Why the forthcoming General Election will matter

So, the worst-kept secret ever has been made public: there will, as we all pretty much knew, be a UK General Election on Thursday 6 May.  Already, the newspapers are full of minute-by-minute election coverage, and Five Live (which I am listening to as I write this) is discussing the widespread apathy and likely low turnout.

On the face of it, the election campaign looks like it will be a dull one, and the choice across the UK is between three unpopular, vacuous and indistinguishable parties.   I’d agree with that to some extent.  Labour is a tired, discredited and morally bankrupt party of government, while the Conservatives are struggling to define what they stand for (except the probably unfair tag of “posh”), and the Liberal Democrats seem to have lost their radical edge and have nothing distinctive to offer policy-wise.

But yet, this General Election is going to be one of the most fascinating for many, many years; not because the campaign will be thrillingly exciting or because we will have a clear choice on major issues between three distinctive, definable parties.  Instead, it’s more that the impact of the election will be significant.  There are, as far as I can see it, two main reasons why this election will be hugely significant and worth taking an interest in.

  1. Three minor parties, UKIP, the Greens (in England and Wales, at least) and the BNP have a greater chance than ever of gaining a seat in the Westminster Parliament.  Whether you like that prospect or not, even one or two from among their number would radically change the profile and image of the parliament, and would introduce their defining policies to a higher level of scrutiny and coverage in the media.  Just a few votes in a few key constituencies could be the difference between these parties gaining seats or not.
  2. All the good money is on the election delivering a hung parliament, which is pretty understandable given the choice between a discredited government and a disliked opposition.  Or at least, there will be a very slim overall majority for whoever wins.  That means there will inevitably have to be deals with the other parties, primarily including the Liberal Democrats.  If the LibDems hold true to their commitment to proportional representation and use it as a key bargaining tool in any coalition or support talks, then the chances are the next General Election will be by a fair and inclusive voting system.  That has to be good for democracy.

In all probability, then, democracy will fundamentally change in this country as a result of this election.  The journey to the election will be dull and despairing for many people, but the end result will most likely be of hugely important and beneficial consequence for democracy in the UK.

Bring it on.

3 thoughts on “Why the forthcoming General Election will matter

  1. I’m glad people like you and This person here (http://taniakindersley.blogspot.com/) are posting about how this election will matter. It really will.

    I feel quite prepared as it has been a long time coming, so I’ve read up lots on the policies (where available – they take some digging to find!) and am considering my options.

    I think it is the most likely chance my vote will count in this way in my lifetime. Which is odd and exhilarating.

    I’m still not sure how I feel about PR or STV but they are more democratic so I guess I support them (still get confused when I think about the history of them and how they can be abused).

    Anyway, roll on the election. I’ll be interested to read your opinion once it is over.

  2. Thanks Siobhan. It’s good to know there’s someone who’ll be swotting up on who to vote for!

    PR – and especially STV, my favoured form – can indeed be abused, but then so can First Past The Post. Consider, for instance, the hugely unpopular and controversial policies that have been steamrollered through by governments in this country in the last two or three decades who had a minority of votes but – due to the disproportionality of FPTP – had vast parliamentary majorities. The Poll Tax and the war in Iraq are two such issues that spring to mind.

    It’s not really the electoral system that gets abused, it’s the parliament generally; and governments will always try to make the most of whatever system they are in.

  3. Thanks Simon

    I think you are right there that all systems can be abused, and will be.

    I think the ways in which STV can be abused are more obvious, but then that also probably makes it much easier to stop it happening, as it would be obvious if done.

    It is scary that a party who the majority of people did not vote for can have a whopping great majority in parliament. I’d also be intrigued to see what an elected second chamber would look like, as though there are many flaws with the current system, some of the expertise that is held there is highly valuable, and I wonder if the same people who are appointed would stand for election.

    But that is a question that cannot be answered unless it changes.

    It also raises the possibilities you get in the US from time to time with both houses having wildly different political make ups. As long as people are sensible though, and don’t block things for the sake of it, it could be very interesting.

    I’m still sceptical about it happening though, as I have been talking about all of this for the last ten years (when I studied politics) and nothing seems to have really happened.

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