British General Election: The Game of Votes

Lord Howell

The final campaign has started for the next UK General Election on May 7th. Who will win? Nobody knows and any opinion is bound to be a mixture of clear analysis and hope!

The two main parties – Conservative and Labour are almost even in the opinion polls and the minor parties, notably the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) are attracting many votes.

The area where the Conservatives are doing best is on the British economy. The British economy is recovering fast – in contrast to the rest of Europe, although Germany is beginning to grow again. But British growth is the fastest in Europe and the fastest amongst the G7 countries. Employment is at its highest in Britain’s history and many new enterprises are being started.

The outgoing Conservative and Liberal-Democrat Coalition government has also, as it admits, had some luck with the halving of the oil price – which is very welcome. Oil prices will stay well below $100 for some time – especially if the Americans allow sanctions on Iran to be lifted and if the US shale ‘play’ continues, as it will. This will be so even if the mini-war between Saudi-Arabia and Yemen expands into a bigger conflagration.

As the realisation sinks in that oil – and gas –prices will stay low for some time, major upheavals amongst the bigger energy companies can be expected – of which the Shell take-over of BG may be only the first.

But somehow all of the positive economic news is not reflected in the UK opinion polls – yet.

The best guess is that the Conservatives will pull ahead a little in the next three or four weeks – although not enough to give them the overall majority in Parliament they really need. So they will have to form another coalition with somebody (with whom? A diminished Liberal Democratic party again? The right wing Ulster Unionists? The detested UK Independence Party – who may win a handful of seats? Or even some Welsh nationalists?), OR they will have to try to struggle on as a minority government.

This is possible. It becomes a sort of political game of preventing all the opponents uniting and ganging up against you. If the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalists together have more than the Conservatives it will be very difficult to prevent early defeat in a new Parliament and there buy accutane malaysia could then be a second General Election within six months. This could be the worst outcome.

The issues in the campaign are mostly domestic, which is regrettable because the UK is a global power and events outside are in many instances just as important to the country’s welfare and future. Indeed, outside forces shaping the international monetary scene, or global energy trends, or further fighting in the Middle East, or Russian adventurism could in due course prove more decisive than any internal government measures.

The one home-grown issue that could really have an impact is the threat of complete Scottish independence and separation form the rest of the UK. But even here the external effect of a halved crude oil price, shrinking North Sea oil returns and wrecking the economics of a break-away Scotland, could be highly relevant.

But the media and the politicians seem determined to lower the level of debate and keep an inward-looking focus on local concerns. There is some discussion on UK’s relations with the rest of Europe, but so far scarcely any reference to the country’s changing role and position in a fragmenting world.

To sum up, there remains a chance that the Conservatives will get the most votes AND the most seats in Parliament and will be able to form some kind of minority government – at least for a while, possibly as before with Liberal-Democrat support. There is also a good chance that their opponents will find it difficult to combine to destroy the incumbent Conservatives immediately. But tiny shifts could change everything. And while the politicians wrangle and manoeuvre the UK will continue to be run – may be quite well – by its efficient and well-prepared civil service and its main agencies- such as the Bank of England. For a while the political uncertainty may weaken the Sterling, although even that can have its advantages for exporters.

But there can be no doubt that the constitutional and democratic structures of the UK, while they have deep and ancient roots, are about to be severely tested. Meanwhile, the Queen, as Head of State, will remain as a stabilising force on the British throne and life and business will go on. Just for a short while the British may even find that life without a new Government could be tolerable, even pleasant. But not for long.

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