Britain's New Politics
Has the age of coalition dawned in Britain?
TheU.K. Independence Party, Britain's answer to the Tea Party, looks set to win its first seat in Westminster today, after the defection of Douglas Carswell from the Tory party triggered a special election that he is tipped to win. The Scottish Nationalists, invigorated by last month's Independence referendum, may add to their six lawmakers at the expense of Labour. The Green Party may pick up a seat or two, while nationalist parties from Wales and Ireland could benefit at the expense of their bigger rivals.
In his closing address to the Lib Dem conference yesterday, party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg could be forgiven for his optimistic stance on power-sharing. "The soulless pendulum swing of red to blue, blue to red," he said, will oscillate across a third dimension encompassing Lib Dem orange:
This coalition has provided political stability. In my judgement, it is most likely that Britain will have more of them in the future.
The polls back him up. The most recent numbers from YouGov put Labour at 34 percent, the Conservatives at 33 percent, UKIP at 14 percent, the Lib Dems at 7 percent and the Green Party on 6 percent. The survey, which was taken Oct. 7-8 and didn't supply a margin of error, suggests neither of the biggest two parties winning an outright majority in May 2015:
Perhaps this is why the mood at Labour's conference two weeks ago in Manchester was decidedly downbeat. That same YouGov poll showed 37 percent backing Tory David Cameron as the best prime minister, with just 18 percent supporting Labour leader Ed Miliband. It's too late, though, for Labour to ditch its pilot, who has steered a course away from the middle ground toward left-leaning policies such as a so-called mansion tax on properties worth more than 2 million pounds ($3.2 million pounds).
True, the atmosphere at last week's Conservative conference in Birmingham was doggedly optimistic. But consider: The economy is recovering just in time for the Tories to be able to claim that its program of austerity was the right post-crisis choice, with the International Monetary Fund predicting an expansion of 3.2 percent this year, the fastest in the Group of Seven.
And while the Tories are uncomfortable with coalition, I'm willing to bet that no matter how many seats UKIP manages to steal with its anti-Europe, anti-immigration rhetoric, the post-election landscape will see a repeat of the current coalition. For the Conservative leadership, it will be a case of better-the-devil-you-know -- with the Lib Dems holding a just-powerful-enough 30-odd seats amid the growing number of fourth, fifth and sixth parties gaining ground.
All of which is to say: After decades of binary election results, the current peculiarities of the U.K. political scene raise the distinct possibility that the next parliament will be more of a kaleidoscope and the post-World War II era of two-party rule could be coming to a fractured close.
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