2010 saw the rise of the Liberal Democrats. The run up to the General Election saw Nick Clegg become very popular: as a result, the Liberal Democrats were rewarded with a surge in voters, and Parliamentary seats. Three party politics had arrived in Westminster.
During the last few years, Lib Dem support has dwindled. Mr Clegg and the Lib Dems lost credibility during that time, particularly in the furore over university top up fees. All of a sudden, from being a credible third political party, the middle way, and the voice of the liberal 21st century, the Lib Dems over the last Parliament once again returned to their status as a small political party, and very much a junior member of the Coalition. That in itself is a shame, what with the great promise that Mr Clegg and his reinvigorated party showed.
However, the Lib Dems did leave a powerful legacy on the landscape of British politics. Three party politics, and coalition rule, is here to stay in the British Isles. Although the Lib Dems themselves are trailing at the polls, other smaller parties have come to prominence over recent months. Although the Lib Dems have 57 seats currently, UKIP (with 4 MEP’s and 2 MP’s) has had a more vocal election campaign than the embattled Lib Dems. Admittedly, though, most of the UKIP publicity has arisen due to gaffes or the antics of its candidates, as opposed to proper politics.
As regards the traditional major parties, 2015 sees Labour and the Conservatives having effectively lost their dominance and control of the House of Commons. Although the polls, pundits and commentators may disagree in some areas, one matter upon which all sources agree upon is that the result of the May elections will see (once again) a hung Parliament, with neither Labour nor Conservatives able to secure the seats necessary to form a government.
Amidst the spectre of one of the two major parties coming cap in hand to the leaders of Plaid Cymru (Plaid; 1 MEP, and 3MP’s out of 40 Welsh seats in Westminster) or the Scottish National Party (SNP; six Westminster seats currently), the Green Party, or even UKIP, are the squabbles between the respective leaders. In scenes reminiscent of the playground, the various party leaders are refusing to do deals with each other following the election results, or are calling upon other party leaders to work with them to lock out one or other of the two major parties from Downing Street. In a complex series of statements, agreements and disagreements that makes the European alliances prior to World War I look easy, the only consensus between the various parties is in tackling or criticising Nigel Farage and UKIP. However, it is highly likely that whatever Parliament, hung or otherwise, is seen on May 8th, all of the various small parties will be only too eager to negotiate with the party (or parties) who will end up with the most Parliamentary seats, in efforts to secure support and power.
What was started in 2010 is set to continue; coalition politics, in one way or form, are here to stay. In the US, it is either the Republicans or Democrats who end up victorious in any of their plethora of elections. Their northern neighbours, by contrast, as regards their politics have followed the Canadian trend of being half English and half American. Three parties dominate the Canadian political landscape; their differences mean that coalition governments are very rare. However, Ottawa has a system of majority /minority government, where the majority party still has no clear Parliamentary majority, but is still in power. In the UK, that would be a hung Parliament, and efforts would be made to rectify the situation, as happened in 2010. However, in Canada, such a situation is (relatively) normal; the current Conservative government led by the unpopular Stephen Harper has been in minority/majority status since 2006, despite various elections.
In such situations, coalitions are rare. That is also the case for democracies like France, and formerly the UK. With the political upheavals since 2010, the UK is likely copy our Irish neighbours in accidentally adopting a Coalition government of sorts. That is also in line with countries like Japan and Israel.
Despite the practical issues with any coalition, such as the efforts needed to successfully pass legislation, or getting parliamentary consensus, or two differing political ideologies having to compromise on their ideals to achieve government decisions and policies, there are benefits to such a situation. Many academics and theorists consider that most democracies should adopt a coalition, and that a coalition is the most effective form of democracy. That is essentially because the voice of the people has clearly spoken- even if it is unsatisfactory in forming a government. No parliamentary majority, or the need for two or more political parties (or Belgium, where up to six parties gave formed a government) to combine, shows a great level of voter engagement to create such a political mess. The need to form a coalition shows, amongst others, that the people are not merely voting for the larger political parties, but are considering and choosing smaller regional parties (Plaid Cymru) or other political interests (Green Party) to represent them instead. As such, many theorists agree that a coalition is the purest form of democracy
Admittedly this flies on the face of the democracy championed by ancient Athens, in which every man had a say on every public matter, and matters were resolved by a simple majority vote or opinion. Over the millennia, democracy has clearly evolved away from that ideal, towards the ideal of proportional representation instead, as manifested by a coalition or majority/minority rule, so often seen in many democracies today.
With that evolution of democracy in mind, along with the clamour of the regions for more power, and 64 million people in the British Isles fed up with the current political system and leadership, British democracy itself will probably see great change over the next five years.
The first change being that it is unlikey, given public opinion and the polling data, that David Cameron will be driven to Buckingham Palace on the morning of May 8th to ask permission to form a government. The occupant of that car is currently unknown- but it is the choice of all of the people of the United Kingdom. Let us hope that collectively we choose wisely.