On Britain's unusual elections

Michael Mulligan
Thursday 7 May 2015

Neither of the two traditionally leading UK political parties looks set to gain a majority in this week's general elections, while voter turnout is also almost sure to drop significantly

The elections in the UK that take place 7 May are unusual for many reasons. First, is the fact that likely neither of the two parties that have dominated British politics since the 1920s will gain a majority of seats in the House of Commons. Second, voter turnout may be a record low.

These occurrences are not mutually exclusive. The number of people voting has been decreasing since 1992. Furthermore, there has been a general lack of enthusiasm for the managerial-style politics on which both the Conservative and Labour parties have campaigned and governed since 1997. 

The economic crisis of 2007-2008 left the majority of people worse off while the UK has seen an increase in the gap between the richest and the rest, as policies implemented after 2008 to combat the financial crisis have largely benefitted the well-off, namely the deliberate stoking of an asset bubble.

The result is a sense of disillusionment. Young people have had a particularly difficult time, with the trebling of university tuition fees to £9000 per annum coupled with a rise in house prices, which has made it difficult for all by the wealthiest to buy a home. 

For older voters the main considerations are the state of the economy (in which wages are only just beginning to rise after seven years) and the costs of healthcare. With ageing populations, the provision of social care is a key issue in all European countries, but arguably most acute in the UK because of different social factors, such as the decline of extended family networks.

Faced with the choice between a Labour Party that presided over the worst of the economic crisis after 2007, and a Conservative government that is mistrusted, people have instead turned to smaller parties — the anti-European UKIP, the Green Party and the Scottish Nationalists.

It is likely that one of these will act as king-maker to any new government; a government that will face an unbalanced economy, over reliance on the City of London, rising health costs and a referendum on Britain’s future in the European Union. Yet more questions than political answers lie ahead.   

The writer is a lecturer in political science at the British University in Egypt (BUE).

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