Could the United Kingdom be facing the end of an era of stable government? For months, many political pundits and media commentators in Britain have been saying just that. The May 2015 general election could well mark a watershed in the way Britain is governed, with far-reaching consequences for the future of a United Kingdom. So, what can we determine about the UK’s rapidly changing political landscape and some of the likely challenges and consequences that lie ahead?
Since the 1920s, Britain has been dominated by two large political parties: the Conservative Party (Tories), of the political right, and the Labour Party, traditionally the party of socialism, trade unions and the political left. In addition, there are a number of smaller parties: the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems), the Greens, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and various national parties serving Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But these have rarely disturbed the well-established duopoly of the two larger parties.
However, this political reality has been undergoing fundamental change. Centre-left parties across the industrialized world are losing support to the radical left (in the UK, the Greens and the Scottish National Party). Meanwhile, at the other end of the political spectrum, there is a drift to the extreme right (in the UK, UKIP). Support for the two main UK parties has thereby been eroding significantly, with both parties seemingly stuck around 30 percent of the vote, while 40 percent or so is needed to form a governing majority.
At the last general election in 2010, a “hung” election resulted in a coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems—the first since World War II. What some expected to be an unstable union worked surprisingly smoothly, completing a full program of legislation.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) asserts that Britain would be better off leaving the European Union altogether. It has grown massively in popularity over recent years; in the 2014 UK elections for the EU Parliament, UKIP won 27 percent of the vote and 24 of the 73 UK seats. In addition, UKIP has been a catalyst in the erosion of traditional Labour support in the north of England. The party is now thought to be a serious contender for seats in the UK Parliament, with opinion polls suggesting they may achieve six to 12 seats and a higher share of the vote than the Lib Dems. As Tory support also melts away to UKIP, Tory policy has moved further to the right in an attempt to rally support. Prime Minister David Cameron is the only political leader promising a national referendum (in 2017) on remaining part of the EU, provided the Tories win the forthcoming election.
North of the border, a resurgent Scottish National Party (SNP) has dramatically quadrupled its support since losing last September’s referendum, consistently scoring above 40 percent in the opinion polls, and is headed for 100,000 members, mainly at Labour’s expense. It is possible the SNP could return as many as 50 MPs to Westminster and hold the balance of power in the new government.
Furthermore, the SNP has openly offered to help elect a UK Labour government, provided that Labour will support the SNP’s quest for more powers of self-rule, the removal of the UK’s nuclear submarine base from Scottish soil—and eventual independence. If the SNP wins the Scottish general election in 2016, another push for outright independence is expected. The radical left-leaning SNP is horrified at the prospect of an English-led departure from the EU.
We should also not forget that the Lib Dems, the Tory coalition partner, are also in big trouble as their support base diminishes in protest at sharing power with the Tories.
Unsurprisingly, against the background of this political volatility, opinion polls indicate the likelihood of a “hung” parliament in the May general election. With no party achieving a governing majority, the horse-trading would begin, with the smaller parties jockeying for power. Opinion polls suggest that it might take three or more parties to establish a viable majority, in which case the potential for disunity would be great, with the government only a few votes away from a collapse that would force the country back to yet another general election.
Does any of this really matter in the grand scheme of things? Well, the stakes are very high. First and foremost is the precarious state of Britain’s finances. The national debt stands at around £1.5 trillion and rising, requiring some £60 billion each year just to service the interest payments, and government borrowing was in the region of £100 billion in 2014.
A much-feared outcome of the election is that a minority Labour Party will be returned to power with SNP or other help. According to the highly respected Institute of Fiscal Studies, Labour’s economic plan to cut the deficit falls well short of Tory plans. In addition, doubts proliferate on all sides about the suitability of the Labour leadership for high office.
The remainder of 2015 could also see a resumption of the Eurozone crisis, which would heavily impact prospects for the UK’s recovery. Without a clear-headed, strong and stable government, free from the infighting of numerous small parties, how can Britain be expected to rise to the challenges posed by an increasingly unstable European Union?
In the book of Ecclesiastes, wise King Solomon recorded a telling truth: “Two are better than one… And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12). When applied nationally to a union of three countries—or four, in the case of the UK—it creates great strength and resilience. Each can help the others through hard times. All acting together are stronger than each acting alone. But the Scriptures also warn “two cannot walk together, unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3). Unless the countries of the UK pull together, they will pull apart.
So the conclusion, and the importance, of all this is that the UK is far from being safe and secure. Powerful political forces are pulling it apart. The coming 2015 general election could well be a watershed moment as to who governs Britain. Will the SNP, UKIP and other smaller voting groups hold the rest of the UK ransom? Will Britain lose its nuclear deterrent for lack of somewhere to put it and the expense of moving it? Will Scotland once again try to leave the UK? And if the English get their way, will Britain indicate its desire to leave the EU if the 2017 referendum transpires?
We live in volatile, fast-moving times as the world careens towards the prophesied end of this age of human misrule. For more on what the Bible reveals about the years ahead, request our free booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy.