On Thursday 7th May 2015, there will be a general election in the UK.
And then, short of hugely unlikely circumstances, there will not be another general election til 7th May 2020. (Or, with the approval of the House of Commons, any time up to two months later.)
There can only be a general election earlier than 7th May 2020 if either a majority vote in the Commons agrees “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government” and a saving majority is not found within fourteen days: or if at least 434 MPs vote to call an early parliamentary general election.
Neither is a likely option. If a party can command the loyalty of 434 MPs they have a 109+ majority in the Commons and are very unlikely to want an early general election.
So whichever party manages to form a government – either by winning at least 325 seats (since Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats in the Commons, 325 is a working – if tiny – majority) or by forming a coalition which gives them a voting majority, that is the government for the next five years.
Nor can the parties expect to be allowed even a tenth of Belgium’s comfortable 535-day coalition-forming process.
The Conservatives and Labour will be the two largest parties. The Conservatives haven’t managed to win a Parliamentary majority since 1992, and there is no reason to suppose that 2015 will break their duck. Labour was looking fairly comfortable for a working majority, until, well, this.
The Telegraph and the Daily Mail would like to see the SNP winning a majority in Scotland because this would increase the chances that Labour cannot win a substantive majority at Westminster. Hence the optimistic headlines about the SNP winning “54 out of 59 seats”.
My own thoughts are (as of tonight) much more along the inherent conservatism on British politics.
I agree with the “rash prediction” at Better Nation that UKIP won’t get enough seats to be anyone’s coalition partner, let alone the Tories: they may have five MPs after May 2015, according to bookie predictions, but they’re not likely to have more, no matter how much the BBC and the Times and other mainstream media talk UKIP up as major contenders. UKIP may join Sinn Fein and DUP and Plaid Cymru in the less-than-ten corner. (Or they might be back down to one, since I admit Douglas Carswell clearly has staying power.)
The Green vote will increase, but I don’t think the number of MPs will, which is a pity. (I intend to vote Scottish Green, unless the candidate for MP in my constituency is really hopeless.)
The LibDems and the SNP are the two coalition dancing partners for either the Tories or Labour in May 2015, assuming neither party gets an overall majority.
The SNP won’t dance with the Tories, because that would be political suicide for them in Scotland. (George Eaton thinks that’s an “awkward question” for Alex Salmond, evidently having missed even a most basic point in Scottish politics: Alex Salmond isn’t the leader of the SNP.)
The LibDems will try to look like they would dance with either Labour or the Tories, but given the majority of the LibDem MPs left in Parliament after May 2015 will be from their right-wing constituencies, they are (as George Eaton also notes; he’s not stupid, merely profoundly ignorant of Scottish politics) doing an awkward dance of display around left-wing politics hoping that the left-ish voters in the constituencies where it’s a choice between LibDem and Tory will, once again, hold their noses and vote LibDem sooner than let a Tory in. That the LibDems so elected are most likely to support another Tory-LibDem coalition is something the LibDem MPs in those constituencies are evidently hoping the left-ish tactical voters don’t think of or decide to disregard in favour of trying to increase a Labour majority.
The SNP won’t dance with the Tories. The Scottish LibDems may have known in May 2010 that their party doing so would mean their eventual demolition in Scotland – they will be lucky to retain a single MP after May 2015 (and Alistair Carmichael only because in the Orkneys and Shetland they like Labour, the Tories, and the SNP worse).
The SNP might dance with Labour – and Labour might need to dance with the SNP.
Whether that dance would be “confidence and supply” or “coalition”, if the SNP were to be any use to Labour as coalition partners, the SNP would have to abandon their claim that they never vote on English issues. (They do, of course, when it suits them: see tuition fees. And not, of course, when it doesn’t: see equal marriage. The SNP was the second-largest party in Westminster to register 100% no-support for lifting the ban on same-sex marriage recognition – and the possibility of pensions equality for same-sex couples across the UK – because human rights for LGBT people were not a priority for the SNP next to the crucial value a party in their position has to have at Westminster: party discipline.)
If the SNP had allowed their six MPs the right to a free vote on same-sex marriage at Westminster, it would have spoiled their reputation for party unity and discipline: two at least would have voted for, one at least would have voted against or never represented the Western Isles again.
Whether the SNP is the third or the fourth party at Westminster – whether they have 19 MPs or 54 (and I think 19 is more likely than 54, just as I think the LibDems are more likely to fall to 25 MPs than to a dozen) – the SNP will need to be able to offer MPs who will obey a three-line Whip against all their political principles – just as Labour expects its MPs to obey a three-line Whip to abstain on workfare or vote for a Tory welfare cap on demand.
Because that’s the Westminster dance. It’s a conservative pattern.