So many parties, so many opinions, so many TV debates. The UK’s May general election is shaping up to be a cliff-hanger, rather like the Scottish independence referendum. But there’s a big structural shift afoot in UK politics, away from the dominance of the Labour and Conservative big beasts towards the emergence of parties which, although small in terms of potential MPs, yield considerable power when it comes to forming a government.
It used to be the LibDems, but now we have a plethora of smaller parties to choose from, including UKIP, the Greens and of course the SNP. UK politics has fractured, and with it the old certainty that you would end up with either a Labour or a Conservative government. To wield power in this political melting pot, the big beasts will have to snuggle up to the wee furry animals they once devoured. Coalition government is the order of the day, and it looks like staying that way for years to come.
Is the demise of the old two-party horse race, and the advent of frenetic coalition horse-trading, a bad thing? I think not. The UK has suffered from extreme lurches between left and right politics, from nationalisation to privatisation. Every time the boundaries of the market are redrawn by a fresh clutch of ideologues, crucial sectors like health and education get caught up in the crossfire. Reform follows reform, while frontline staff like teachers, nurses and doctors are left to pick up the pieces.
Coalition necessitates compromise, and compromise smooths away the rough edges of political extremes. But what if, you might ask, the Conservatives ally with UKIP? Not a lot of smooth moderation there. But it’s not so easy for David to walk down the aisle with Nigel. Already Labour are appealing to moderate pro-EU Conservatives to come and join them. It’s a strange irony, but as UK politics becomes more fractured and uncertain, political policy could become more stable.