One year from the most and least predictable General Election in UK history

9th May, 2014

For the first time in history, because of the passing of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011, we know that the next General Election will take place exactly five years after the last one, on Thursday May 7th 2015.

In this sense alone, it will be the most predictable election in history (okay, for the constitutional nit pickers among you, there is provision for parliament to dissolve itself earlier, but there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of the Coalition Parties doing this… now there’s a forecast, and hostage to fortune, for you!).

In every other sense, we face possibly the least predictable General Election in history. The two main parties are neck and neck. In the polls Labour has bounced back quickly from a terrible result in 2010 (much more quickly than the Conservatives did after 1997), but the Conservatives have an increasingly benign economic outlook in their favour going forward. Then there are so many wildcards. Will UKIP breakthrough in a Westminster election and/or cut deeply into Conservative support? Can incumbent Lib-Dem MPs outperform their party’s poor showing in the polls? Will the election take place with Scotland having voted for independence 7 months earlier, but still being part of the Union? And, if the Union is lost, will David Cameron still be leading the Conservatives? The most sensible prediction seems to be that there will be a hung parliament, and possibly another coalition of some sort, depending on the precise parliamentary arithmetic.

If the nature of most political polling makes it only fit for forecasting the short term political ‘weather’, two polls published this week perhaps gave us an indication of longer term political ‘climate change’. A Populus poll on support for trade unions made for fascinating reading. It found that most of us feel we have more to fear from big business than overly powerful unions, and that the over 65s are the most anti-union age cohort (the group that can best remember the, literally, dark days of the three day week in the 1970s). Might this point to continued fall-out from the recession and credit crunch of 2008/9 and a rehabilitation of trade unionism within British politics in the longer term (for those of who doubt rehabilitation is required, think how the most obvious and immediate criticism of ‘Red’ Ed Miliband when elected as Labour leader was that he was in hock to the unions)?

The second poll by Opiniom found high levels of public support for the renationalisation of a range of industries from railways, to utilities and the post office. Again, it makes you wonder if one effect of the economic crisis of recent years might have been to move the centre ground of British politics slightly to the left?

All these issues and many more will be debated further at our next Trends Breakfast scheduled for 29th May.

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