UK general election: Right now it is all about avoiding mistakes

Read few comments.


1. With close polls would you say there is something what could give Tories or Labours a decisive lead or basically one month before the elections the parties will first of all focus on avoiding big mistakes during the campaign?

2. It seems the role of smaller parties is bigger in the UK political system, e. g. TV debate with 7 leaders. Is this a trend for the future?


Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in Politics, POLIS, University of Leeds

1. The key at the moment is to try and avoid mistakes. The parties will focus on bringing out their core voters, people who can usually be replied on to vote for them, trying to ensure that they speak to them about policies which they care about to draw them to the polling station. Beyond that, the parties will try and point score to pull floating voters to them, people who might have been considering voting for them but were undecided. They will push their own agenda, policies they think they can make gains on, ignoring policies they think they are weak on or that the other parties are making headway on, and try to draw voters to them that way. There would have to be a cataclysm at this point for either Labour or the Conservatives to win an outright majority, but there are no guarantees in politics. Anything could happen, but it is extremely unlikely.

2. The First Past the Post voting system which is used in Britain is usually disadvantageous for smaller parties. Its key benefit is it tends to create majority governments, which are fairly stable. There have been occasions before where the voting system has not produce a majority, such as February 1974. This minority government (labour) ran until October, when there was another election and they won a small majority. However, unlike 1974, the political system has become more diverse, more parties, more spread of the vote between parties. In the mid-1960s, approx 95% of voters voted for either the Labour or Conservative Party. That figure is now considerably lower, and that is shown in the plethora of smaller parties. It could be that in future the voting system will come under huge pressure and a different system will be adopted in Britain. It could be that the system will remain but coalition and minority governments will become more prevalent. It could be that we have another election in less than a year because of an unstable minority government. At this point, we simply don’t know but it seems likely that some of these parties, perhaps not all but certainly some, are here to stay, such as the SNP, aided by structural changes within Britain (devolution).

Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics, University of Liverpool

1. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour can gain a decisive lead. Both will focus on avoiding big mistakes. Neither party has got big new ideas which can be unleashed upon the electorate at this stage. The Conservatives are being particularly tightly focused, almost exclusively on the economy, because they believe that is the decisive election issue and in the polls they lead Labour on the issue.

2. Yes, smaller parties have flourished because of the dissatisfaction with the main parties. Cameron is taking a big risk, as a Prime Minister with 306 Conservative seats, debating with the small parties with hardly any seats. He could allow UKIP, with only 2 seats, to do him further damage. It seems absurd that UKIP (2 seats) and the Greens (1 seat) are allowed the same airtime tonight as the major parties – but it will be interesting.

Philip Cowley, Professor of Parliamentary Government, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

The seven-leader debate is basically the logical continuation of trends that have been going on in the UK over for 50 or so years, as the British party system has become increasingly fragmented.  In the election of 1955, the two largest parties garnered 97% of the vote. By 2010, that share had fallen to 65%, the lowest since the modern party system began. British voters are less aligned to the parties, more willing to switch, more willing to shop around.

Almost everyone is currently predicting a hung parliament – in which no one party has a majority. Of course, something could happen in the weeks ahead, but campaigns do not usually generate large swings to parties, and so it would have to be something unprecedented.


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