With less than 100 days until the election, there continues to be uncertainty over who will be our next Prime Minister. And more importantly, in what capacity they will operate. Opinion polls consistently report of a general decline in popularity for both the Conservatives and Labour with the predictions of a winner frequently changing. On 05 February, The Independent reported that Labour held 1.2% lead. The fundamental reason for this lack of clarity is that a significant number of voters feel disconnected from politicians.
As a young Londoner whose rent continues to sky-rocket meaning the likelihood of scraping together a deposit for a ridiculously overpriced home in the future is becoming more of an unlikely feat, I am one of those who fails to see how my needs are being addressed by our leading parties. And I am not alone. People who are waiting on extensive NHS lists for treatment. Families who have to uproot and move their lives in order to attempt to find a good school due to widespread inconsistency within our education system. Individuals who believe their jobs are being challenged by immigration. People from various social backgrounds are feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the main two political parties and are looking for alternative forms of representation.
Cameron and Miliband have been too busy scaremongering to realise the extent of the widespread dissatisfaction among the electorate. This has left a void for minority parties, such as Ukip, to offer alternative options to voters. While electioneering will always be a game which involves name bashing and undermining ones opponent, the Conservatives and Labour should have been attempting to address the needs of voters. Even more so following the failure of either party to secure a majority in parliament in 2010.
Our first past the post electoral system does not favour minority parties. As the popularity of the two leading parties continues to decline however, those parties previously restricted to peripheral positions are becoming of increasingly significant. The likelihood of a majority government being returned in May is improbable. Minority parties will play a somewhat altered role in this election which Miliband and Cameron cannot afford to ignore.
Labour should have had a clear win in this election. People are generally unhappy with the current government and the party should have been able to monopolise on this situation. They are however, being led by Ed Miliband, who realistically could not represent the UK’s interests in the international arena. The fact that Angela Merkel snubbed him on her last visit speaks volumes. His failure to mention the deficit and immigration during his party conference speech reiterates his inadequacy as a capable Prime Minister. Added to the lacklustre image of their leader, following the Scottish referendum, Labour are facing a defection of voters to SNP. Many people in the previous Labour stronghold feel betrayed by the party during the referendum and feel that Sturgeon and her party better represent their needs. The unions are also threatening a move away from Labour following continued dissatisfaction with the party. An uncharismatic leader and the desertion from previous supporters have left the party in a less than favourable position as we approach the election.
Over in the Conservative camp, Cameron has failed to change the party’s image as protecting the rights of the aristocracy and large corporations. The undervaluing of Royal Mail, which could have cost the tax payer up to £1.4bn, led to widespread criticism. Miliband argued that a third of shares were sold to 16 city investors, claiming Cameron was giving his friends “mates rates”. Tensions within the party itself and Cameron’s inability to appease the right wing of the party, who are unhappy with his loop warm attempts to renegotiate the UK’s role in the EU, have also undermined his reputation as leader. With many within his own party calling for him to step down as leader, it is hardly surprising that voters are not filled with confidence in supporting his re-election.
Ukip have managed to gain an estimated 10% rise in vote share since 2010.However, Farage’s campaign is essentially a form of realpolitik. The ideological principles of Ukip are relatively loose with a vast proportion of voters knowing little outside their stance on immigration. What the party has effectively managed to do is tap into widespread discontent. The EU and immigration are two of most contentious issues facing politicians in the upcoming election. While the party may be fast becoming a more socially acceptable BNP, they have effectively tapped into the concerns of voters on these key issues. To many voters, the fact that they addressing these issues is all that matters. The implementation and their other policies are not of concern. Others are more sceptical of the party and are concerned by the values they represent but this in itself will unfortunately not prevent the party from having potential influence over our next government.
Unlike previous generations, voters are no longer aligning themselves with parties for life. Instead, the electorate are taking a much more pragmatic approach. The Conservatives and Labour have failed to address this shift in attitudes and remained inactive as voters turn to alternative forms of representation. The pragmatic approach of SNP, the Green Party and Ukip in targeting individual social groups or specific areas of concern will work in their favour in May.
Whoever is elected has the difficult task of trying to juggle being one of the most powerless prime ministers in recent history. Both Miliband and Cameron are being criticised from within their own party, with calls for both to be replaced after the election. Having to bridge discontent from within their own party and appease the minority parties, which will inevitably hold an increased level of power, means parliamentary gridlock is near on unavoidable.
The failure of leading parties to adapt to the new found pragmatism of voters has led to their demise. Voters feeling increasingly unrepresented have found an outlet outside the two majority parties. The lack of credible options for our next leader has created this environment of political uncertainty. The mould of British politics will be broken by this election with the growing significance of the marginal parties the Conservatives and Labour have long ignored. Within this climate, one thing can be guaranteed as we approach the election – the next few months are going to be tumultuous for British politics.