General Elections have long been decided by just a small handful of key marginal seats, and 2015 will be no different. With perhaps the most competitive election for a generation, marginal seats will be even more important. Parties such as UKIP, the Greens and the SNP are still surging, and there is everything to play for on May 7.
One of the most marginal constituencies in the UK is right on our doorstep – Edinburgh South. Labour currently holds the seat with a wafer-thin majority of just 316 votes from the Lib Dems. As the result in 2010 was so close, this is a key target for the Lib Dems, who could be wiped out by this election, especially if they lose ground in Scotland. However, as always, all parties will closely fight for this seat. As well as having one of the highest proportions of millionaires in any UK parliamentary constituency, Edinburgh South also has a very sizeable student population, who could swing the vote. The Edinburgh University Labour Students have already begun a door-knocking campaign in the area, with the assistance of Scottish Labour MPs. But in Edinburgh a lot has changed since the 2010 election – opinion polls show that the SNP is now the most popular party with 35 per cent support, followed by the Tories with 25 per cent. It is therefore unsurprising that the Labour Students are already so active in their campaign for the seat, as Labour needs to maintain its lead in Scotland against the Conservatives to have any chance of forming a government in Westminster. This could be one of the most interesting marginals to watch, especially if the SNP split the Labour vote far enough to make this seat a competitive battle for the Tories or Lib Dems.
Over the last year in particular anti-establishment ‘third parties’ such as UKIP and the Greens have been on the rise. But in 2010 UKIP won no seats in Westminster and the Greens returned just one MP. Brighton Pavilion in East Sussex is the only constituency which the Greens currently hold, snatching it from Labour in 2010 by just over 1,000 votes. Green popularity is currently neck-in-neck with Lib Dems, particularly among young voters, who are a key voting block in Brighton. However, governance of Brighton by the Greens has not proved an unparalleled success since 2010. As a minority government on the council, the Green party have faced deadlock and opposition to many of their key policies, and ironically the area still has one of Britain’s worst recycling policies. The seat is an interesting example of how many young people are turning away from the Labour party and towards the Greens, as they feel alienated by the so-called ‘political class’ who dominate Whitehall. However, due to the voting system currently in place for General Elections, the swing towards the Greens could actually damage the left, by splitting the vote and allowing the Tories, and possibly UKIP, to make further advances.
Nigel Farage himself is standing as an MP in May, in Kent’s South Thanet constituency. Last election the constituency was a fairly safe Conservative seat, as the Tories won by a comfortable majority of 7,614 votes. But now this seat serves to show how much politics has changed from the 2010 election, as the right once again divides over Europe. UKIP’s win at the 2014 European Elections marked the only time that the Tories have come third in a national election in the history of the party. While some critics claimed that the European elections were not a sign of things to come, in South Thanet Nigel Farage has just moved into first place. The UKIP campaign for the seat began in earnest in January, with Farage’s speech at a relatively low-key constituency event, to which the media were not invited. During the speech Farage said to supporters: “Let’s go out there today and make a real splash and let’s put us on the road to winning this and many other constituencies on May 7th this year. If we get this right, we will hold the balance of power in Westminster in the next parliament.”
In many ways the push for marginal seats just months from the General Election is typical of the British parliamentary system. But this year there will be a lot more battling going on, as parties other than Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems join the mix. Many commentators believe that the next election is likely to result in a second hung parliament, in which SNP, UKIP or even the Greens could tip the balance of power for a coalition. Time and again we have seen a link between competiveness of seats and voter turnout, and hopefully this election will be no different. Even if you’re not a constituent of ultra-marginal Edinburgh South this May, or you want to spoil your ballot in anticipation of Russell Brand’s revolution, please still register to vote. It makes a difference.