We’re fifty days away from the general election, and it’s starting to feel a lot like nobody particularly wants to win it. Sure, the various parties are making the right noises, beating their drums and trying to make themselves look the most attractive, but there’s a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
Perhaps it’s the long campaign. We’re not really set up for it in Britain. We’re used to shorter campaigns built around elections that are called either because the incumbent party knows it can win, or because the same party has run up against the term limit and has no choice in the matter. This time around it would likely have been the latter, had we not been locked into a set date at the start of the parliament.
The biggest problem this time around is that the election is pretty much unwinnable. Neither of the big two parties are particularly popular at the moment and both are finding it hard to get anywhere near an outright majority. The Lib Dems, who could possibly have hoped to benefit by being king-maker in a hung parliament again are facing a bloodbath at the election thanks to horribly misjudging their role in the coalition, making the electoral maths a bit of a headache.
After the election it looks like whoever manages to put together a government will have to do a deal with the SNP, which makes a Labour government more likely. The current polling numbers suggest that even with the ‘confidence and supply’ deal that’s being touted, Labour would probably also need to bring to in the Lib Dems.
The Lib Dems, for their part, have been making noises about supporting the party with the most MPs, which currently looks set to be the Conservatives. The Conservatives have next to no chance of doing deal with the SNP, and may possibly try to bring in the DUP to prop them up, but that looks unlikely as well. UKIP are unlikely to have enough MPs to make any real difference, and the Greens are in a similar boat.
Therefore the SNP look like being the king-makers this time around, but they have their own problems. They can’t afford to go into coalition, as they’d find it harder to argue for further devolution of powers to Scotland if they had a genuine influence at Westminster. The most likely outcome is them propping up a minority government. That brings further problems.
The SNP can’t support a Conservative government, not with the Holyrood elections in 2016. One of the arguments for independence was that Scotland didn’t elect the Conservatives in but found themselves governed by them anyway. It would be political suicide to then support a government that they consider unrepresentative.
The SNP look likely to have to support Labour, who have policies closer to theirs. In that event, they run the risk of a Labour government being seen to be good for Scotland, potentially undermining the argument for independence and giving Scottish Labour a boost ahead of the Holyrood elections.
With all of this going on, it’s not too surprising that there seems to be little enthusiasm for winning the election, since whoever walks into Downing Street in May is likely to be drinking from a poisoned chalice. Both Labour and the Conservatives would likely rather lose outright and be out of power for a term than face the headache and potential electoral punishment that will follow.
For those of us who view politics as a spectator sport, this is a fascinating campaign. It’d just be nice if they put some effort into it.