We are now a month on from the 2015 general election, the result of which many commentators and pundits managed to call with an accuracy that would make a tabloid journalist wince, and already it is time to start thinking about the next. I don’t say this too seriously but rather to complement the raft of articles already published since the 7th May outlining how events happening now will impact on the result of the next General Election – 7th May 2020.
William Hill already have the odds (at the time of writing) at 6/5 for No Overall Majority and 6/4 for a Conservative majority. Now I am by no means suggesting that betting agents are making a serious prediction of the next general election result five years out, nor that the commentators who are talking about how current events will impact on the result doing anything other than their job, yet it remains that so much will go on in the next five years that any suggestion at an outcome is little better than pointless. This article then, before accusations of hypocrisy rise from your thoughts like the palpable sadness from an embarrassed opinion pollster, is more of an assessment of why any meaningful predictions based on current events are hazardous to make.
Firstly, the big question that will be put to the people of the UK, is a referendum on our membership of the European Union. One lesson from Scotland is that a referendum on an issue doesn’t necessarily put said issue to bed. Given that UKIP came second in 125 constituencies, could the referendum campaign give the party ever increasing prominence? It is certainly possible. Arguably Labour’s association with the other parties in the Better Together Campaign was the final nail in their coffin of Scottish woes in the eyes of many of their traditional base. If David Cameron, regardless of what he manages to negotiate backs staying in the EU, then it could be the last straw for Eurosceptics in the ranks of Tory voters. Equally Ukip did significant damage to Labour in the north of England, there are Labour voters and members who don’t like the EU, or what it will likely be associated with in the campaign, “open door immigration.” They could move to Ukip too.
The difficulties of the European question don’t end there. The Conservative party, though it has the potential to be in power for another term, may find it struggles to get through this one. John Major struggled with his backbenchers in relation to Europe, and it remains the case that a significant minority of Tory MPs would be unhappy with the leadership campaigning to remain in the Union without proper reform. This has the potential to split the party, something which would make a Blue victory in 2020 somewhat less likely.
Furthermore Labour will have a new leader. Currently there are three prominent forerunners; Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham. All are strong candidates, albeit with weaknesses (either too little experience or too much), and could lead the party into revival. Having taken the least number of seats since 1983, Labour is perhaps not likely to be governing alone after 2020, but a new and dynamic leader coupled with a new programme could mean the party stands a real chance of leaving opposition.
The SNP landslide in Scotland was nothing short of remarkable. It is difficult to see how Labour can crawl back to pre-eminence. Whilst there is a new Scottish devolution bill being put forward it is by the Conservative government, not Labour. Equally the SNP can claim it is only being done because of their presence or if it doesn’t go far enough, as they can say even if it does, they can explain to the voters of Scotland why they need to remain there to secure a better deal.
In addition to this, another Tory majority is not impossible. The constituency boundary reforms that were blocked by the Liberal Democrats will likely now take place. This is not the Tories being wholly self-serving, the current set up means that the electorate in some constituencies is wildly smaller than others meaning certain parties can win more seats with lower vote shares. Regardless it could mean that the Tories can maintain a grip on power come 2020.
Finally, a Liberal Democrat Revival is eminently possible under a new leader. Despite the hammering they took on the 7th May there is a feeling among many that a centrist voice is needed – a view evidently held by the more than 12,000 new members they have gained since the election. There might not be a streak of Lib Dem yellow in government again anytime soon, but the party has taken electoral wounds before and come back from the brink.
Though dealt with briefly, each of these elements come together to explain why the result of the next election is so hard to even begin to predict. With so much going on in between now and then is there any great point in trying to link every current event to the 2020 result? A lot will happen in five years, personally, I’m calling it for the Greens.
By Andrew Mckendrick
[image credit: Coventry City Council]