THE BLOG

Why Are We All So Confused By the Election?

06/05/2015 11:18 BST | Updated 06/05/2016 10:59 BST

With campaigning coming to an end, it appears that we are about to enter a period of total confusion. Whilst the parties are all claiming legitimacy in advance of the election result, the only outcome that will deliver certainty is a majority but looks extremely unlikely. The confusion on the part of the electorate is reflected in confusion amongst our politicians.

According to reports, Labour are consulting lawyers about the Fixed Term Parliament Act and what their options are if they were to come second in terms of seats. The most shocking thing about this is not that Labour is considering its options but that the legislation is considered far from clear. If politicians do not understand how it works then how is the electorate expected to understand it? Especially when they do not have the benefit of external advice!

Consistently, the outcome that people do not want is another coalition. All the polls are pointing to exactly that outcome.

The parties may be worrying about the legitimacy of a potential coalition involving themselves and others but the electorate are worrying about the legitimacy of a coalition altogether.

The Lib Dems have at least, for this election, realised that the only chance they have is to act as a partner in a Coalition. In 2010, they promised that a vote for them would 'mean(s) the end of the stitch-up between the two old parties' but a political stitch-up is what people are worried about in 2015. Only two days before the election have the Lib Dems confirmed that they will give the largest party in terms of seats the chance to form a government.

A Coalition takes us exactly into the territory that people do not want - trusting politicians to form a Government in a potentially complex post-election environment. Conservatives may hark back to the 'beer and sandwiches' of Labour and the trade unions in the 1970s but 'lattes and sushi' would appear to be little better as a decision-making process.

The parties themselves too are confused. MPs of all parties do not quite know what to do. The Lib Dems have announced a process which binds the wider party into an agreement but this needs to be factored into the timescales for an agreement. Conservative MPs are unlikely to be happy missing out on Government jobs for a second time so a deal, even between the same partners again, could be a challenge.

The SNP meanwhile are attempting to impose a requirement on a new Government to reflect the wishes of all the nations of the UK. This is not something that has ever been needed before and is not something that is required now. Ironically it may give a Government more legitimacy in the eyes of the Scottish electorate but less in the eyes of voters elsewhere. Also if the Conservatives form the largest party where is the legitimacy in the SNP deciding in advance not to deal with the largest party?

There has been little consideration to date of the potential implications of the number of seats gained by the smaller parties. Aside from headlines focused on 'wipe-out' what happens if the SNP has more seats than the Lib Dems is not clear. Would one have first refusal on their preferred partners. Legitimacy does not only apply to who wins. If Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg lose their seats could there be confusion as to who negotiates and a possible change of emphasis over who they would prefer to do a deal with?

As Election Day approaches, media questions have been increasingly focused on red lines. But this assumes that it is the smaller parties that get to dictate what they will or will not compromise over. Labour and the Conservatives have now started to say what they will not compromise over either. Despite Labour saying that they will not do a deal with the SNP is has not stopped the media and not the Conservative Party from campaigning on the fear of Labour and the SNP come together in some way.

As a result of all this, thee could have been a change in position on electoral reform. Whilst the referendum held in 2011 showed that approaching 70% of those who voted rejected the AV option on offer, according to a recent poll a majority now support a PR voting system.

The actual campaign itself will not have helped matters either. Despite manifestos having been issued, all the parties have subsequently made a near constant stream of policy announcements. You need to be following the campaign nearly full time to work out what each party is actually promising to do.

The campaign itself has been more closely managed than any other. The is speculation that there is more movement and activity away from the national spotlight, in the seats themselves. The Ashcroft polling has been very interesting in this context and is helping to add much more local nuance to the otherwise static national picture.

The most critical change of the election may be the end of the national political party. Aside from the explicitly nationalist parties who do not run for seats outside of their own countries, the big two and a half may end up representing only parts of the UK. Whilst that may not be new for the Conservatives post 1997, the others have always drawn support from across the electorate nationally. An often overlooked aspect of the Coalition is that it has provided the Conservatives with that wider legitimacy, otherwise it would have operated as a largely English only party since 2010.

So it's not just the outcome of the election that will inform the nature of the next government but where the seats are, who is still in positions of power, what the reaction of the media is and how the City (including ever publicly popular bankers) react. No wonder everyone seems confused.