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24th Feb 2024

UK heading for deadlock in close-fought election

  • Thursday's UK election is expected to produce no clear winner and a period of political deadlock (Photo: secretlondon123)

The UK is facing a prolonged period of political deadlock, with opinion polls suggesting that Thursday’s general election will be the closest in decades.

UK voters go to the polls on Thursday (7 May) to elect the Westminster parliament, and, barring a shock late swing, the election will produce the second hung parliament in succession.

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  • (Photo: net_efekt)

A string of opinion polls released on Thursday all put the Conservatives and Labour in a statistical dead-heat on between 33-35 percent, followed by Ukip and the Liberal Democrats on around 12 percent and 8 percent respectively. In Scotland, meanwhile, the Scottish National party, which led the unsuccessful referendum campaign for Scottish independence from the UK last September, is expected to win more than 50 of the 59 Scottish constituencies and hold the balance of power.

The polls suggest that the two major parties will win between 265-280 seats in the 650 member parliament, well short of the 326 MPs required to form a majority. Neither is it obvious how a coalition could be established. The centrist Liberal Democrats, who have governed with David Cameron’s Conservatives since 2010, are set to lose around half their seats, falling to about 30, which would still leave the two parties well short.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has so far refused to entertain the prospect of a formal coalition with the left-leaning SNP. The Conservatives claim that a strong Labour performance would lead to a ‘coalition of chaos’ with the SNP.

The SNP surge is largely at the expense of Labour, which has dominated Scottish politics since the 1960s. In 2010, Labour won 40 seats in Scotland, compared to 6 for the SNP, 12 for the Liberal Democrats, and one for the governing Conservatives, but could conceivably lose all of them. Pollsters YouGov put the SNP on 48 percent compared to Labour’s 28 percent, and 14 percent for the Conservatives.

After narrowly losing September’s referendum campaign, the SNP were given a huge fillip in support when Cameron vowed not to increase the amount of funding transferred from London to Scotland, and intimated that Scottish MPs would be banned from voting on legislation focused on England.

The major parties are preparing themselves for coalition talks starting on Friday but the anticipated difficulties in forming a coalition raise the prospect that a second election will be called later this year.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg faces a tough battle to hold on to his Sheffield seat, while Ukip leader Nigel Farage admitted on Wednesday (6 May) that his “neck was on the chopping block” if he could not defeat the Conservative candidate in South Thanet.

Since winning last May’s European elections and two by-elections in the autumn, Ukip’s challenge to the main parties has waned. They are expected to claim only two or three seats when results are declared in the early hours of Friday morning.

Cameron has promised to continue the austerity policies that dominated his first administration and to hold an ‘in/out’ referendum on EU membership if he remains prime minister. Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats all oppose a referendum, although Clegg has hinted that he could concede a referendum as part of a new coalition deal.

Has the Ukip surge fizzled out?

“All bets are off, the whole thing’s up in the air.” So said Ukip leader Nigel Farage last November after his party won its second by-election in successive months.

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