKIP’s only MP and the obvious choice for leader. We will have to wait until 6am on Friday morning for the result.

The issues

Scotland: Following the Scottish referendum last year, The SNP has been brought to prominence like never before. Polls predict that they will overtake the Liberal Democrats, in terms of number of seats won, making them the third most influential party in the House of Commons. Their leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is a Member of the Scottish Parliament, and not actually running in the general election at all herself. Nonetheless, she has made clear her intention to exert the SNP’s influence over whoever ends up in power.

Cuts: As if proof were needed to show how desperate the parties are becoming, the Lib Dems have released documents which they claim prove that the Tories planned £8bn of cuts to child benefit three years ago. Cameron has strongly rejected the idea, but has come under fire for being vague about his plans to cut £12bn from the welfare budget.

The economy: The Conservatives are of course claiming that the economy has recovered strongly under their leadership,and there will be no more borrowing to pay for government spending by 2018-19. Cameron is warning the electorate that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy, since their plan is only to “balance the current budget defecit”, whilst being happy to borrow more money to invest. According to Capital Economics, a Labour government could borrow £90 billion more that a Tory government under current investment plans. As for the Lib Dems? They stand somewhere in the middle. They also don’t trust Labour with the economy, but they think the Tories are being excessive in their cutbacks in public spending.

The NHS: The Conservatives, still struggling with the legacy of their healthcare reform, which was labelled “complex, confusing and bureaucratic” by The Kings Fund, are trying to avoid the topic of healthcare. Their main pledge is to continue to increase its budget in real terms and provide access to a GP seven days a week by 2020. Labour, on the other hand, want to make health a focal point of the election, having pledged to spend an extra £2.5 billion a year on the NHS to recruit new staff and ensure GP access is more readily available. Under the Lib Dems, NHS funding will be increased by £8bn a year (the same amount as promise by the Conservatives), to be focussed on mental health and prevention rather than cure.

Immigration: The Tories have an “ambition” to cut net immigration to “tens of thousands”. They also plan to prevent immigrants from claiming benefits such as tax credits and housing benefits for four years. Labour believe that “immigration is important for Britain’s future”, but are committed to strengthening border controls and increasing border staff, deterring exploitation of illegal immigrants in the work place and preventing migrants from claiming benefits for two years. Nick Clegg is also a supporter of immigration, although he has advocated restricting Universal Credit payments to migrants for a six month period only and restricting in-work benefits to those migrants working 35 hours a week on minimum wage. And UKIP is running almost entirely on an anti-immigration platform.

The outcomes?

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are being contested, with a majority of 323 required to lead a government (since the five MPs from Sinn Fein traditionally do not take their seats). Under the UK election system, one party tends to win a majority. However, since we are in a current coalition government, and no party has a definitive lead under the unprecedented rise of multi-party politics, another hung parliament seems to inevitable. The question is, who will manage to negotiate a deal?

The Lib Dems have indicated they will talk first to whichever party gains the most seats, but have ruled out the option of being involved in a coalition with the UKIP or the SNP, with Nick Clegg telling supporters he feared establishing a government which would rely on Alex Salmond. Miliband has also ruled ruled out a formal deal with the SNP, as has Cameron.

There are, therefore, three likely options.

  1. Another formal coalition will be formed between two or more parties (most likely Conservative-Lib Dem or Labour-Lib Dem).
  2. An informal agreement will be negotiated, in which smaller parties would support the government in return for some compromises.
  3. A single party minority government will attempt to survive on a vote-by-vote basis.

Which parties will be involved? It is virtually impossible to say with confidence. The numbers have seemed to sway slightly in Ed Miliband’s favour in the weeks leading up to the election. The Tories have somehow failed in recent weeks to increase their vote share, despite many considering Ed Miliband an unsuitable leader figure. But the BBC currently has the Tories polling 1 point ahead of Labour.

We are therefore left with two other, more specific options. Whilst the Tories may well gain more seats, Labour is likely to have more support in the Commons. Former Lib Dem voters turning to Labour and the growth of the SNP (who have vowed to keep the Conservatives out of power), suggest that Miliband will be in the best position to negotiate with enough parties to secure the top job. But the prospect of a Miliband minority government backed up by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP does not fill the electorate with confidence either.

In the end, a government is ‘legitimate’ if and only if it can survive a no-confidence motion. If it fails, the opposition has 14 days to try to form a government. And if that fails too, Britain may be facing another general election before 2015 is over.

How to catch up on election news tonight

CapX will be running a live blog from 10pm, with the latest exit polls, commentary and results. Join us then.

The BBC, CNN, Guardian and Telegraph will all be staying up through the night with breaking updates.

What’s worth staying up for on election night? A guide from Stephen Bush at the New Statesman about which seats are worth waiting for, and when they will be announced.

Abbie Martin is a CapX contributor.