November 18, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
Yes, that isn’t a typo. I do mean that I am expecting there to be a 2016 General Election. Our First-Past-the-Post election system simply cannot handle the current party system and will in 2015 be spitting out a chaotic result from which a stable government simply cannot emerge. The anti-politics sentiment that is pushing so many people to leave Labour or Conservative and vote for a public-school educated investment banker who “just wants his country back” and is spewing out policies he will never have to deliver. The disillusionment of so many Liberal Democrat voters that means they are leaking left (Greens, SNP), right (Conservative) and centre (Labour). The lack of an opposition leader that people can conceive of as Prime Minister, and a rump of the governing party that doesn’t believe in what the leadership believes. I believe that the 2015 general election will deliver a Parliament that is not just hung, but also drawn and quartered.
The result of this will probably need to be a second election nearby. We had to have one in 1951 after the election in 1950 was so close, we had to have one in 1966 after the one in 1964 only gave Harold Wilson a four seat majority, and we had to have one in November 1974 after the one in February hadn’t produced a winner. The difference then however was that we had two dominant parties and a country that was basically evenly split between them. We don’t have that now. Our country is divided hugely now, and so are politicians. This is why I believe that should there be an inconclusive result next May the 2016 election may involve three new main parties.
The reason I think this is because the splits in the Conservative Party and Labour Party are becoming unmanageable. The Conservatives contain right-wing Eurosceptics like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab but also almost left-of-centre ‘Christian Democrats’ (think liberal conservatives with a social conscience) like Ken Clarke, Robert Buckland, Richard Chalk and, yes, David Cameron. Labour contains hard-left diehards such as Dennis Skinner and Simon Danczuk alongside Centrist Blairites and Brownites such as Chukka Umunna and Yvette Cooper. They are trying to pull the parties in different directions but instead they are pulling them apart.
It has always been the case that the main parties are essentially ‘catch-all’ ideological vessels containing a grand coalition of broadly left-wing (Labour) and broadly right-wing (Conservatives) politicians. But that was because there was nowhere for the extremes of the parties to go, and no challenges from smaller parties to worry about. Our election system meant that smaller parties had little chance of a seat at Westminster – so it was better to stay with the big guns.
But right-wing Conservatives now see both a challenge and an opportunity in the rise of UKIP as potentially a serious political force. They may be challenged for their seats, but there is also an opportunity to justify dragging their party to the right, where many in it don’t want to go. Furthermore, many of those Conservatives are tempted to join UKIP, who do seem like they will get a number of seats next year, but are uncomfortable with the risk involved.
Left-wing Labourites see a challenge both from UKIP (who are talking to “their” working class base in a clearer way than they are) and from the SNP (who may take seats from them in Scotland) and the Greens. I’m not sure the challenge from UKIP will hold up, as their actual policies so clearly don’t favour those working class communities they are talking to. But the SNP challenge is serious – and offers a place for Scottish Labour voters to go, and, dare I say it, Scottish Labour politicians to go too (watch out for that should Jim Murphy win the Scottish Labour leadership election).
I also think that should the chaos I have talked about ensue, that will spell the end for all the major party leaders. Cameron for losing control of Downing Street, Clegg for losing the point of voting Lib Dems, Miliband for just not being leadership material, and possibly Nigel Farage, who will have achieved much, but, rumour has it is suffering from his 2010 plane crash injuries more than he lets on.
Because of this, I predict that, by 2020 if not by 2016, we will see three main parties emerge, with a great deal more ideological cohesion than exists today:
1) A Right-wing party consisting of UKIP and right-wing Conservatives (of whom there are about 100), implacable on the EU and immigration and supportive of free-market policies as much as possible. This will most likely be led by a current Tory like Dominic Raab or Phillip Hollobone who definitely leads in that direction and also understands how Westminster works.
2) A centrist party consisting of centre-right and centre-left – so Blairite Labour MPs, members of the Progress think tank, but also more “One Nation” Tories who believe more in social justice within an economic system which isn’t too state controlled. To these I would add some “Orange” book Lib Dems, such as David Laws and Nick Clegg, who seem to fuse together centre-right and centre-left thinking. This party could be led by Boris Johnson, or perhaps by George Osborne (neither of whom are as right-wing as they are painted), but even possibly by Chuka Umunna or Yvette Cooper.
3) A left-wing party consisting of left-wing Labourites, left-wing Lib Dems, Greens and with a direct association with the SNP and Plaid Cymru (who wouldn’t necessarily join properly due to their nationalist objectives). This would be now free to push for redistribution, nationalization, nuclear disarmament without being held back by the centre-left’s need for risk-averse electioneering. This could be led by Tim Farron or perhaps Jon Cruddas or even Andy Burnham.
This would be a massive change in British politics – the last of which was seen with the growth of the Labour Party from being founded in 1903 to achieving a majority government in 1945. This might lead also to a change to a more appropriate election system too.
In my lifetime, politics has never been more unpredictable, interesting and exciting.