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.
- 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.
- 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.