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22 May 2014

General Election 2015: One year to go

General Election 2015: One year to go

In less than a year Britons will go to the polls to decide who will form the next government.

Voters have a lot to consider in the lead up to next year's election. From the economy to the major parties languishing in the polls to the ramifications of Scotland's possible independence to the influence of UKIP on the next parliament.

Alongside this many voters are feeling uninspired about what is on offer from political parties, disillusioned with decisions made at Westminster and frustrated that their voices are seemingly ignored by politicians.

And it is also difficult to predict a winner. At this stage the only thing that is certain is the election date – May 7, 2015.

In polls both the Conservatives and Labour are frequently showing levels of support that are well below that needed to achieve a comfortable majority in the Commons. If current trends continue to the election, the UK is likely to see another coalition, minority government or a single-party government with a very small majority.

Not surprisingly neither party is feeling confident of a victory next May. They are already feeling the strain of what is likely to be a hard fought and difficult campaign. Party rank and file are concerned that they will fail to convincingly persuade voters to support them. This is a fair concern as currently no party is offering a narrative that resonates with voters and inspires them about the political process and their role in it, much less the future of Britain.

The campaign is shaping up to be ideologically driven with both major parties offering two very distinct visions for Britain which reflect their differing opinions about Britain's relationship with the market and the state's role in that relationship.

Labour leader, Ed Miliband has arguably been successful at resonating with the public's concern about inequality, poverty and the cost of living. The election results will show if voters agree with his solution of greater market intervention.

With the UK economy in recovery mode and predictions that it will reach pre-recession levels this summer, the Conservatives will be hoping to transfer this to votes by conveying to Britons that they are a safe pair of hands.

In the lead up to the election there are a few uncertain factors which have the potential to significantly impact the election result.

Some commentators are arguing that the Scottish referendum is a more important vote than that of the general election. While most in Westminster believe Scotland will choose to stay in the union, if they do vote for independence it could have serious consequences with Cameron possibly resigning and Labour left in chaos if they lose their Scottish MPs at Westminster. 

UKIP is polling well and they could win the European elections. Recent research by the British Election Study suggests the results of these elections will set the tone for the General Election with almost 60 per cent of those voting UKIP in the European elections planning to also vote for them next May. In 2009 the equivalent figure was only 25 per cent and reflects a major shift from past trends which have seen UKIP do well in the European elections but fail to transfer this electoral success to general elections.

Voter apathy is growing among the British public. Those least likely to vote include young people, disabled people, recent immigrants and those with low literacy levels. It is very concerning that recent statistics suggest only 1 in 10 young people will vote in the upcoming election.

However apathy is not the greatest problem facing British politics. Anger is. A survey from ICM Research looking at the disconnect between the British public and the democratic process found that almost half of Britons are angry with politics and politicians. Commenting on the European Elections, The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan said that, "anger [among voters] is the dominant feature…"This is likely to continue through to next year's election.

The survey reflects a pervasive and increasing belief among Britons that their voices are not being heard, that their opinions do not matter and that ultimately they cannot make a difference.

Confronting the public's anger and pessimism is the challenging task at hand for politicians in the lead up to the General Election. Politicians need to figure out how, in this rather messy context, they are going to successfully engage with voters and inspire them to participate. More importantly they need to convince Britons, through their actions and not just words that their vote matters.

Equally, voters are responsible for playing their part. Public engagement in the political process is vitally important to the health of any democracy. Voters are at risk of consumerist tendencies when it comes to politics. It's important that people consider their responsibility when it comes to civic engagement rather than simply focusing on what's in it for them. While Britons may be feeling disconnected, the reality is that the next government will be decided by those who show up to vote on May 7, 2015.

Key dates in the lead up to the General Election can be found here.