So what will happen in Britain over the next five years?
If you believed some of the media and Tory triumphalism today you would think they had won a landslide like Tony Blair’s in 1997. They haven’t, and they are probably in for a very bumpy ride indeed. They have had five years of a Coalition with a healthy majority and that had plenty of shunts along the way. Five years of a tiny majority will be that much harder. How long before the Fixed Term Parliaments Act starts getting dusted off and discussed again?
One thing we know with a degree of certainty is that by the time General Election May 7th 2020 (yes, it is the 7th again) all four of our current main parties will have new leaders.
Nick Clegg (Lib Dem), Ed Miliband (Labour) and Nigel Farage (UKIP) have all already resigned (altho Farage ‘may come back’) and Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) has said he won’t seek a third term.
So one thing we can be certain of is that rampant speculation about political leadership will be the order of the day – especially around David Cameron. The last Labour government shows just how destabilising constant leadership speculation can become.
The second big issue will be Europe. Cameron’s pledge of ‘serious negotiations’ and a 2017 referendum on EU membership will now have to be redeemed. Given his wafer thin majority, his Europhobic and Eurosceptic backbenchers won’t allow anything else. So expect two years of non-stop Euro-politics. The Tories may well end up having to allow a ‘free vote’ type deal for the European referendum, with Cabinet Members campaigning on both sides of the argument.
The third issue will be Scottish Independence. The SNP will almost certainly want to capitalize on their momentum from the last Referendum and the General Election. My guess is they will include a pledge to hold another independence referendum in their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections next year. And they may even do that as early as 2017, to coincide with the EU Referendum – “vote for independence and guarantee we stay in Europe” would make an obvious pitch.
Fourth will be management of the economy and public finances. The Conservatives made an awful lot of un-costed or frankly undeliverable pledges in the run up to the election and are heavily dependent on everything going right for them in the British and international economies. That seems doubtful, to put it mildly.
Fifthly, there are the famous ‘events, dear boy, events’ as Harold Macmillan famously said when asked what kept him awake at night. Five years is a long time and all sorts of issues may blow up.
This is tied to my final issue – the Tories majority. With 330 MPs they have a wafer thin majority. It only takes and handful of lost by-elections for them to become a minority government. And of course as we know our Parliaments and especially the post-2010 intake of Tory MPs are becoming ever more rebellious. With such a small majority and factious back-benches, any of the issues above could blow up into a crisis at anytime.