The 2016 General Election – what it will look like

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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.

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9 thoughts on “The 2016 General Election – what it will look like

  1. Elliot says:

    Interesting blog Paul, and I agree it’s an unpredictable, interesting and exciting time politically (although I probably prefer things to be a little more dull and predictable when it comes to our government).

    Anyway, you leave out any impact that an EU referendum will have. The likelihood is that UKIP’s few MPs plus the Conservatives will go for a referendum in 2016 or 2017. A new election will have to wait until that result. And if it’s Brexit, what do you think will happen to UKIP after that? Won’t they be a little pointless once “we’ve got our country back”?

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    • Actually I don’t think the EU referendum could happen if the result is inconclusive. UKIP don’t want the referendum in 2017, as they don’t think the public are ready to vote NO yet (the only circumstance in which they would want a referendum). So I would argue they would prefer Labour to be in government so there isn’t one in 2017, allowing them to grow in popularity, including the realignment of politics I have talked about and get 100 MPs in 2020 with the new right aligned party having slung mud at Labour and the EU for another 5 years. In this sense, UKIP are like the SNP, who won’t get what they want unless there is a Tory government at Westminster giving them red meat to chew on before getting to the bone of another independence referendum

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      • Elliot says:

        Not sure I completely agree that the public will vote “no” – think the EU’s at the lowest ebb it’s likely to be. It has to reform pretty soon. But let’s see what happens!

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      • By “No” do you mean No to leaving or No to staying in?

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      • Elliot says:

        Good point – to be clear – I think the public will vote to leave. But I think the question will be designed so the “yes” campaign are to stay in. Gives that advantage of positivity (not that it worked in Scotland)

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      • But I think it DID work in Scotland. I think it was terrible mistake to have made the Yes vote the one to leave the UK. It made it too easy to label any naysayers as negative even if they weren’t. If the government wants to stay in they will make sure that the question is “Should the UK stay in the EU”, not “Should the UK leave the EU”. I actually DON’T think the public will vote to leave at the moment. They aren’t ready or convinced that it will benefit the UK to do so. Give 5 more years without a referendum and more months like the past one and we’ll get there. This is why I don’t think UKIP want an referendum now

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  2. Ray says:

    Really persuasive blog Paul, and I would love to see your scenario come to pass but I worry about the risk averse nature of UK voters.
    When the Falklands war broke out, the substantial poll support for the (then newly formed) SDP collapsed. Our existing “centre” party, Liberal Democrats, will be punished in May for its coalition with the Conservatives.
    For that reason, politicians are likely to want to – at best – refine , re define and re position the existing “brands” !!

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    • Which is what would normally happen – but on this occasion I don’t think there is a refined position – with the parties so internally split AND, significantly for the first time – parties on the left and right where they COULD go

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  3. Luc says:

    As someone who would finally be eligible to vote by 2016, I also find your prediction exciting. As a younger member of the public I would say by shaking up the current parties we have now into what you described in 2020 we would definitely see a rise in interest in politics from my generation. Even if one was not informed in current political issues, the negative stereotypes of the current parties certainly drive younger people away from voting.
    However do you think all the different groups with all their different agendas would combine so conveniently into the three parties that you described as soon as 2020? It seems to me it would take much longer for that kind of organisation.

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