Why? Because, for the first time ever, there will be more than three parties that could all potentially be part of a government following this election.
Is this why they keep arguing over the debates?
Yes. The first ever UK leaders debates were held before the last election in 2010 to high praise, and the performance of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg led to his party’s performance in the polls to massively improve…not that they did any better at the ballot box.
This time, there will be seven parties on the stage – this comes after the broadcasters came under pressure to include smaller parties, which are all expected to do well in the election.
Which parties will take part?
Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. As well as:
The Scottish National Party (SNP) – the SNP have controlled the Scottish Government since 2007, but their Westminster electoral record has always been poor. However, since the ‘no’ vote in the independence referendum last September, tens of thousands have joined their ranks – they’re currently the third largest party in the UK, and could possibly gain over 40 seats north of the border.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) – a party not really taken seriously until a few years ago, Nigel Farage’s ‘man down the pub’ image has gone down a storm with voters – especially when combined with the party’s anti-immigration rhetoric. Oh, and a few high-profile Conservative MPs defecting didn’t exactly harm their cause, either.
The Green Party of England and Wales – the Greens, whilst not getting the coverage that Ukip get – the two tend to poll very similarly. The party’s strong anti-cuts and anti-fracking stance has gone down particularly well with hacked-off former Labour and Lib Dem voters.
Plaid Cymru – the Welsh nationalists. Whilst not enjoying quite the same support as their Scottish counterpart – the Tories replaced them as the official opposition in the Senadd in 2011 – Plaid court strong support across Wales, pushing for further devolution to Wales – in contrast to the SNP’s independence policy.
What should we expect to hear?
The Tories may well go on a double-pronged attack on Labour and Ukip, criticising the former for their economic policies, whilst promising better management of immigration than the latter.
Expect them to say that Labour will capitulate to the SNP if it means they get in to No. 10. Of course, Labour will refute this with lots of positivity about governing alone: beggars can’t be choosers, and Labour will have to compromise in some way if they don’t get a majority.
Cutting the deficit could be the backbone of Ukip’s argument – or not, it might well be immigration…again. Expect mentions of leaving the EU, scrapping HS2, and supporting ex-servicemen and women.
The SNP? Likely a promise to stand up for Scotland where others (read: Labour, and to a lesser extent the Lib Dems) haven’t, and plenty mention of fracking and tax evasion. Nicola Sturgeon will almost certainly make an appeal to English voters, despite the SNP having no candidates outside Scotland, in an attempt to reassure voters that her MPs wouldn’t be focussed purely on the benefit to Scotland when it came to policy.
Why aren’t any Northern Irish parties featured?
Good question. But to get the answer, you’ll need a crash course in Northern Irish politics. Northern Irish parties can be separated into three categories: British loyalists, Irish Nationalists, and neutrals.
Loyalists are primarily represented by the Democratic Unionists (one half of the governing partnership in Stormont), and the Ulster Unionists – a party that formed an alliance with the Tories in the 2010 election.
Then there’s the Nationalists: the main two are the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and Sinn Fein. Both advocate a united Ireland, and Labour used to advise supporters in Northern Ireland to join the SDLP until recently. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, the other half of the partnership in Stormont, have 5 MPs, 2 more than the SDLP – all of whom refuse to vote in Westminster.
Then there’s the neutral party, Alliance – a cross-community party with links to the Lib Dems, and perhaps best known for unseating the DUP leader Peter Robinson at the last election.
So, who would the broadcasters pick – bearing in mind that they need to pick a party that’s widely popular to all in NI. It wouldn’t work, they’d need at least two – and then they’d be placing too much emphasis on Northern Ireland. Besides, none of the parties return enough MPs to make them potential kingmakers.