2015 could be one of those years studied by politics students in years to come. Occasionally years of sweeping and dramatic reform come along: 1989, 1917 and 1848 and perhaps 2015 could be added to that list. In Britain, we look ahead to what looks set to be one of the closest and unpredictable election campaigns in our history while Syriza’s success in Greece could kick-start a tidal wave of reform in the Eurozone. This year could be an unprecedented year of change.
The British political landscape hasn’t looked this fragile for some time. The rise of UKIP, the Green Party and the SNP are concrete examples of the widespread rejection of the mainstream. The situation for the Liberal Democrats is very bleak indeed. The latest YouGov poll places the Lib Dems at a mere 6% of the vote and even Nick Clegg’s seat in Sheffield Hallam is under serious threat. The outlook is remarkably different from what we saw in 2010; this year’s result is almost impossible to predict. One thing most commentators can agree on is that a hung parliament is by far the most likely outcome.
This election could be won and lost in Scotland. The SNP have benefitted hugely from Labour’s fall from grace and, at this point, seem to have replaced them as Scotland’s major left-wing party. They look set to wins a huge majority of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats and could even hold the balance of power at Westminster. Labour will struggle to regain the position it once had in Scotland but there is one feather in their cap: they will never be loathed to quite the same extent as the Tories are north of the border. So if there is a hung parliament and if the SNP do hold the balance of power, it would take a brave man to bet on a Conservative government. The dynamic, therefore, is fascinating. The SNP look stronger than ever despite their countrymen rejecting independence while Labour, being badly beaten by the SNP in Scottish seats, could be handed the keys to Downing Street by that very party.
UKIP, so often grabbing the headlines, look set to be a bit-part player rather than the radical alternative to the establishment Nigel Farage would have you believe. They will struggle to get away from the ‘wasted vote’ jibes coming from left and right. The Conservatives argue a UKIP vote will lead to a Labour government while Labour argue the exact opposite. It leaves UKIP stranded in the middle and somewhat undermines their cause. The party rode the crest of a wave in 2014 with Farage rattling the right cages at the right time. However, that momentum could be running out as increased media scrutiny has exposed not only their outrageous gaffs but their lack of organisation and credible candidates. UKIP, despite all the attention, will do well to win more than five seats.
Elections are influenced enormously by the media and with a contest as close as this one, the media’s role is even more important. This is not good news for Ed Miliband. The power of the tabloid press was there for all to see in 1992 when The Sun published one of its most famous headlines. On the day of the election, The Sun’s front page showed the head of the leader of the Labour party, Neil Kinnock, inside a lightbulb and read ‘If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights’. This has gone down in political folklore as Kinnock’s Labour were heavily defeated by John Major’s Conservatives despite how close the contest had been prior to that headline. The Sun even claimed after the result that it was indeed ‘The Sun wot won it’. Ed Miliband’s eccentric characteristics leave him vulnerable to the Tory leaning papers and in such a close contest, he could be victimised in a similar way.
The 2015 election is too close to call. UKIP could cause a stir but realistically look more likely to be a case of empty vessels making the most noise rather than a genuine threat to the established parties. The state of the Eurozone needs to be monitored with watchful eyes as controversy either way could dramatically change public opinion domestically and change the minds of swing-voters. The Tory media will do its best to keep power in David Cameron’s hands but ultimately it could well be the Scots who decide which leader takes up residence in Downing Street this May.
Image Rights; The Laird of Oldham