While the battle buses are parked and the bunting packed away, amidst the uncertainty facing the UK after the general election, one thing is for certain. The fringe parties have gone mainstream, and the bigger parties had better get used to it.
Seeing Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett alongside Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband showed people that there is more choice, and that what were formerly fringe, or protest, parties have got things to say about issues such as the economy, migration and housing, which they may find themselves agreeing with.
Leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, has ignited this election campaign and looks set to return more than 50 MPs to Westminster, virtually wiping out Labour north of the border.
She, along with Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Green Party, have benefited from the increased exposure of the televised leaders debates, her ‘anti-austerity’ rhetoric and constant attacks on the Conservative party for targeting normal working class people has played so well she is even receiving messages from people south of the border who want to vote for her. Extraordinary, considering she isn’t even standing for election herself!
Similarly, Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, is also ‘anti-austerity’ and wants to see Wales have parity with Scotland in both finance and powers. Her party believes Wales is underfunded. But neither her, or any of the other ‘anti austerity’ parties can identify where the money will come from.
The ‘anti-austerity’ wing has struck a chord and people like the sound of it. In a political contest in which trust is in short supply, political gains could be made if people choose to turn their backs on the big three parties.
Labour is also preaching an ‘anti-austerity’ message too, but as the banking crisis and economic downturn happened on their watch, public trust is not so easy to come by. Labour ‘s plan is to continue with the reductions in the deficit and to do this as fairly as they can.
The Conservatives insist they can be trusted with the economy and that ‘anti-austerity’ will take the UK back into financial chaos. However, the bedroom tax and welfare reform mean that, whilst they may be able to balance the books, people don’t like how they are going it about it, and they are still pretty sure the rich aren’t paying their fair share.
A big issue for the Liberal Democrats is also about trust – having formed a coalition with the Conservatives, they agreed to raise tuition fees for university students.
The public may not yet have forgiven politicians who have been seen to be on a ‘gravy train’ of opulent expenses with the revelations of duck houses, moat cleaning and second home flipping.
The next government is likely to be a coalition. The parties, formerly at the fringe of Westminster, will now be central to it. Whilst Cameron and Miliband might continue to insist they will win the election outright, nobody believes them, because the polls tell us otherwise.
Coalitions are quite new in the UK and we will all have to get used to them, just as voters in other countries do, because the balance of power no longer lies with the big two, but with who they can bring on board and how much power they are prepared to give away to get them.
One thing for sure is that the future of politics in the UK is uncertain, and it is about to get more complicated as views become more diverse with many new voices around the table. Today, the UK public is casting their vote … for the next few days the party leaders, supporters, pundits and opinion pollsters we will all be working out who will form the new UK government.