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Chris Jackson

The countdown is on for the UK general election – and Fine Gael and Labour should pay attention

This election will prove a relevant comparison to next year’s general election in Ireland.

MUCH HAS CHANGED since the 2010 UK General Election; economically the UK is significantly more stable but politically there is great uncertainty. Clegg and Cameron went into a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in a show of unity and optimism five years ago. However, they now face a difficult two months of campaigning in what will be a fascinating election for political bystanders.

This election will prove an interesting reference point and serve as a comparison to next year’s general election at home in Ireland. There are many similarities between the two coalition governments; the Conservative party and Liberal Democrats and Fine Gael and the Labour party face similar challenges. All parties face what will be two very closely fought elections.

It will provide a major focus on the party leaders and demonstrates that the UK is becoming more and more ‘presidentialised’, even after the last election which featured the first televised leaders’ debates. Modern elections in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere are largely dominated by image and message which are communicated through the party leader and below summarises where they stand with the electorate.

Miliband – electorate still unconvinced

With an unconvincing and weak coalition government, Labour could have quite easily exploited this and gained a major sense of momentum going into this election. However, Miliband has faced serious questions regarding his leadership of the party. He is entering into the election as an unconvincing leader who polarises opinion and is clunky in his deliveries.

There were concerns from the outset that he was too left for a modern Labour party (nicknamed ‘red Ed’). Labour haven’t managed to take advantage of or in essence be an effective opposition in a time when opportunities were there – Miliband’s criticism of Cameron’s handling of the recent HSBC controversy did not resonate with the electorate and was framed very poorly.

Labour face a sizeable threat from UKIP in northern England and as Farage said at his party conference “…be the real opposition to Labour in the north.” This is a real threat as Labour have always heavily relied on constituencies like Bury North and Hartlepool, however the modern Labour party just isn’t resonating or cutting through to working-class voters like it once did.

Cameron – unpopular 

Cameron faces a very challenging electoral campaign and has the most to answer to. As the Prime Minister, there is still a palpable sense of the electorate not engaging with him compared with his previous counterparts. The Conservative base are also divided with some of the older wing of the party feeling that he is too centre and some Conservative MPs defecting to UKIP.

Cameron has proven that he doesn’t, and will never will, have the sense of leadership and popularity that Presidential style leaders like Thatcher and Blair had.

If Cameron couldn’t lead his party to an overall majority in 2010, then how is it possible in 2015? Due to this unsettled period in British politics, it is almost certain that once again there will be a coalition government in power for the next period of power.

Clegg – questions on credibility 

Clegg is lucky to have survived a turbulent period for the Lib Dems in government. One only has to compare him to his Irish equivalent, Gilmore, who faced a lot of criticism over Labour’s ‘selling-out’ on election promises and being forced to resign. Clegg is absolutely guilty of similar to what Gilmore was accused of; it was his decision to produce a Lib Dem election poster warning that the Tories would raise VAT. A few weeks later Clegg, installed as Deputy Prime Minister, was backing coalition plans to raise VAT.

Then there was the pre-election pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees. Six months later, Clegg was pushing a policy to triple them. These shifts are very damaging to Clegg’s credibility not just because they were major U-turns but because they fatally undermined the party’s commitment to deliver a new, honest politics. It should be noted that Clegg’s political staff doubled during his time in power to 20 – more than any other member of the cabinet, the Prime Minister excepted. The total bill to the taxpayer for his team alone being €1.3m.

After the party’s largest popular vote at the last election, the Liberal Democrats will suffer greatly at this election in much the same outcome that Labour here will inevitably face in 2016 – they are just 6% in a new Opinium/Observer poll whilst UKIP are on 14%. Clegg ended the last general election campaign being one of the most trusted politicians in the UK and he is now one of the least trusted.

Farage – don’t believe the hype

With all the hype and coverage UKIP garner, it is easy to forget that UKIP currently have just two MPs – but this will absolutely change in May. In a similar vein to Sinn Féin, UKIP gained a serious sense of momentum from the EU elections, however Farage, so far in 2015, has led an ill-disciplined party who do not have an agreed line on major issues such as immigration and same sex marriage. The party has enjoyed a post-Christmas slump with an average of just 2% in the polls.

Speaking at the party’s conference last week in Margate, Farage replied ‘lots’ when asked by Channel 4 News’ Political Correspondent Michael Crick how many seats the party expected to win in the House of Commons. Some party insiders say it could be 10 or 20 seats, however given the recent polls this is very idealistic. Farage may well regret this boastful predication, a return of five or six MPs seems more likely.

Natalie Tennyson is an Account Manager at PSG Plus, specialists in corporate, financial, healthcare PR, reputation management and public affairs. She is from Armagh and studied politics at the University of Manchester having specialised in British politics and analysing political campaigns. Natalie works with clients from the education, health, legal and financial sectors at PSG Plus. Twitter: @n_tenn 

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